Stephen McEveety, film producer, talks about faith, film, and fatherhood
“All it takes is one person to stand up and do what’s right”
By Julie Rattey
Stephen McEveety, producer of “The Passion of the Christ,” and executive producer of “Bella” and “Braveheart,” knows a good story when he sees one. A lot of scripts pass by his desk; a lot don’t get any farther. But recently, he says, one script blew him away. It was based on a book telling the true story of an innocent woman accused of adultery and stoned to death in an Iranian village. McEveety was hooked. Wow, he thought. This story has to be told.
That script became the film “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” which opens June 26 and features a host of talented actors, including Shohreh Aghdashloo (“The Nativity Story”) and Jim Caviezel of “The Passion of the Christ” (see Catholic Digest’s interview with Caviezel about his life and this film). Catholic Digest recently spoke with McEveety about his involvement with the project, how being a dad has changed his life, and how he handles being a Catholic in Hollywood.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
It’s a real event that did happen in Iran and happens in many parts of the world all the time. But for me that wasn’t why I was interested in it. It was just an exaggeration as to what we do to each other; primarily how men treat women. Particularly the mental abuse that happens. It just was something I felt would bring attention to all of us. That we have to be kinder.
Nobody stands up for this woman except for her aunt. But all it takes is one person to stand up and do what’s right. Though she appears to fail, she has succeeded because her whole desire, after being unable to prevent this stoning, was to make sure the world found out about it, and here we are, a Hollywood film company telling the whole world about this story. So she succeeded.
In addition to this film you’ve played a producing role in films such as “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ,” all of which have very graphic violence in them. Such depictions have been alternately applauded and criticized by the press and public. How do you as a producer judge how far is too far?
It’s a collective decision. I get advice from the marketing people and from my co-producers and the director. The marketing people wanted us to cut [the violence] down, but I think they were wrong. It may be easier to sell if it was cut down, but it wouldn’t be the movie it is and wouldn’t have the power that it has. You’ve just got to go with your gut.
You and your wife Susie have four children. How do you as a family approach issues of media violence and sexuality in your own home?
When they were little we just unplugged the TV and it “didn’t work” for like seven or eight years. The DVD and video machine “worked” fine, so we were able to select what we watched at home. Now that they’re older it’s a little out of control. They’re all in their teens. My oldest is 23. But they’re great. And because we didn’t have the television all the time, they read. In fact they read five times faster than I do. They play games. They have great imaginations.
In today’s world all they have to do is type in s-e-x in the computer and there it is. And it’s pretty hard to stop, so you have to hope that you instill in them from an early age that they have responsibilities. To my knowledge none of them are typing in s-e-x. They’re good kids. I’m very lucky. And my wife is just fabulous.
How has being a dad influenced your faith life?
When we first started having kids I started going to Mass once a week because of the kids more than anything. So God got a hold of me after many years and so I’ve been converted, so my kids certainly had a lot to do with where I am in my faith right now.
How would you say that that has affected your life in general?
I have peace and joy, and I’ve just had probably the greatest life anyone could ask for. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that I believe in Christ and I have Mary as a friend, and so with that comes peace and joy. Can’t ask for more than that, can you? And I have adventure. You throw adventure in there and voilà!
You’ve said that the media have a strong influence on people’s moral values. How does that knowledge effect how you approach your job as a producer?
It certainly effects what I choose to produce. Though I’ve made movies that have a lot of violence in them, none of them, in my opinion, were gratuitous; they all had a point for violence and it was an important point in the storytelling. And the stories that have violence in them have very strong moral messages. And that message wouldn’t be as clear without the violence. I would not be interested in making a horror movie that had a lot of violence in it so that I can entertain and get people into the theaters. I probably would be a far wealthier man than I am now if I was to do that, but that would be a violation to my own moral values, so I can’t do that. The sexual stuff, I just don’t even go there. I can’t see a situation where it’s necessary, quite frankly, to get your message across. You can have intimacy without showing sexuality. I don’t anticipate going there in the future. Besides, my wife would kill me. (laughter) So that’s not even on the table.
Though it can sometimes be a positive influence, the film industry is famously commercial and cutthroat. How does your faith help you navigate the industry on a day-to-day basis?
Well it allows me to believe I can, if that makes sense to you. I can do whatever it is that I need to do to achieve my goal, and that means starting my own company, and if I can’t get a distributor I just do it myself. If I can’t get a foreign distributor, I start a foreign distribution company. And that’s what I’m forced to do. I don’t like to take no for an answer and I find a way around it. So I’ll probably crash and burn, but it’s been fun trying. I’ve made great films. Some of them are failures, some of them are successes. I love them all.
What do you find most rewarding about being a producer?
I think the adventure is quite rewarding. I get to go all over the world and meet people that I have no business meeting. I’m just a dumb guy from the San Fernando Valley and a bit of a Forrest Gump, you might say. I just end up in wonderful places with all sorts of people — both significantly wealthy leaders and very poor, underprivileged people. I get a real variety of life and I get to bring my kids. And I get to do what I like to do the most, and that’s just tell stories. I’m blessed. Hopefully it continues. CD
The book that’s recently had the strongest impression on him: Left to Tell (by Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, click here to read Catholic Digest’s interview with Ilibagiza). “That book kind of blew me away, so we’re going to make that movie. What attracted me to this book was the forgiveness aspect. Again it’s a universal theme that we all need to deal with and learn.”
Film he’s most proud of making: The Passion of the Christ
His favorite films (besides his own!): “I really like the fun Indiana Jones movies and ET and those kinds of things.”
Favorite food: Thai
His favorite prayer: Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel
Favorite memory from Catholic school: “Graduation.” (laughs)
Some of his favorite things to do with his family: “Our lives are divided into movies. [It’s fun when we’re] making a movie like “Braveheart” where they get to come on the set and hang out and play with all the weapons and just be part of that world. In terms of memories I think those are the funnest for all of us. Where most people go on vacations, we go on location. They lived in Rome for eight months while we did "The Passion of the Christ". Who gets to do that?”