Christianity, Cursing & Contraband

Posted: January 27, 2012 by jperritt in Action, Drama
Tags: , , ,

My high school friend, Turner Crumbley, held a role in Mark Wahlberg’s recent film Contraband. The film follows a rather rough storyline, which can raise questions among Christians.  Turner was gracious enough to wrestle with, and reflect upon, various questions we thought Christians may have for believers acting in Hollywood films.

As mentioned yesterday, we do not expect to arrive at definitive answers to some of these tough questions. We hope to merely wade through some of the grey of Christianity & film, and assist Christians in reflecting upon these difficulties. Please note that the below answers do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the contributors of this site. I’m thankful to Turner for his vulnerability and willingness to answer these questions.
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How were you contacted about being a part of Contraband?

In late 2010, my agent informs me that I have an opportunity to audition for the movie. The process is very typical: I receive a plot synopsis, a list breaking down the movie’s roles, instructions to read for a specific role, and the appropriate sides (a few pages of the script with which to audition).

The role for which I’m instructed to audition appears in one scene and, if hired, I’m likely to only work for one day. But that doesn’t matter because, (a) like the vast majority of actors, I’m seldom afforded the opportunity to choose my work. And (b), as the old saying goes, “There are no small parts, just small actors.”

So I take the opportunity and start learning the role.

Since I’m appearing in a play at the time, I’m allowed to record a video audition. My (now) wife reads the off-screen dialogue, we tape the audition scene, and the video is sent to the movie’s casting director.

A couple of months later, I receive another call from Agent: I’m being offered a role in the movie, but it’s not the one for which I read. Instead, it’s a choice little part in several scenes. I end up working two weeks on location in New Orleans with some really talented storytellers. Ultimately, I learn a ton of lessons, which I’ve since used on subsequent jobs.

Is this your first major film role? Do you have any big roles on the horizon?

That depends on what you mean by “first major film role.” Since it’s made by a Hollywood studio and audiences are steadily going to see it, the movie feels pretty major. But I’m only on camera for a couple of minutes, tops. It’s by no means a major role.

As far as other work is concerned, I recently appeared in an episode of TNT’s Memphis Beat. And I also worked on a comedy that’s due to be released this spring.

It’s not likely anyone would qualify these above roles as “big”, either. But they’re speaking roles and I worked hard to get them. So they feel pretty big to me.

What was it like working with Mark Wahlberg?

It was a really good experience. He was polite, funny, and well prepared.

What are some of the themes surrounding the film?

The first ones that come to mind are family, betrayal, and the consequences of betrayal.

Do you recommend that Christians see this film?

According to the MPAA, the film is Rated R for violence, pervasive language, and brief drug use, which means those individuals that are 17 and over and can provide photo identification are allowed to purchase tickets and experience the movie. If the content for which the movie received its rating is acceptable to adults, I recommend they go see it.

Were there other Christians working on the film?

Yes. While I was on location, I had a short lunch conversation with an actor regarding Christianity and our similar career paths.

Also, Mr. Wahlberg has publicly stated that he is Catholic and attends mass.

Why do you think Christians are so absent from filmmaking in general; i.e., acting, producing, directing, etc.?

Christians are not absent from filmmaking. My experiences have proven otherwise.

Is it difficult for you, as a Christian, to be associated with a film like Contraband? Explain.

No. I’ve seen the movie and I enjoyed it. There’s nothing in Contraband that Shakespeare wasn’t dishing out in his day. Actually, if you see a production of, say, Titus Andronicus, you’ll find that Contraband is pretty mild by comparison.

Is your conscience bothered at all by portraying a rough character? Explain.

If by “rough character”, you’re referring to a villain, then I don’t play a rough character in the film.

I have played villains and generally unsavory characters on television and in theatre and enjoyed doing so immensely. There are so many great opportunities when playing a villain. Heroes are bound by moral codes. When playing bad guys, there’s much less moral consideration. Under those circumstances, the choices available to me as an actor increase by leaps and bounds.

It’s also important to remember that (a) good stories thrive on conflict, and someone has to create that conflict. If not for the antagonist, most stories would be pretty boring. And there’s also the fact that (b) most villains don’t consider themselves villains. The best ones think that they’re making the right choices by doing whatever dastardly thing they happen to be doing, which is an interesting point of view with which to play.

I think there probably are rough characters that I wouldn’t want to play, but I’ve never been offered such a role.

Is it truly biblical for a Christian to use rough language, etc. in a film, yet dismiss it as ‘just acting’?

I honestly have no idea. I have no problem admitting –like it or not- that I’ve used profanity on camera, onstage, and in my everyday circumstances.

Regardless, I hope I’d never dismiss it as “just acting”. If it’s a well written story and there’s adult language, it can be very effective. For example:

In The Shawshank Redemption, there’s a beloved old prisoner named Brooks, memorably played by James Whitmore. The role of Brooks was written with more profanity than Whitmore uses in the finished film. This is because Whitmore convinced the film’s screenwriter and director, Frank Darabont, to cut the majority of the obscenities out of his dialogue.

But Whitmore didn’t have Darabont rewrite his dialogue simply because he, the actor, didn’t want to use offensive language. Instead, he requested that his character –a man so accustomed to prison life that he’s terrified to live in any other way- only curses when he discovers he’s about to be paroled. In fact, Brooks becomes so frightened that he threatens to kill a fellow prisoner and shouts obscenities while doing so.

Beyond his physical threats, the language choice really illustrates the degree to which he fears the outside world. Because we’ve never before heard Brooks talk in such a way, it further cements our understanding of his fragility. It’s a shocking moment, and it carries dramatic weight. So that’s a character-appropriate moment of obscenity.

Are you at all concerned with tarnishing your Christian witness through various roles?

No. There are a couple of roles I’d rather not play and have turned down, though none of them were film roles. And I didn’t necessarily turn them down for religious reasons. Most roles that would give me pause have never been made available anyway.

How do you try to portray a Christian witness on various film sets?

Most of my time on film sets has been limited to checking in with an assistant director or production assistant, putting on the wardrobe, having make-up applied, going to set, and filming. It can be a fast moving, intense work environment. The only subject that’s usually discussed is the movie.

I try to be as professional and positive an employee as possible. I try to treat people the way I’d like to be treated. If the subject comes up, I don’t hide my religion, but it doesn’t come up often.

Do you have any messages or comments you would like to add for Christian movie-goers and actors?

I hope people like the movie!

TURNER CRUMBLEY has appeared in feature films, on television, and in theatres across the United States. His recent stage credits include Dracula, The 39 Steps, The SantaLand Diaries (New Stage Theatre), Big River, A Simple Gift (Mill Mountain Theatre), Sweet Charity (Sierra Repertory Theatre), Louis L’Amour’s ‘One for the Mohave Kid’, The Minute Men (Great American Melodrama), Blood Wedding (Warehouse Theatre), The Diary of Anne Frank (Stage One), and Disney’s Beauty & the Beast (Jefferson Performing Arts). Film credits include Contraband, the forthcoming 21 Jump Street, and the award-winning, independent feature Glorious Mail. As a director, Turner’s credits include the plays The Good Thief by Conor McPherson, John Patrick Shanley’s Welcome to the Moon (both New Stage Theatre) and the short film A Mile of Wolves. Turner is a Laurel, Mississippi native and a University of Southern Mississippi graduate.

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