The CW Has a New Show Tackling Faith:
Behind the Scenes of THE MESSENGERS
By Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
A new show on the CW titled THE MESSENGERS is trying to tackle issues of faith amid the backdrop of a world that could soon be facing its end.
The series introduces five individuals from around the country. Vera Buckley is an atheistic scientist, who’s investigating some irregularities coming from a meteor. Erin Calder is a single mother with a past of alcoholism, who’s trying to keep her daughter away from her controlling ex-husband police officer. A federal agent, Raul Garcia, is betrayed by his own team while undercover in Mexico. Peter Moore is an awkward teenage boy, who moves between group homes and has a history of being suicidal. Lastly, Joshua Silburn is a prosperity preacher, who’s following in his father’s footsteps as a famous speaker.
Each of these five lives are broken in some way. When the meteor that Vera was tracking lands on earth, a shockwave emerges and hits each of the five individuals, causing them to collapse dead and minutes later revive. What landed with the meteor is The Man (Diogo Morgado) who is revealed later to be Lucifer. Each of the five individuals are given gifts and are now messengers of God’s impending judgment.
Movieguide® had the opportunity to interview two of the stars, Shantel VanSanten (Vera) and Jon Fletcher (Joshua), as well as one of the program’s producers, Trey Callaway.
Question: Was the casting of Diogo (Jesus from SON OF GOD) at all intentional, or did he just read the best for the part?
Trey Callaway: It was really the latter. It was really a situation where Diogo’s tremendous. I think what he brings to the role is a real sense of the devil as we’re trying to interpret him, as a figure that has probably got the greatest inferiority complex in all of history, who has literally been cast out of heaven for hubris, has been shunned by God, and has chosen to then sort of manipulate humankind during his free time. Diogo brings a lot of that to life in the nuance of his performance, so it’s really interesting. I don’t think you’re ever going to – this season or any season – root for the devil, but maybe (hopefully) if we’ve done our jobs correctly you might at least have a better understanding of why he’s as evil as he is, or chooses to be at times.
Q: So did the cast study the book of Revelation much? What did that look like?
Jon Fletcher: I did a lot. I mean I read it a bunch and kept going back to it throughout the season as other things would come up, and I felt like, playing Joshua, I should know as much as possible. We use it throughout the season. It’s loosely based on Revelation, I would say, but mainly the show is about faith, and not just what your religious background is, but faith in each other as well, and I think that’s the real beauty of the show.
Shantel VanSanten: I bought a graphic novel, actually, called Revelation, because I like visuals, and I also like graphic novels. You know, Vera’s an atheist, she’s a scientist, she searches for answers. There’s not really a whole lot of room for faith or the unknown or coincidence or everything happening for a reason. It’s just different in her mind and in her belief system. So I found that it was interesting for me to read, but there wasn’t a whole lot of it that I could base my character’s thoughts around.
Q: One line I liked when Joshua is talking to his father, and he says, “If you continue this sacrilege, you won’t be welcome in my church.” I said to myself, “It’s not your church.” And the next thing came out, “It’s not your church. It’s God’s church.” I think that’s going to be a line that’s going to resonate with a lot of people.
Trey Callaway: I think you’re right.
Jon Fletcher: Yeah, it’s a huge turning point for him when he reawakens. His whole faith, his belief system, this God they preach about being if you do good, God does good for you is the prosperity God. The Joel Osteen-type God is not the God that he sees (in his vision). So that was fascinating for me to play, because I think at some point in each one of our lives, our faith is challenged, and it was a very fascinating path to take.
Shantel VanSanten: The writers did such a good job. We all start off, each character having a belief system, and having things that we each think, if you will, our faith or our beliefs. Through events and through challenges that we face, your beliefs shift, just like in real life. So, I think that when people watch they’ll find themselves relating to people and then following their journey, and then they may relate to somebody else, because what we believe in the beginning is really tested and manipulated and transformed, in my mind, throughout the whole story.
Q: Why do you think that they bought this show now? Because the book of Revelation powers “Sleepy Hollow,” we’ve got “AD,” we have “Killing Jesus,” we have “Finding Jesus,” we’ve had a whole lot of stuff in the last couple years. So what do you think it is about this moment in time that made the CW want to pick up this show?
Trey Callaway: I think it’s a great question, and the only way I can think of to answer it is instinctively – I think cyclically, across the generations, there are periods when people feel more threatened and afraid. Whether it’s political strife, or military conflict, or socioeconomic divides that widen, there are any number of a multitude of reasons that make people feel vulnerable. I think those are times also, traditionally, when people seek out faith. They seek out something to believe and to reassure them. Because myself, as a viewer and as a human being, have felt threatened and vulnerable in a lot of ways just when things start to feel and seem dark in the world that we live in. If there’s one thing that bonds all of the first 13 episodes the most, it’s that there’s this sort of overwhelming sense of hope at the center of it. I feel a little bit guilty speaking about this, because neither one of them have been able to see anything else. I’m one of the few people in this room who’s gotten to see all 13. I say this as a little bit of a sap, admittedly, but there’s at least one moment in every single one of these episodes that kind of yanks your heart out a little bit, and it really makes you feel something.
Q: We saw your gift, vision/prophecy, and then the other one about reading minds. I’m assuming all of the messengers have a gifting.
Trey Callaway: They all do. For some, whose belief systems or lack thereof are a little bit more challenging, the gifts have a way of revealing themselves when it’s time. It’s a really interesting evolution, I think, because it allows Vera’s character to, at least initially, maintain this strong wall, of “No, no. See, I’m not like the rest of you people believing I have a gift.”
It’s been important for us from the beginning to distinguish, in the beginning when press or even some folks at the studio or the network would refer to them as “powers,” I would always be the first to say, “No, no, no, these are gifts. These are gifts.” These are not superheroes. These are human beings. It’s as if, though, that higher power of God has looked into the hearts of each one of these people and said, “Okay, I see something in you that needs to be fixed. You need help with a certain issue or issues. I’m going to give you this gift” – and forgive me for speaking for God, but this is for the series – “I’m going to give you this gift, and this gift can be instrumental to you. It can help you personally. It can also help all of humankind. It’s a tool for either your salvation or your destruction. What’s going to happen next is going to be about the choices that you make.” I think again, in terms of hopefully striking resonant chords, we’re all given gifts in our lives in one form or fashion, and every day we are challenged to figure out how to use them, and ultimately how to use them for good or evil purposes or otherwise. So I think it’s again, really to keep it grounded as we’ve attempted to do all season long, to challenge these individuals with these gifts that they first have to first come to accept, then they have to try and develop some mastery over if that’s possible, and then they have to work collectively with each other.
Q: So who were your preacher models as you were trying to figure out your style?
Jon Fletcher: I watched a lot of Joel Osteen. There was a guy in New York called Kyle Lance. I watched a lot of these modern day preachers. Kyle has tattoos and a leather jacket and a shaved head, and they’re just a very different style than Billy Graham. They’re just a very different style. I watched a lot of Billy too, and I kind of just took pieces from all of them. I mean the one thing they all have in common is how passionate they are. There’s one of Joel’s that I watched, and I was bawling by the end after 40 minutes, and I have no idea why, but he was just so passionate, and the same with Kyle. The way they inspire is really beautiful, and that’s kind of where I tried to come from with Joshua. They’re selling something in a sense, and you’re trying to get everyone on board, and that’s the angle I kind of came from at the beginning, yeah.
Q: How did this challenge your own belief systems, if it did at all?
Jon Fletcher: You know, my beliefs are very personal just like anybody’s, but I think the thing I spoke about earlier, that I have in common with Joshua is having your faith challenged at a lot of points in my life. Like Trey said, I’ve been in a dark place and had been trying to find an answer somewhere; and, it was really fascinating playing him, and him having such strong belief, and “this is the way God is,” and fully believing that for his entire life and then one moment just changes everything. This God that he sees is angry and is not, no matter what we do, is not going to be pleased, and He wants this and this, and I very much connected with him in that sense. Like I said, it gets very dark for Joshua and this path that he heads down, especially his family life gets. . . Yeah, it’s interesting. Complicated.
Trey Callaway: We’re doing the best we can to interpret the Bible, you know; going from Scripture to screen is always a tremendous challenge. The Bible’s not a screenplay, we’re well aware of that. We only want to treat the Bible with deep and profound respect and then to use it as this inspirational jumping-off point to help tell a story, which is ultimately just about a struggle between good and evil, and as Shantel said, it is about faith. It’s about how you have to find faith in yourself at some of the worst times in life when you really don’t feel like getting out of bed, and how you have to find faith in other people, even if they’re complete and total strangers whom you would have never otherwise met, and then yeah, for the long term, may it be 15 seasons from now, it’s about helping people find faith in a power that’s greater than all of us combined.
Q: We’ve gotten this sort of sanitized idea of angels – cherubs, and little angel pins and everything – but if you look at angels from the whole of Judeo-Christian tradition, they are awesome creatures in the original meaning of the word. They are not little cute cherubs. There have been other movies that feature the war among the angels. It’s sort of nice every now and then to sort of give angels their power back.
Trey Callaway: We get some of those in before the end of this season, and beyond hopefully. I think in our interpretation it’s been helpful to empower them when necessary, but also to keep them as grounded and relatable and human as possible. You know, my mind always goes to one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Clarence the angel. I think we love him because he feels so grounded, and he’s wearing underwear that his wife gave him. It’s what makes you relate to him. Each one of these five, ultimately seven, messengers whom you’ll come to know over this first season, they were people first, with very real crises and problems in their lives – none of which go away, by the way.
It’s a constant back-and-forth between, “How do I live my own life?” and “How do I honor a greater destiny?”
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