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FIRST-PERSON: Steve Harvey: ‘gotta say something meaningful’

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Although I had heard that it was a delightful movie for children, I was not looking forward to the press junket for “Racing Stripes.”

Come on, it’s a kids’ movie about a zebra who wants to be a race horse. And I certainly wasn’t anticipating an interview that would spark any spiritual satisfaction. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, first by the movie, then the interviews the following day. Kids were mesmerized by the film, and accompanying parents also found enough laughs to stay amused. The interviews also were rewarding, especially with comedian Steve Harvey (“It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” “Steve Harvey’s Big Time”).

Though he will be the first to admit he’s no saint (his use of language in a few past film and stage presentations are, depending on your view, colorful, earthy or just downright objectionable), Mr. Harvey nevertheless is a man who is becoming aware of the kind of material he needs to leave behind for his children and to honor his Creator.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Steve makes his home with his wife and five children in Dallas, where they are committed to furthering opportunities in local schools through their generous contributions to the Steve and Mary L. Harvey Foundation. In Racing Stripes, Steve gives voice to an animated horsefly, of all things. Coupled with comedian David Spade, the duo further the story by injecting sometimes wise, oftentimes wiseacre witticisms. Most of their fellow cast mates agree with audience members –- big and small –- that their scenes are the funniest in the film.

Here are a few moments from my time with Mr. Harvey. It uplifted me and reminded me that there are artists in Tinseltown who raise up the Most Holy God and use their God-given talent to bring joy to the world.

Phil Boatwright: Steve, did you ever think you’d be playing an insect?

Steve Harvey: My biggest movie and I’m a fly. It’s all over, baby.

P.B.: I would never have pictured you as a horsefly.

S.H.: I did a sitcom for six years and always wore custom suits. That’s been my image. Now, I’m a fly! …

P.B.: I’ve heard that you used to sing in a church choir.

S.H.: My mama raised me in the church. I was not allowed to stay home on Sundays. There was no option. My father didn’t go, but he gave us a haircut and made sure we went. I sang in the choir until I went off to college.

P.B.: Still go?

S.H.: Yes. I’ve always had God as a part of my life. It’s important out here too, because it gives you a base, you dig? ’Cause out here it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah. This is Sin City. And if you don’t have a spiritual base, you’ll get caught up in it. It’s inevitable.

P.B.: It’s not a town known for honoring God, is it?

S.H.: I saw a guy accept an award and he said, “I want to thank my lucky stars.” That confused me. ’Cause what’s your lucky stars, man? These are blessings from God. God endows you with blessings so you’ll become a blessing. You can’t get up in front of people and be ashamed to tell them about God. Everybody out here wants to make it look like something they did. Like you [are] that funny. Or you, that great an actor. There’s always somebody who is funnier or can act better than you. It’s just that God thought that He could trust you. That if you got there, you’d do the right thing with it. He trusted that [to] you, that you’d give Him honor and credit.

P.B.: That’s not something I hear often during a press junket.

S.H.: This is a true story: A friend of mine was connected in business to a very wealthy man. He had a $4 million yacht, but he never thought about God. He stood out on the tip of his boat out in the Gulf of Mexico and said, “I am God.” And a bolt of lightning killed him just like that. He died on the bow of his boat.

P.B.: Wow.

S.H.: For them it’s about money. Their God is money.

P.B.: Did “The Passion of The Christ” affect Hollywood?

S.H.: Most of the people out here who sit up in executive offices don’t go to church, so they had no idea that people would go see a film about Christ. But Christ is pretty big. In fact, He’s the biggest. So now they do a movie about Him and they discover that He’s the biggest of all time. You dig? There has never been a movie with an R rating that did that kind of money -– ever. And they tried to kill that movie with an R rating. “There’s too much violence in it.” Well, what’d you think happened during a crucifixion?

P.B.: Do you think we’ll see more films with biblical truths?

S.H.: People out here don’t like to hear the truth ’cause the truth makes them think.

P.B.: You mentioned before that you cussed a lot on HBO specials and other projects. What’s changed you?

S.H.: As you get older, you start looking at your mortality and start thinking, “I won’t be here too long.” And you want to leave something behind for your kids. Eddie Murphy has. You know, “Daddy Day Care,” “Shrek” 1 and 2, he’s doing movies for his kids. He did “Pluto Nash” just for his kids. It did horrible at the box office so people were saying, “Eddie, get back to where you come from.” But you can’t go back to where you come from. You gotta develop. I can’t cuss and tell jokes the rest of my life. I gotta say something meaningful. I gotta give something back to the Creator who’s given me so much.

[P.B.: For the past four years Steve has been doing a radio show. He fought to open up each episode with a gospel song, taking a lot of heat over that because the show airs on a hip-hop station.]

S.H.: Now, even when I open up a special, I begin with giving credit to God, ’cause I know how I got here. And I kinda figured that He trusted that I would do that.
Phil Boatwright is a film reviewer and editor of The Movie Reporter, on the Web at www.moviereporter.com.

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