Gretchen Carlson Defends Acting Debut Against 'Transparent' Critics (Q&A)

The Fox News anchor talks acting in the religious thriller "Persecuted" and the ongoing criticism about her remarks regarding Festivus.

The religious thriller Persecuted has pulled in a mere $900,000 since it hit theaters on July 18, but the film is making waves online due to its premise that Christianity is under attack in modern-day America. Many of those panning the film also are noting the appearance of Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who makes her acting debut in Persecuted, a clip of which can be seen above. She spoke to The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond about her role in the film and her critics, both those who've taken issue with her Persecuted performance and those who've taken her to task for her comments on the Seinfeld-based holiday, Festivus.

Why pick this film to make your acting debut?

They’re the first who asked. I got a call about 15 months ago, and I was surprised as anyone, because I’ve had to work really hard for every opportunity that I’ve had in the news business. I never got one of those calls like, “Hey, do you want to anchor the Today show at age 25?" When I got this call, I thought, “Wow, this sounds cool.”

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Any acting offers since the movie opened?

I spoke to a couple people over the weekend who are investing in some films right now. Obviously, I’m keeping my job at Fox, but this was just fun. I took a couple days out of my schedule and it was an amazing experience. It’s totally different from live TV. It gave me a new appreciation for what actors do. In acting, doing 30 takes for one scene is not abnormal, and that was foreign to me.

Have your colleagues seen the movie?

I invited a lot of them to the premiere in New York City. It was so fun. This is tongue-in-cheek when I’m speaking to you, because, do I think that I’m going to become an actress? No. But it was so funny — I told my family and friends, "Don’t be late to the movie because my major scene is right at the beginning." But the saving grace for me was that I also take part in the cliffhanger at the end of the movie, so I knew they couldn’t cut me. It was nice to be in a hometown crowd because when I was onscreen they cheered. I was like, "Guys. You have to be quiet. I don’t have that many lines!"

Have you read the reviews?

I’m just cracking up at it. The way in which they write the criticism is so transparent, because they automatically hit me for who I am. I’m used to this in my life. I have a very thick skin. I was Miss America; trust me, I know how to be attacked. I was valedictorian in high school; I graduated with honors from Stanford; I studied at Oxford; I was a concert violinist as a child. The reason I rattle that off is because I’m not a dummy. It gets tiring to constantly be the target of criticism. I was used to that after being Miss America, and I’m certainly used to it working at Fox News.

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What’s your favorite review of the movie?

The New York Times' — I laughed out loud. I seriously did. The first line is: "The title — Persecuted — and the presence of the Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in the cast are really all you need to know" (Laughs.) I mean, they don’t even know me!

What others have you read?

The Huffington Post. But trust me, I don’t read blogs on a daily basis because otherwise I’d just go in a room and off myself. Why bother? I have a family, wonderful friends and at least 60 percent of the nation respects me. Why look at that junk when, after you just do something for fun, they annihilate you because of where you work?

Could it be the critics and bloggers disagree with your politics?

I’m a registered independent. They don’t have any idea what my politics are. I work on the news side of things. I have debates on my show. They have no idea how I vote when I go to the ballot box.

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Have any of the critics actually criticized your performance?

That’s the hysterical thing. At least they could’ve said I wasn’t a good actress, but it’s not that. The Huffington Post said that I look like a Barbie doll. Oh, geez, I’ve never heard that before! I mean, come up with something new. Let’s see: “blonde,” “bimbo,” wow. At least be creative. It’s almost like spell check — they automatically fill in the blanks. I’m hardly in the movie at all, so for them to give so much attention to me in these critiques is interesting. If they had said I should have gone to Juilliard to act instead of play the violin, maybe that would have been warranted. But it’s not about my acting skills. It’s just a very easy way for them to take a dig at something that is constantly criticized, which is Fox News, unfortunately.

Did you anticipate this reaction?

Yes, because it has followed me my whole life. It’s just upsetting because at least do a little due diligence. Don’t just do the easy slam.

You’re also getting beat up over something you said about Festivus.

Oh gosh. Again? (Laughs.) I don’t care. Honestly. It is so ridiculous, and I stand by what I said. A few years ago in Washington there were religious symbols that were put up on state property around Christmastime, including a creche and a menorah. Somebody sued the government to be able to put up a Festivus pole. I love humor. It’s not like I don’t watch Seinfeld and know it’s a made-up holiday. But I don’t know if people appreciate how ridiculous it is that the pole gets the same attention on state property as does the creche or menorah. I’m sorry. It’s not really a joke when you are suing the state to get a piece of the pie.

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I’ve read some reports saying you didn’t know Festivus was fake. Do you think some people are mischaracterizing your position on purpose?

Of course! Most of the people who criticize me have never watched my show. That happened all the time when I was on Fox & Friends. Almost weekly, my colleague Brian Kilmeade would walk off the set, and he was joking. But it would be all over the blogs and on Jon Stewart that "Kilmeade got mad." They didn’t get that it was part of his shtick. It’s the same thing with this. "She doesn’t have a sense of humor. She doesn’t understand that Festivus isn’t a real holiday." So then, are these people in agreement that we should waste taxpayer dollars, sue the state government and put up a Festivus pole?

Do you think that the plot of Persecuted is realistic?

Listen, people don’t realize that their freedoms are gone until they are completely gone. Then they turn around and go, "Wait a minute. When did that happen?" Not that it will happen tomorrow, but in the news business we cover stories frequently about this topic, whether it’s a high school graduate who is giving a speech and not allowed to say the word “God” or lawsuits over crosses honoring our veterans in the Mojave Desert. They actually built a wooden box around one of them while the lawsuit was going on so that nobody would dare see the cross. It just seems that there is less tolerance for Christian symbols in the last decade, even though there’s a lot of messaging about tolerance for all different faiths, which I am 100 percent in support of. There’s even a lawsuit over the 9/11 museum preventing it from displaying the cross that was formed haphazardly by two steel bars as the destruction fell and the world watched. When you visit a museum, isn’t the point to see history through your eyes? Some people think it’s an erosion of religious freedom, and the movie is thought-provoking in that sense.