The cast and crew of “Woodlawn” had quite the story to bring to the big screen. In 1970s Birmingham, Alabama, racial animosity was at its peak, but so was one young high school football star, Tony Nathan. Thanks to Nathan’s heart for God, which shone on and off the field, he and his teammates helped unify a once broken community. Pure Flix and Provident Films, along with director brothers Jon and Andy Erwin and executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, bring this hopeful story to theaters.
Oscar winner Jon Voight, who portrays legendary coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant, and newcomer Caleb Castille, who stars as Nathan, spoke with Townhall about their roles in the film and how Christians are making their mark in Hollywood.
Voight was first drawn to the project because of the character he was given.
“The thing that drew me to it initially, they came to me with the idea of me doing Bear Bryant,” he said. “I’m a fan of football and I knew who Bear Bryant was. I have the greatest respect for him and affection for him. I was flattered that they thought I could do it.”
Another motivating factor for Voight was the film’s shining light on Christianity.
“It’s a faith-based story, it’s a story about a Christian movement,” he explained. “With the wanton attacks on Christians throughout the world, which are disturbing and disheartening, deeply appalling, it celebrates the Christian faith and its influence on young people. It was almost a breath of fresh air, something we needed I felt as I read it….”
Voight was moved by the film’s message because he is adamant about protecting religious freedom.
“The attacks on the Christian world across the globe have been very disheartening,” he said. “We forget the positive influence of Christianity in the midst of all of this. We’re losing something here in this country if we don’t support our Christian brothers and sisters.”
The Academy Award-winning actor then pivoted to praising his young co-star, Caleb Castille.
“He has this strength of character that’s unusual in such a young fellow,” he said. “He’s a movie star.”
Castille, however, was too modest to accept that compliment.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a movie star, but I will accept the job title of actor,” he said. “I think the easiest transition for me, going from football to acting is the fact that you have to perform at a high level, under a high level of pressure, sometimes. I think that’s why I love the auditioning process, because you go in the room and you see the talent, the competition out in the hallway and you just got to turn it on and perform. It gives me that pace of competition that I love and that fuels me.”
Having played football his whole life, Caleb said he could do it “standing on his head.” As for dramatic acting, that, he said, took some two-a-day practices.
“The challenge came in when I had to do the drama,” he shared. “So I really had to be coachable, being around all those great actors and really trusting them and trusting myself.”
Watching “Woodlawn,” however, you’d never know this was Caleb’s first film. The quiet confidence he exudes will make you think he’s been a leading man for years. Check out this exclusive scene between Voight and Castille, in which Coach Bryant tries to convince Nathan he is an especially gifted athlete.
So, what drove Castille into acting? (Hint: it wasn’t fame.)
“I just want to be able to show kids that if you’re faithful to God he’ll be faithful to you and He’ll allow your dream to come true.”
Caleb’s own journey is a testament to this statement. One day he was doing commercials, the next day he’s starring opposite an Oscar winner, a door only God could have opened, he said.
As mentioned above, race is a large factor in the film – and it is addressed in a beautiful way. In today’s tense climate, Castille says “Woodlawn” is exactly what moviegoers need.
“I think America’s kind of lost hope right now” Caleb said. “There’s kind of been this hopeless void, this downward spiral. I think that people are kind of hungry for content like this. I think that this is going to definitely be a beacon of hope in our society.”
Because of its quality and messaging, it’s a film both actors agreed everyone could enjoy and one that Hollywood can’t ignore.
“Christian content is going to be looked at as something respectable in the next coming years because of the content that’s coming. It’s just getting better and bigger and stronger. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for filmmakers like Mark and Roma and Jon and Andy Erwin. I think Hollywood’s in for a surprise.”
“It’s a great football story,” Voight said. “It’s a thrilling story really. I think people are very moved by this story and the fact that it’s all true. It’s effective in that way. You know it’s the real thing. You take the ride and it’s beautifully shot and beautifully acted and people cheer at the end of it.”
You’ll have a chance to wave your pom poms when “Woodlawn” opens in theaters this Friday.