We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Shadyac, director of Evan Almighty, for a roundtable discussion. As we quickly learned, he’s a long-haired, whirling dervish of manic energy, constantly defying people’s expectations.

RT: As compared to Bruce Almighty, it seems as if there was a conscious effort to stay away from anything possibly offensive, other than, say, poop jokes, in this movie.

Tom: It was a conscious effort to invite everyone to this movie. This is an ark story, with animals, a flood, and a big boat, and I thought it would be insane to not invite a two year old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone and I thought this movie ought to. It dictated to us what to do. So, no, you don’t find those things that I’m still absolutely fine with. Although, maybe you ought to not read your bibles then, because it has a lot of violence, sexual impropriety and people with multiple wives and deception – but the darkness is used to light.

RT: You worked a lot with people’s image and conception of God, how God is depicted and how we imagine God. That seems to come from your own spirituality because it’s consistent with Bruce Almighty.

Tom: It does, it does. That voice you see in the movie, that God voice, is very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it. How he delivers it, the way he says it. Yes, it’s very specific and personal to me the way God is presented in these movies.
RT: What do you want people walking away thinking about this dialogue with God?

Tom: Everything I do is a reflection of where I’m standing or something that I believe in. So as a story-teller, we want to spread that. I took a journey in my life. I’ve had a great deal of success. I’ll say blessing/curse because they go hand in hand. I think it can be very deceiving. Because I was an idolater of magnitude, the bigger the better: the house the money, the thing. And I had to learn about personal change. For me, this is an expression of that. So do I want them to take that specific message? If it speaks to them, yes. Hopefully there’s enough here so that we can meet people right where they are. Art is best when this great Thing works through us. We don’t even know what we’re doing. That’s my personal journey, but how many other journeys are involved in this web?

RT: It’s not clear in the film whether the biblical account really happened. As part of the film’s back-story, God gives an interpretation of the story but he doesn’t quite come out and say that it did happen…

Tom: This is a new telling, a new approach to the Noah story. I couldn’t tell you whether it happened or not. It wouldn’t shake my faith either way. I’m sure there are those who will say “it happened, it happened.” Maybe it did, go with God. I don’t approach with “I know,” I approach it with an openness.

That story could absolutely fully exist as it was. We are not contrary to that story at all, I believe. Let’s say it happened, He’s saying, “I once destroyed the world, because there was so much corruption. We’re here today. I no longer have to destroy the world, look at what you’re doing. To each other.

There’s been some talk about the Christian environmentalists at work. How can we not be concerned about the environment? Because the environment is not a tree, it’s not the air, it’s how we treat each other. You and I are now in the same environment, we’re creating an environment here. I hope one of respect. This movie is about the environment, meaning you, me, and this gift of a world that we live in.

RT: Bruce Almighty was made four years ago, before what some people call “The Passion Effect” where everyone says Hollywood’s changed in terms of how they deal with spiritual themes and religious audiences. Having worked on religiously themed movies before and after that, what differences have you perceived?

Tom: Well this one difference I have perceived: I’m not doing anything different. I’m just doing movies that speak to me, whether there’s a passion effect or not. As far as studios go, they are aware a faith-based audience exists. It is the great unknown x-factor of how a movie will do. No one knew what it would do for The Passion [of the Christ], or [The Chronicles of] Narnia. But they are aware now, that there are people out there, a new audience, that can come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes in the movie. When I showed the studio the movie, they put more money into advertising in order to reach that faith-based audience. We don’t know what that will mean. It could be the big x-factor that puts us into the stratospheric box office. It could mean very little.

RT: There are people that you work with that know you are a Christian. When they see you working on a project like this, does it ever bring up any conversations or start them asking questions?

Tom: I will tell you the best preaching I’ve ever done is without words. As the saint of all saints, Francis, would say “preach the gospel wherever you can and where all else fails, use words.” I’ll tell you a story about effective preaching: people come up to me all the time and they say “where do you get your energy?” I’m 48. I look younger. I have kids in my company and I kill them all – they can’t keep up with me on a bicycle, on a surfboard, or in a debate about life. So they want to know “what’s going on with you?”

I started riding a bicycle right after Bruce, because the gift of play is a gift and I think we’ve lost that in our culture. It’s about working, working, working – we live to work, we don’t work to live. So I started riding a bicycle. I didn’t preach about riding a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle. I’m in really good shape, I could ride for a hundred miles, I have more energy. And now everyone in my life has a bicycle. I never told them to ride a bicycle, I just rode a bicycle.

I think people are asking all the time about each of us. If they see something worth inquiring about, and emulating, and incorporating they will, but it has to come from our change. I don’t think they care much about what I think of Jesus, I really don’t. I think they care how I embody the Sermon on the Mount or how I greet you. So the preaching is in the doing.

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