Q&A: Faith, comedy & MMA

By Timothy Dalrymple, Patheos.com…

In Here Comes the Boom, comedic actor Kevin James plays a burned-out teacher who rediscovers a purpose in life when he commits to raising money for his school’s music program by entering mixed-martial arts (MMA) fights — and losing.

Mr. James, who co-produced the film, is a zealous MMC fan and knows personally many of the real-life fighters who appear in it. The star also made sure that elements of his Christian faith were represented in the script. He spoke with Timothy Dalrymple of Patheos.com; here are excerpts.

Here Comes the Boom showed characters engaging in acts of everyday faith — praying before a fight, or discussing the story of Jacob wrestling with God over a plate of pasta. What’s your own faith background?

I’m a Catholic. Faith has always been a part of my life. There have been times in my life when I’ve gone away from the faith, then come back, but I’ve grown to realize that it’s really the reason why we’re here, the reason why we were created. I’m a strong believer in it, and it’s helped me in many areas of my life.

Kevin James (r) stars in Here Comes the Boom as a biology teacher who enters mixed-martial arts matches for the money, hoping to save his school’s music program. PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

Was there a deliberate decision to include scenes where faith is organic to the lives of the characters?

Yes, absolutely. There are so many movies out there that go the opposite way. There’s so much negativity. To show faith and prayer as positive things was important to me. You’re right in that it’s difficult. You don’t want to beat people over the head. They’re hip to it, and they know when you’re just banging them over the head to get them to believe it. So that was important to me, to make it organic, and to have it be in the main stream of this movie. It shows up in different parts of the movie.

You had a bunch of MMA fighters, these hyper-masculine men, sitting around a dinner table discussing a Bible story. You’ve gotten to know the MMA world well. Have you seen that there?

Oh, man. Faith plays a HUGE part for the fighters I’ve met, following the sport. I became a fan of the sport back in 1993, and as I grew to know these people and these fights, to see them and work out with them, it wasn’t even the fighting so much that impressed me. They seem like gladiators going at each other in a cage — but they’re real people. Some of them are fighting to put food on the table for their children, or they’re fighting for the money to care for a sick grandmother, all sorts of reasons.

The Bible says that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. That’s really what we wanted to show in this movie. That’s exactly what the character does. You don’t have to hit people over the head to make sure they get it.

In the fighting world, I see it all the time. I know how much prayer and a strong relationship with God is needed, and they rely on it.

Who’s your favorite MMA fighter and why?

I have so many, but I have to say that Bas Rutten was my favorite MMA fighter because he first brought me to the sport. Getting to know him, when he came to the states and became champion, knowing what he went through, not just fighting but overcoming the language barrier to becoming the person he is with the charisma he has. He’s just a great person. He’s one of the many guys I’ve met through MMA who is just a fantastic person. Ryan Parsons is another, Mark Munoz. They’re such great people.

[Your character] Scott Voss does something extraordinary to help others. What’s the most rewarding thing you’ve done to help others?

Well, there are always big gifts you can give, but it’s also the small ways. Those are the ones that are often most impressive. Little things, like, I was driving with someone one time. They stopped and went out and helped a homeless guy, helped him across the street, jumped back in the car, and his life just went on. He never made mention of it. Didn’t make a big deal. I’ve known people in my life who do these little acts of kindness. It makes me think, I need to be a better version of myself. It will change you and the way you perceive things.

As a Catholic, and someone in your line of work, how do you perceive God’s calling on your life?

I’m finding it every day. It’s how I navigate His calling, how I listen to it. It drives my family and drives what I’m all about. I cannot separate God from my life. You can’t live like that. . . .

Now, that doesn’t mean I need to play a priest in every movie. That would do more of a disservice. People would think I’m preaching to them and I’d be out of the business. So I just try to take the opportunities God has given me, try to be funny and entertain and put a positive message in the movies I do. We all fall short, and I’m not crazy about every movie I’ve done. But you continue to try to get better as a person and do the best work you can.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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