“The Shack” has stirred up some controversy ahead of its theatrical release on Friday. Based on the Christian novel by William P. Young, the film stars some big names — Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw — but hasn’t been warmly received by all viewers due to its on-screen depiction of God. As a young father dealing with the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Mack Phillips (Worthington) is beckoned into the Oregon wilderness, where he encounters a trio of characters who serve to restore his faith.
Worthington discussed the movie — and Spencer’s depiction of God — a few days before the premiere.
WWD: How did you get involved with the film?
Sam Worthington: The producer gave me the script. I always knew that the book existed, but I never knew what the story was about so I went into the script for lines. By the time I finished reading — some movies you want to do because of the story, because of the character, the world — I admit, that the feeling I had at the end of it, that visceral feeling, is what made me want to do the part.
WWD: How would you clarify that feeling?
S.W.: That’s the thing, I can’t! Maybe it was a case of looking back, maybe it was a case of if I’d had those arguments, or the journey that the guy went on of this search of forgiveness and how to do that, that made me want to go on the journey myself. You just kind of got to the end of [the story] and felt a bit spent, and went, “This is something I wouldn’t mind exploring more.”
WWD: When you signed on, had any of the other cast already come on board?
S.W.: Yeah, Octavia. Octavia was on.
WWD: Can you talk about what it was like working with her and Tim McGraw?
S.W.: Well, Octavia is a very warm person. And I think she was a bit overwhelmed by playing God, because, where do you even begin? I think when you realize you can ground it, and it’s just the same as two friends talking, because it’s especially what it’s like when you pray to God, he’s like a friend. Trying to seek guidance, she approached it that way.
And Tim, Tim’s down to earth, too. He’s this massive, massive music star, but he doesn’t come across that way at all. He comes across as this dedicated actor. This is something he wants to get better at, and he’s done several great movies, and he’s at it as an actor. It’s not just some half-done thing. He was passionate about the role, and passionate about what the story was trying to say.
WWD: What was it like filming in British Columbia? It was very beautiful, right?
S.W.: Yeah, it was great! But that’s just one of the lucky things about my job. You get to travel around and go to different places. My wife loved it, with my son who was several months old and he loved being outdoors. Yeah, we had a great time up there.
WWD: What’s your take on the criticism around the faith aspect of the book and film? Did you face any of the film’s criticism directly, or have you tried to not be so involved?
S.W.: No, I’ve had friends mention things to me. You know, the book is quite clear and the movie’s quite clear about why God is represented by Octavia Spencer. There’s even a line about it, I think he goes, “[I thought] you’d be a man in a big white beard!” and she goes, “That’s Santa Claus, honey! I’m here in a form that is less threatening to you, I’m in a form that can open you up.” And that’s what the movie’s about. It’s about God trying to connect with us in a way that can help us. And then, after, you turn connecting back to God, and say, “How can we help the human race?” And, I don’t know, there’s always gonna be criticisms, no matter what movie you do, no matter what. You can’t please everybody, and it doesn’t matter what the genre is. There’s always gonna be a positive to a negative comment.
WWD: I guess it’s even a good thing to have that conversation.
S.W.: That’s the great thing about art, and movies, and songs, is that discussion. They can open up these discussions, and face them. That’s what I love about them.
I think it’s a hopeful film, even though it’s about death and loss and grief and how to forgive others that have done you wrong. I think it’s a very hopeful movie. And I think these kind of times, I think that’s what we should search for when it comes to our entertainment.