New York, New York - You would probably assume that a show called "God Friended Me" is about to bring you to church. But, what I discovered after visiting its CBS studio in Brooklyn, NY, and chatting with its talented cast, is that this new primetime hit is not a religious show. It is, however, an uplifting program centered on the importance of relationships and how we can better understand one another. No one understands that more than the cast, who have some of the most diverse perspectives on faith I've ever heard.
The show's star, Brandon Michael Hall, said he feels "humbled," "blessed," "proud" and "uplifted" by his leading man status. He plays Miles Finer, an African-American millennial atheist - a character rarely seen on television. Religion in an African-American household is usually so "big," he explained, that he feels honored to represent this unique perspective.
Chatting with "God Friended Me" star Brandon Michael Hall (far left).
Hall leads an incredibly diverse cast. His best friend on the show, Rakesh, is played by Suraj Sharma, who was born and raised in India. Violett Beane is his new friend Cara Bloom. "Scandal" star Joe Morton and Javicia Leslie round out the cast as Miles's reverend father and spunky sister Ali.
"The part that matters to me is that it's not a forced cast," Sharma said. "It makes sense completely. It works with the story. It feels nice to have it be organic."
Behind the scenes on the CBS set of "God Friended Me."
The cast is diverse not only in appearance, but in their views of God and what "faith" means to them. To Sharma, he doesn't believe in one god, but he believes there's "God in all of us."
"We are social beings," he explained. "We care about each other. God is in you could simply mean, 'you revere me, I revere you.' I think God is in everybody. My only job is to respect you and love you and the opposite of that."
Beane also "doesn't believe there is one deity," but again noted that God is represented in how we treat one another.
"I think for me it's our connection to each other," she explained. "Personally, I don't believe there's one deity that, you know, has all of these plans for us. But I think being a good human and doing things for other people is why we're here."
For Morton, he grew up Catholic, but now considers himself an agnostic. Hall, on the other hand, grew up as a Southern Baptist, but he and his mom went to a non-denominational church once she became a preacher.
As for Javicia Leslie's relationship with Christ, she said it was something she pursued on her own when she was a misbehaving teen. She eventually found her own "spiritual morality" and got re-baptized. She credits her faith with helping her thrive in Hollywood.
"When it comes to being in this industry, a lot of surviving has been through my spirituality," she said. "God didn't create no fear in me."
What "God Friended Me" does well is not force one opinion (religious or otherwise) on its audience. That's something the entire cast agrees on.
"It's not trying to push upon you its opinion," Sharma said.
The actors also agree that their work on set leaves them feeling incredibly inspired.
Beane shared that she had been auditioning up to seven times a day around the time she was trying out for "God Friended Me." It stood out from the others.
"This was one of the only ones where after I read it, I felt uplifted," she recalled. "Like I felt good about humanity. I love watching shows that are super dark and edgy, but I feel like the world we're in right now has enough of that, and for an hour on a Sunday you can get away from that world."
Again, don't be fooled by the title, she said.
"I don't think it's a religious show at all," she continued. "Each character comes from some different background, a different religion or a lack thereof. For me, people can sit down with anyone and sit down them and connect with someone on that screen. If they're seeing those people connect with each other, then maybe they can connect with themselves."
Leslie also noted that the weekly messages about "having respect for people for who they are" can speak to any and all audiences.
Beane elaborated on how "God Friended Me" is intent on bridging divides.
"The issue with religion is that people think they're right," she said. "And that's the same with Democrat and Republican; it's like whichever side you're on you think you're right. I'm noticing in each new script, this show is just trying to bring everyone together. It's not trying to convert anyone, it's just trying to tell you that it's okay for you to believe the way you do and still love someone who believes something else."
Joe Morton's character, Rev. Finer, experiences the art of reconciliation firsthand. Though he is miles away from his son Miles when it comes to faith, someone has to start the conversation so their relationship can heal. The two reacted vastly differently with the tragic death of Miles's father. Rev. Finer turned to God, whiles Miles rejected him.
"At some point they have to agree to disagree as a starting point otherwise there is no reconciliation," he explained.
Morton, who describes himself as an agnostic, nevertheless says there is some kind of higher being.
"I don't know that he or she has any gender in particular," he considered. "I think it's something more than who I am and my tagline for all this is, 'You don't have to believe in God, to believe in good.'"
Having been part of a wildly successful show like "Scandal," Morton knows there are key ingredients to what makes a program stay around for the long haul.
The first ingredient he said he "knows" that "God Friended Me" has is chemistry.
"This group of people came together to become a family and we've done that," he said. "I think you see it on the screen."
The next ingredient is the writing. Again, "God Friended Me" can check that off the list.
"What I can gather from the response is that this show appeals to something in everyone which is family," Morton concluded.
"God Friended Me" airs on CBS Sundays at 8 p.m. Watch the trailer below!