October Baby, a movie with a miniscule marketing budget and controversial (at least in Hollywood) for its pro-life message surprised the industry with a $4,300 per-screen opening last weekend at 390 theaters. The movie stars former Dukes of Hazzard heartthrob and practicing Christian John Schneider, who also stars in another film with a similar theme called Doonby, set for a summer release. The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond caught up to Schneider on the set of TV Land’s Happily Divorced to ask him: what’s up with all the anti-abortion message movies?
The Hollywood Reporter: Why two pro-life films at once?
John Schneider: Well, the people behind them are pro life, but I don’t know if the movies are. October Baby is about an 18-year-old forgiving a woman who tried to terminate her. It’s interesting, October Baby is about a person who shouldn’t be and who is, and Doonby is about a person who should be but isn’t. Doonby is more of a Twilight Zone take. It’s a film about making decisions and living with them. It’s actually It’s a Wonderful Life inverted. Neither movie is coming out and pointing a finger and saying, ‘You terrible pro-choice people are going to Hell!’
THR: Are you pro life?
Schneider: I am until somebody offers up an argument that filters through my current belief system and changes my mind. My mind has been changed on many things. Not on that, but I don’t believe in forcing my beliefs on someone else.
THR: Is it tough being pro-life in Hollywood?
Schneider: If it’s tough believing what you believe, then maybe it’s time to move. But if you are someone who militantly enforces your opinion about anything, then you need to get out of town.
THR: Who are the militant people doing that?
Schneider: They’re the ones throwing red paint at people’s fur, or bombing abortion clinics, or calling pro-life people ignorant. They’re people threatening those who don’t support gay marriage, or threatening those who do support it. I can’t imagine somebody feeling that their relationship with their creator – whoever he or she may be – is so solid that they have time to get into my shit about my belief system.
THR: What other views do you have that go against the grain in Hollywood?
Schneider: Honestly, I don’t pay that much attention. I’m a good dad and a fair husband and I work quite a bit. That takes up a fair amount of time.
THR: What do you do when discussions of politics or faith come up on the set and someone wants to impose his or her view?
Schneider: I usually kind of get quiet. You can tell if someone is about social intercourse or just about browbeating somebody with their opinion. It’s no fun arguing with a closed-minded person.
THR: Can you name names? Who are these close-minded people?
Schneider: God no. I will not point a finger — not to protect myself — but because it’s not right.
THR: Then give me an example of a political discussion with an open-minded person in Hollywood.
Schneider: I had Bill Maher say to me several times on Politically Incorrect, ‘you know, I never thought of it like that,’ and he thanked me for that. And I said to him the same thing on occasions.
THR: Name one time when Bill Maher said that to you.
Schneider: When Colin Powell said he wasn’t running for president because his wife said he shouldn’t. Bill tabled it saying, ‘what kind of a man is that?’ I said, ‘hang on, you marry a woman not only because you love her and she’s kind of cute, but also because that person is your most trusted adviser. It’s not that she doesn’t want him to be president because she wants him home to take out the trash. There’s more to it than that, and if you don’t have a ring on your finger then you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so shut up!’ And he said, ‘Okay!’
THR: Rumor has it Johnny Cash encouraged you to become a born-again Christian?
Schneider: I was a Christian when I lived with Johnny and June, and he solidified my belief system. He was a manly person who believed in Jesus. He was not an emasculated Christian. He was a rough guy held together by his belief in God and his love for his wife. There’s never a bad time to see that example.
THR: Is there anti-Christian bigotry in Hollywood?
Schneider: Sure, there’s Christian bigotry. There’s also Democrat bigotry, Republican bigotry, straight bigotry and homosexual bigotry. There’s a lot of people here.
THR: Give me an anecdote of bigotry you’ve experienced.
Schneider: I was in a makeup trailer talking to the executive producer — the boss of the show – and I said that one of the reasons I moved to the Agoura area was to find a Christian school, because I didn’t want my kids to be taught that evolution is the only possible answer to how we got here. And I lost my directing job because of that statement. That person said, ‘that’s terrible, we can’t have your perspective… All’s I said was I wanted both perspectives. It’s all I said.
THR: Who was that executive producer?
Schneider: I’m not telling you, Paul.
THR: Are you worried about being typecast in message movies?
Schneider: When you boil it down, most movies are message movies. And I think careers are made in message movies. My god, Meryl Streep made a career out of message movies and there’s no better actress on the planet.
THR: Are Christian movies just preaching to the choir?
Schneider: Maybe they were until October Baby. It didn’t get into the Top 5 per-screen because churches went to see it. Secular people think all that Christian moviemakers have to do is send out an email and all the churches in the nation will see it. That’s absolute bullshit. I was out promoting October Baby on Fox News, the Today show, on VH1 and all kinds of stuff, and I think that’s what helped get people into the theaters. It’s not churches making October Baby the phenomenon that it is.
THR: What’s it like being a former teen idol.
Schneider: It was great. And, Paul, the coolest thing is happening now. There’s a whole new passel of 7-year-olds who are huge Dukes of Hazzard fans because it’s still running on CMT. I was just in Rochester doing a car show, and a 7-year-old came up to me to meet Bo Duke, and he said he was Bo for Halloween. I signed a number of Pinewood Derby cars then, too.
THR: Do girls who grew up watching you still swoon when they see you?
Schneider: They do, but they have to be careful because they have bad knees now. I still sign copies of Tiger Beat magazine. The girls who were 16 then still have a special place in their hearts for Bo, as does Bo for them.
THR: You see the South Park parody of Dukes?
Schneider: My son showed it to me. It was great. And I saw the Family Guy episode where they paint the station wagon orange and paint a ’01’ on the door. Dukes is an amazing piece of history now. It’s still on TV 34 years later and kids still dress up like Bo, Luke and Daisy, and local officials still tell me they have somebody in their town that’s just like Boss Hogg.
THR: Would a new show as quaint as Dukes work today?
Schneider: If it’s honest, like Doonby and October Baby are. Yes, Dukes was corny, but underneath all the corn was Denver Pyle as Uncle Jesse telling the boys that they were never to do anything to insult or harm another person. Sure, we’d jump cars and all that, but morally and ethically Dukes was and still is sound. We would never go out and force our perspective on others, but if you insulted a girl, Bo would hit you – and I probably would, too. I believe you should be a gentleman, and that’s old-fashioned. The characters I play in Doonby and October Baby also believe that. They live by a code of ethics.
THR: You still see Catherine Bach and Tom Wopat?
Schneider: I see Catherine a lot because she lives out here, and Tom and I are doing a number of concerts together in Niagara on the Canadian side. It’s one of those weird relationships with Tom. We were best friends from hello and remain so after 34 years.
THR: What happened to your FaithWorks production company?
Schneider: It lasted a year and a half. I thought all’s people had to know was that there was a great avenue for family-friendly videos and people would show up. I was wrong. Yep. You actually have to promote, and that’s hard to do and it gets more expensive every day.
THR: You helped create the Children’s Miracle Network charity.
Schneider. That I did, with Marie Osmond, Mick Shannon and Joe Lake. We are about to turn 30 and we’ve raised $5 billion for children’s hospitals in North America, and I’m very proud of that. It has saved lives. It’s an inarguable truth that children deserve good health care regardless of their families’ ability to pay.
THR: You ready to endorse someone for president?
Schneider: No. People have come to me for my opinion since October Baby. But, hey, look, I’m an actor who is very fortunate to be in a movie that’s making wonderful noise, and hopefully helping parents and children to be a little closer. Leave me alone. I’m not talking about politics. I’m just trying to have a conversation with my own kids.
THR: What do you think of the buzz and per-screen results of October Baby?
Schneider: Selfishly, I’m very excited. I do lots of work and always try to do my best, but I never know what’s going to happen. So far with the movies I’ve done it has been kind of – nothing. They’ve been entertaining for those who have seen them, but I never did a movie that people have wanted to talk about until now. That sounds very sad.
THR: What did you think of the Dukes of Hazzard movie?
Schneider: The only thing they got right was the color of the car.