Veteran actor Gavin MacLeod, star of such popular TV shows as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE LOVE BOAT and MCHALE’S NAVY, and such famous movies as OPERATION PETTICOAT with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, and KELLY’S HEROES with Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, and Telly Savalas, says being an ambassador for Jesus Christ is the biggest honor of his life.
He said his new movie, THE SECRETS OF JONATHAN SPERRY (where he delivers a magnificent, winsome, redemptive performance that inspires the soul), which opens today, has already led many people to give their lives to Jesus Christ.
MOVIEGUIDE® Publisher Dr. Ted Baehr interviewed Gavin just before the movie’s opening weekend.
Gavin began the interview by discussing a recent trip overseas to Rome, Italy, where a popular television show interviewed him for 40 minutes about his career, especially his star turn as Captain Stubing on “The Love Boat.”
Gavin: What amazed me is that THE LOVE BOAT is still so popular in Europe, not only in Rome, where it was just an incredible experience! They just love the Captain. Even on Lufthansa, coming and going, it’s just uncanny to me how alive some of us still are in the eyes of those people.
So, I praise God for THE LOVE BOAT. They made those pilots twice before with captains with hair! Leading men types. Nothing sold. So, finally I did it after THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and God put it on the air, and it’s still all over the world. Then, when that ended, I started working for Princess Cruises, all because of the Lord, for 23 years now.
And, yesterday was my birthday [in the Lord]. I gave myself to Jesus yesterday, on the 15th of September. So, I don’t look so bad for 25!
Ted: You did a wonderful job in JONATHAN SPERRY. I’m recalling your winsome performance in the movie. You’re performance made the movie. You gave the heart and soul and intelligence to the movie. The photography was good, although often jeopardy was missing and the movie had some static dialogue, but you continually brought heart and soul to the movie.
Gavin: Well, thank you. That’s such a great honor to hear that. We’re opening this weekend all over the country. I haven’t seen those little boys [in the movie] for two years. I’ll be seeing them this Saturday for the first time in two years at the premiere. I thank you for saying those nice things.
The photography, as you mentioned, looks like a $25 million movie. And, the music itself, that can stand alone. It just enhances all the emotions that are expelled in the film. For me, as a believer and an actor, it’s just the ultimate.
When Paul says, once you’re born again, you become an ambassador for Christ. I think that’s what JONATHAN SPERRY is. That’s what I try to be. And, I think that’s what we all try to be. It’s the greatest honor to be perceived an ambassador for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This picture, at the two festivals it’s been in, has brought so many people to the Lord. Diverse people. The oldest person, a lady, was 90-years-old when we were outside of Boston with it. That was just an amazing experience with this 90-year-old lady going down at the altar call after the end of the movie. The previous matinee, this young woman and her husband came to me and she said, “My mom is 90 and she doesn’t believe in anything. She’s got to see that scene in the cemetery where you talk about choices.” And so, they brought her and when the movie was over, she went down to that altar call.
Wow! To be a part of something like that, where you can bring one person to the Lord, is a great honor to be used that way.
We’ve had over 400 or more people in the two festivals. I remember there was a man in Orlando. He was an older gent in his 60s. He came out weeping, and I said, “Are you all right?” And, he said, “Oh yeah. I haven’t been this moved since the day I gave my life to Christ.”
They had a showing of it in Guam. A mother emailed Rich, the director, and she said, “My husband is dead and my son is 14, and he’s been revolting about everything. He’s just the unhappiest revolutionary ad he’s very unhappy with life and everything. So, I made him go to the movie with me. And, when the movie was over, he didn’t say anything. The next morning I’m down at breakfast. Finally he came down, and he had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Mom, I’ve just gave my life upstairs to Jesus like Nick did in the movie last night.'”
Gavin: There are so many different stories like that. And, it just touches my heart as a guy who, since I was a little boy, wanted to be an actor. It was always my passion. And, to be able to be in something like that, that serves Jesus, it just brings tears to my eyes constantly when I think about it. These are just some of the stories. It just goes on and on and on. I may be the Captain, but we all know who the Admiral is.
Ted: God Almighty – Jesus Christ.
Gavin: Just from those two places, I’ve seen many people change their lives. What a way to be used. I played heavies most of my, because I was a young kid with a bald head, with a second-hand hairpiece, when I started. So, to be able to in my golden years, play a character like this who can speak the Word of God on film and know it’s going to last way beyond me, is just the ultimate.
Ted: Tell the Christiano Brothers they need to figure out a way to have an altar call after every screening. Just having the theater give another 15 minutes for a local minister to give an altar call would be worth its weight in gold.
Gavin: That’s a great idea!
Ted: What do you think this does for your career to be associated with these Christian movies?
Gavin: Well, my career is second to my life. And, my life is with Jesus. You know, my father died when I was just 13-years-old and he was 38-years-old. So, I never had a real male mentor. And, it wasn’t until I came to Jesus, when Patti and I were praying one night cause her dad left her when she was 9-years-old, and we both had that search and that need. It wasn’t until we were born again, when I was praying one morning and God said, “Look, you two, your search is over. I’m your real Father. I’m gonna put my arms around you and walk you through life.” And, so, my career is just a little part.
I’m 78 years old and my career all those years with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis and Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, those wonderful gifted people, that was terrific! That was a blessing from God to be able to work with those giants in the business, when Steve McQueen and I played brothers on Broadway. All that stuff! But, none of it allowed me to be a part of bringing someone to Jesus. This little movie does.
I’m one of the older people now. I don’t really know these new people [in Hollywood]. I really don’t know a lot of what’s going on, because I don’t watch that many films anymore. We watch Christian television, and we watch sports, and we watch some DVDs. So, I don’t think I’ve been affected. I’m no one to judge. I hope everybody can make a living doing what they want to do in a decent way. But, I think the moral issue is very, very important, what they’re showing these young kids.
Someone told me on the phone the other day, I took my kid to a movie the other day. It was a movie about toys and the toys were talking. Before you knew it, it got into some very edgy stuff I didn’t want my kids to see.” He said, ” Where do you go? Where do you go?” And, I said, “Well, you know, JONATHAN SPEERY is one place to go. Also, Kirk Cameron’s last picture, FIREPROOF. There are some people making films out there where you can go with your children. But I remember growing up, it was a different time. It was a whole different time.
My grandmother used to take me to movies. You could sit and just have a good time and escape from the reality of life, and go home, and then forget about it. But, now, with the violence. . . I have nine grandkids. The oldest one is going to Oxford next year and the youngest is only four. To grow up in this age when there is so much violence and previews, even on television, we just choose not to be a part of it. I guess that’s maybe what the bottom line is. We do have choices. And, my choice is to be who I am. If God can forgive me my sins and give me a new beginning like He did 25 years ago, then I owe Him something. I owe Him my entire life. He’s allowed me to fulfill my desire as a young guy to be an actor and to be able to support my family. The blessings that He has given me, [although] there’s no one special in His eyes, but I really feel special. The business is not that important to me anymore. Jesus is what’s important to me. . . . So, God has used us in such a way that it is so humbling. True, He is our Father we searched our lives for and finally found Him in midlife.
Ted: That’s beautiful. Gavin, so you’re living your life for Jesus Christ outside the entertainment industry. Even so, you’ve done several Christian films. Do you have a film coming up, because you’re still vibrant and young?
Gavin: Oh, thank you very much! The one thing the Lord has given me is a zest for life and living, doing good and being concerned about young people.
That’s why I got involved with the new project CHARACTER CLASSICS. I think that’s gonna encourage a lot of kids, a lot of grandparents, a lot of parents. Kids are going to listen to classical music. They’re going to hear wonderful messages, and fun messages on respect and truthfulness, thoughtfulness. All those things that kids have to know about. So God has been using me in just a wonderful, wonderful way.
I will go anyplace I can. I’ll be in Fresno the weekend after this with the film and being at church. It’s very important to me to think that, if I can be used [by God], anybody can be used. To be able to get out there and tell people what God has done for my life, he can do it for them too. God wants us to set goals, as long as He’s in it. As long as we know where He is and [that] He’s our Father.
Ted: Thank you so much. Praise God!