NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Actor John Schneider says he just wants to make a difference.
Schneider plays the role of Hannah’s father in the recent pro-life hit “October Baby,” and drifter Sam Doonby in the new movie “Doonby,” a pro-life film from a different perspective. Doonby is being screened to pastors and church leaders.
“The hope is that October Baby will grease the skids so that with these preview screenings Doonby can come out [to the general public] in 500 to 600 theatres,” Schneider said.
Schneider, former star of two long-running television series — Bo Duke in “Dukes of Hazzard” and Superman’s dad, Jonathan Kent, in “Smallville” — has been part of six Christian films in just the last two years, and more than 60 films during his 34-year professional career.
“After Smallville, most of these films found me,” Schneider told Baptist Press. “I read scripts all the time; they have to be good for me to be interested. There’s no point in doing a script that puts forth a message you don’t agree with.”
But he doesn’t limit himself to Christian-message films.
“I help people take their minds off their problems, and if I can give them something else to think about, so much the better,” said Schneider, who also is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, director and occasional golfer, as well as a husband and the father of three.
Following is a partial transcript of Baptist Press’ interview with Schneider:
SCHNEIDER: Both October Baby and Doonby are very cleverly written … and neither goes where you think. I like to have to think, to figure out the puzzle and to be fooled — and surprised. Both do all these things. But more than that, both films are about the importance of life, the value each life has. October Baby is about a person who should not be, who is. Doonby is about a person who is, who ultimately is not. It makes you think: What would our existence be like if this person were in it, or were not in it, for that matter. I think that is why October Baby is touching so many people. It doesn’t force its message on you. It just lets the story unfold and you make your own decision.
BAPTIST PRESS: October Baby also is about the need for the healing benefit of forgiveness, including the forgiveness of herself by the woman who had agreed in her youth to have an abortion.
SCHNEIDER: Hatred actually is a burden. What a tremendous burden it is to hate somebody. It just eats away inside of you. Having a grudge against somebody is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die. To me October Baby overwhelmingly is a message of forgiveness. The forgiveness is person to person, which really is seldom talked about. It’s so powerful.
BP: October Baby and Doonby seem to me to be opposite sides of the same coin. In October Baby, Hannah is a much-loved adopted daughter. She’s kind of like the poster child for all that’s good about adoption. Doonby, on the other hand, is about a guy from a small town in Louisiana, who drifts into an even smaller Texas town and gets a job at a bar. [Abortion isn’t referenced until late in the film.]
SCHNEIDER: Yes, this is a very interesting way to go after the issue of abortion. I think it has to do with the fact that Peter [Mackenzie, writer and director] is from the U.K. They tell stories differently there. It’s fascinating. Doonby moved me so much. It’s an amazingly intelligent way to table this discussion [of abortion]. Both these films were so well-written; neither one tipped their hand, neither one is preachy. Doonby is also about alcoholism, but like abortion, it refrains from making judgments. It just gives people something to think about, which I think will cause great wonderful after-movie discussions.
BP: Were you familiar with abortion and its effects before you started work on these films? Did you know about abortion survivors?
SCHNEIDER: I was familiar with both sides of the abortion issue, but I was not familiar at all with the term “abortion survivor.” Apparently October Baby has given some light to this subject. What I know is that when I read October Baby and got to page 10, that stopped me. That fascinated me. As soon as you open your mind to the fact that a child could live through an abortion, that through a series of circumstances, that could be possible — it’s frightening! That takes you right to the moment of birth. I think that’s why October Baby is touching people.
BP: Do you identify yourself as a Christian?
SCHNEIDER: I remember my grandmother telling me one day she’d be in heaven. That was the extent of my religious upbringing. Then, in my late 20s, I was playing music with a buddy of mine at the Little Brown Church in North Hollywood — just playing music; I wasn’t there for anything else. The pastor would always tell everyone to get up and hug each other, and one Sunday I saw a little old fella get up, an old guy, all stooped over but dressed in a suit, and he went over and hugged a much younger guy who had scraggly hair and rumpled clothes, and something passed between them. I wanted that. Whatever it was that passed between these two people, I knew it was real. Yes, I’m a Christian, and I say you never know the value of what you are doing, of your example. It’s usually not the preaching the leads people to Christ; it’s your example.
BP: You were two when your parents divorced. What was it like to grow up without a dad?
SCHNEIDER: I started doing theatre when I was eight. Even as a child, you are treated more as an equal, and people watch your back. I had a lot of male influence. It can never make up for not having your father there, but I had great friends whose fathers were great fathers. You’ll find that dad-like influence out there. It’s there. My mom taught me how to work hard. She worked several jobs and also did ironing at night. Both my parents worked very, very hard. I learned that from them, and I learned you need to be a person of your word. You need to tell the truth and be willing to live with the consequences of your actions; you’re going to make mistakes. Be ready to deal with them.
BP: You’ve been quoted saying you’re a good dad. What does it take to be a good dad?
SCHNEIDER: Paying attention, having conversations, listening, and in my line of work, coming home as often as you can. It’s so important to do things for people who will be there after you’re gone. That’s been a longtime focus of mine. We do what we do — we should do what we do — for our children and their children and their children’s children.
BP: Children obviously are a hot button for you, and that includes your involvement with the Children’s Miracle Network. What’s that about?
SCHNEIDER: There were four of us — Marie Osmond, Joe Lake, Mick Shannon and me. We were raising money for the March of Dimes telethon and people would give us excuses, like “my child doesn’t have that.” The Children’s Miracle Network raises money for 170 children’s hospitals across America because they treat children regardless of their ability to pay. Also, all the money raised stays right in your area. And, 100 percent of your donation goes to the hospital. Nothing’s kept back. With these three different reasons, we’ve raised nearly $5 billion for children’s hospitals since 1983.
BP: What’s next?
SCHNEIDER: This is really an exciting time for me. I’ve never had a movie in the top 10 before, like October Baby was its first week out. I’ve never had a movie in the top 20 before, and that’s where October Baby was in its third week. “Hardflip” is another really good film that’ll be released soon. In it, I’m a wealthy architect. I meet my skateboarding son for the first time, a week before my ex-wife of 18 years is dying. It’s really a hard-hitting film about the relationships between fathers and sons, and again, like October Baby, the value of forgiveness. At one point in it I say, “It’s too late for me now. See if you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me.” If I can get people thinking about issues, that’s a way I can make a difference not just now, but for generations to come.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.