From the studio that produced "God's Not Dead" comes a new Christian film on a grander scale. Premiering nationwide today, February 16th, Pureflix's "Samson" tackles the sweeping Biblical epic about a flawed champion chosen by God to deliver Israel.
The film shows both Samson's supernatural strength and the impulsive decisions that lead to his conflict with the Philistine empire. "Samson," which they shot on location in South Africa, takes the audience on a journey from Samson's youth, to his betrayal by Delilah, to being captured and blinded by his enemies, and finally his ultimate redemption.
Faith Family America spoke to the star of the movie, Taylor James, about his role, the film, and what he hopes audiences take away from the message of the film. Taylor is a 38-year-old up-and-coming actor from England. He's spent most of his acting career on the West End, and he's had bit roles in "Mamma Mia!" and last year's "Justice League."
Below is a lightly-edited transcript of our phone conversation with James.
What drew you to this role?
As a man who has been through his teenage years and has been trapped by fear and reluctance to walk the path that is laid out for us, I had a huge connection with Samson. He is a flawed hero; he's very reluctant to walk the path that was bestowed on him as well.
We follow him from a young age, making very poor decisions, and we see him all the way to his redemption at the end. The story is so rich in material, and it has such strong messages that stand the test of time.
There have been a variety of adaptations, but the physical feats that are involved in Samson’s arc have to be on film. So when you have the opportunity to tell the story of Samson on film and have it have it such an emotional pull, it’s a sure thing.
You’re an up-and-coming actor. Is this your biggest role to date?
Yes, 100 percent. I spent the last 10 or 12 years working in theater. I worked with iconic figures from playwrights to producers to actors on comedies, classics, modern plays, and Shakespeare. My last job was with Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judie Dench in Shakespeare. It was incredible. It’s a blessing, and I feel it’s been my training ground—a chance to refine my own techniques and see how one can tell stories in the most effective manner possible. The live theater [training] that I’ve had over the last decade has been instrumental in preparing me for this film role of Samson.
Even for a seasoned veteran, acting on the stage is a constant reminder of how you have to be fully prepared. So for me, to take that training and that way in which we hold ourselves on the stage as an actor, it took away all the nerves and the fear of playing such an iconic role as Samson on the big screen. I knew that my time had come, and I was ready and excited to tell the story.
How did you prepare for playing Samson both mentally and physically?
The script connected with me on such an emotional level that I felt so at home with this part. I knew that I was destined to play Samson.
I prepared emotionally by reading through the Judges 13-16 and really diving into the material that was out there. But that didn’t join the dots of iconic moments for me. I had to unpack and look at the emotions; see why he would have gone from one thing to another.
I asked myself: what was the catalyst; what provoked him to feel the way he did. How did he feel scorned? Why did he feel loved? As soon as I saw the emotional thread that I had an opportunity to weave through the action of Samson's 20-year arc, it suddenly resonated with me on a completely new level, which was very exciting. From that, we wanted the audience to have a strong empathy with Samson, as our lead hero—our flawed hero—in the story. If you don’t connect with him, the story just falls away; you don’t take anything away from the message. If you connect with him on a human, vulnerable level, it opens the viewer up to new realms of possibility of what you can gain emotionally from the story.
As far as the physical level, I’m no stranger to the gym. I fasted, ate a certain way, and trained hard. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t too big for the role of Samson. His people were starving in the story, so it’s not fair that Samson is too healthy or too massive. His strength comes from God, so I didn’t want to make it seem like his strength came from his biceps. I was as lean as possible to play Samson.
Was the role grueling?
No, I didn’t think any part of the process was grueling. I’m honored and blessed to do what I love. When my brother asked me the same question, I likened it to him caring for his children. He has two very young children, and they get up in the middle of the night, and they scream. I think, “How do you do that? Isn’t that grueling?” And he said, “I love them. They’re my children.”
Well, I love Samson, and I love telling stories. I found no part of it grueling because I love what I do. There were some hot days up on the mountain when we were filming the thousand man Philistine fight. They were long, and they were arduous, but the production team was always there with water. We were conscious of the heat, the sun, the rocks, and some of the dangers that could make something seem grueling, but—in fact— it was the complete opposite.
What was your favorite scene to film?
I have two favorite scenes. The first one is the one I just alluded to—the thousand man Philistine fight. I think it’s something deserved the cinematic film medium. It’s a wonder to film and act in, and it’s a wonder to watch. It's a thousand men versus Samson. The big kid in me got a kick out of that.
The more emotional scene that I’m fondest of is the moment of redemption at the end of the story. Samson has lost his sight; he’s lost his loved ones; he’s lost the respect of his people. But Samson ironically finally sees God clearest. It’s a beautiful scene to film, and I feel the audiences have been through Samson’s journey. It’s the chance at redemption that we all wanted. We all feel uplifted and motivated. It’s the culmination of the story; it comes to a climax. It’s not a hero riding off into the sunset moment, but you still have to have the same feeling internally because it’s such a powerful redemption.
What do you hope audiences take away from the movie?
I hope every person has a personal connection to the film. It’s like when you listen to a song, and you say, “Oh, this song; it relates to me and my life right now.” I feel that each person will hopefully have the film strikes a specific chord with them. It could be the way Samson’s mother looks at him; the way Samson falls in love; it could be a sunset over a beach. That personal connection is stronger than anything that can ever be wished upon them by me.
The second has to be faith and how God is constantly and always willing to forgive us no matter how many times we fail or make mistakes in life. In the story, Samson is a flawed, mistake-making hero. It shows that God always loves him.
Why should people see the movie?
People should go see the movie for a multitude of reasons. One because it’s a different person’s viewpoint on the story of Samson. We’ve all read Samson, and we’ve all been told the story and have ideas and images of Samson circulating in our head. But to go see a collection of viewpoints—from writers, directors, producers, and actors—reveals a new way to look at the story.
Then you put that new viewpoint it into a world where the location is South Africa. Where we filmed, it was so untouched and unspoiled, and you get lost in the story.
There is so much to gain and nothing to lose.
Second, it’s a fun night. There’s a whole spectrum of messages and emotions in this film—there’s action, there’s drama, there’s love, there’s betrayal. I feel that there’s nothing out there like it at the moment. So many other films are just formulaic, and Samson is not formulaic. It is original; it’s refreshing; it’s exciting. I think everyone should go because it’s not just someone else’s viewpoint, it’s a great night.
Find a theater that is playing "Samson" near you. If you're looking for an animated film to watch with your children, then check out our interview with DeVon Franklin about his latest movie "The Star."