Corbin Bernsen Interview: "Christian Mingle" Director Discusses His Faith—No Holds Barred
Image attributed to Corbin Bernsen
Born September 7, 1954, Corbin Bernsen blazed to TV stardom in 1986 on L.A. Law as opportunistic divorce lawyer Arnie Becker. He’s also known for his roles as Dr. Alan Feinstone in The Dentist, as Henry Spencer on USA’s Psych and as Roger Dorn in the films Major League, Major League II and Major League: Back to the Minors.
Other TV appearances include Ryan’s Hope, Matlock, Touched by an Angel, 7th Heaven, The West Wing, Third Watch, NYPD Blue, The Young and the Restless (Father Todd Williams), General Hospital, Cuts, Boston Legal, Castle, Criminal Minds, Switched at Birth, The Glades, Motive and numerous television movies.
"There’s a discrepancy in using the word 'fuck' and calling yourself a believer. In today’s world, some people, by just the virtue of this interview, will say, 'Oh I didn’t know that. Corbin uses the F-word, so he can’t possibly be a Christian.' Well, yes I can. By the way, you who cheated your neighbor and gave his kids less for his property than what it was worth … you call yourself a Christian. You’re not in my book."
Films include Disorganized Crime, Radioland Murders, Tales from the Hood, The Great White Hype, Apocalypse IV: Judgment, Raptor, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Carpool Guy, Rust (also director/writer/producer), 25 Hill (also director/writer/producer) and 3 Day Test (also director/writer).
Bernsen and his partner, Chris Aronoff, head up Home Theater Films, which produces and distributes “smart family films,” with the belief that any changes on a personal or national level must begin with the family. The newest film project, Christian Mingle, starring Lacey Chabert, Jonathan Patrick Moore and Morgan Fairchild, will be released October 10, 2014, in selected theaters.
The actor, writer, director is the son of Harry Bernsen, a Hollywood producer, and veteran television actress Jeanne Cooper known to millions of daytime drama fans as Katherine Chancellor on CBS’s The Young and the Restless. He and his wife, Amanda Pays, have four sons.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Corbin, you are a very busy guy, and you have several projects going on at the same time!
Corbin Bernsen: I do indeed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s start by talking about the reason you began making faith-based films.
Corbin Bernsen: I’ve been making basically faith-based movies for about five years now. It’s something, very simply, that grew out of a natural desire to explore my faith, my Christian faith, and to strengthen it. Within that, I would say first and foremost that I’m a storyteller, so I don’t set out to do it because I want to evangelize the Christian faith. I’m doing it because I’m exploring stories, stories that just happen to be around my faith.
In a world that’s hurting right now, possibly we all could explore it together, the teachings of this incredible man who had a pretty good prescription for living some 2,000 years ago. I’m not in my church saying, I’m going to go out there and change the world!” It’s not that. I’m not trying to convert anybody.
I tell personal stories with a personal meaning, not stories that are my stories, but personal stories that are of people that are perhaps struggling with their faith or finding faith, and to do that, we explore the whole notion of faith in that way. It just feels right in this period. I’m not saying that it will be the only films I’ll ever make. Certainly not. I’ve just written a couple of things that have nothing to do with it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did Christian Mingle come about?
Corbin Bernsen: Well, along the way, my producing partner and I just felt like every movie had to be so over the top, “come to Jesus,” type of film. We wondered why people just couldn’t make good films that have some Christian values in them. Some larger movies do that certainly, but these smaller, independent films seem to be always “hit over the head come to Jesus your life will be fixed” things. Why couldn’t we do romantic comedies and thrillers and other genres?
A romantic comedy was really intriguing to us especially since there’s so much material, if you will, with young Christians getting together, getting married or finding the right guy for a girl. I happened to be at a Faith and Film Summit and met the guy who runs Christian Mingle. There’s a huge brand of online dating, which I thought could be a nice world to get into and to explore a film in that area. We pitched a little story, and it grew starting two and a half years ago to the release coming up on October 10.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some reviewers are already criticizing the film saying that it’s a commercial for the dating site.
Corbin Bernsen: Right. I’ve got to get past some critics who’ve said some pretty horrible things who aren’t Christians. They’re making fun of it and all that. It is not a commercial. At its purest, and what has always interested me, is the real integration of a brand into a film that is both beneficial to the brand and beneficial to the film.
There are 14 million Christian Mingle users. That’s a nice audience that might be interested in my film. Sure, on first blush, I suppose that’s what it looks like, but I can only say so many times publicly without sounding like, “he doth protest too much,” that it is not at all a commercial. Does it speak well for Christian Mingle? Sure. Absolutely. Is it for Christian Mingle specifically? No. It’s a romantic comedy about a young girl looking for a guy who happens, along the way, to find God.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There seems to be quite a number of “God” films that have hit the theaters lately. What is the reason for that?
Corbin Bernsen: To speak very frankly, the world is fucked up (laughs). It’s in bad shape right now; terrorism acts are played out on video. Our lives are exposed on video and YouTube. It’s all too much. The human heart and the human soul, which I believe are divinely connected, want to reach out to something a little more back to their roots, what we are as human beings. We have the ability to behead. We also have the ability to behave and love.
I think we want to know more about love. We want to know more about compassion, the teachings of Jesus Christ and other religious leaders along the way. There is a “going back to roots” of faith. Faith was the cornerstone of our communities. The church was one of the first buildings built. It’s where we got together as a community, or in other cultures, the temple and synagogue. I think there’s a return to that. I could be the Hollywood guy and tell you that there’s just a lot of Christians out there so you’re making movies for a very specific audience, which is absolutely true on the business side of things.
A lot of Christians don’t want to see the other crap, and they just say, “Give me something for us.” There’s a big number there, and you can make quite a lot of money. God’s Not Dead, for example, making $65 million or whatever. There’s a lot of money to be made, but I think on a larger level, there’s somewhat of a return toward spiritual base, which kind of began in the 60s, quite frankly, with the whole hippie movement.
There was a return to earth and love and harmony. Drugs just spun it out of control. Free love spun it out of control. Drugs do beget a bigger drug problem, and open and free sex clearly beget other problems from HIV to whatever. Just the fact that when you’re having so much free love with so many people, the ability for natural diseases will happen.
I think we’re returning now again 50 years later with a desire to go back to our roots. Now it has grown into something larger. It’s faith. It’s organic eating. It’s the protecting of family and the growing of family. We’re just naturally headed that way, and on the fringes, people are interested, asking, “What’s that music coming from that building? Oh, that’s a church. Gosh that sounds really nice on a Sunday.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A place to go where families feel safe whether it’s a church or watching a Christian film.
Corbin Bernsen: Which is love that we just talked about. Love and compassion in a world that appears to be loveless and without compassion. You turn on the news and see some guy get beheaded by some radical fundamentalist group that’s basically doing it in the name of “faith.” Forget what faith we’re talking about, and you go, “I’m confused. I need to know there is true faith in this world and true compassion.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You will be appearing on a new Netflix show called Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. I understand you’ve received some negative comments from fans.
Corbin Bernsen: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was that because of the homosexual content or the hatred for Jane Fonda?
Corbin Bernsen: Well, there are homosexual themes in it, but it was about Jane. Gosh, the homosexual part will probably add more comments (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, since the show’s premise is based on the fact that the main characters’ husbands fall in love with each other.
Corbin Bernsen: Yeah. When people catch wind of that, that’ll be another thing. It’s a very funny show by funny creators. Like I said, I’m an actor. I’m not always going to portray or be a part of things that everybody will like. Nobody could. Nobody can. Again, maybe the bigger purpose of my doing it or God’s plan for me in it is to mention that I’m doing it, get such a reaction to Jane, and then talk about a world that’s really in sore need of forgiveness.
Again, in my own journey, in Corbin’s journey, it makes me explore forgiveness, explore the notion of forgiveness. I know in my heart that if you don’t forgive, the hate can destroy you and will destroy you … the hate, the revenge, the anger. It’s interesting to hear people to have lived for 50 years with that anger, and believe me; it’s not all over Jane Fonda. It’s over a war. It’s over a country that didn’t take care of its servicemen. It’s a lot of hate and anger.
Never would I say to anybody, “Just move on.” A lot of people said to me after my mother passed, “Just move on. Enough already.” I’d never say, “Move on.” But forgiveness is the way. I would pray I’d have the ability to do that. I don’t know Jane, just met her briefly the other day, but I think she has tried to say, “I’m sorry.” I don’t know her, so I can’t say if she’s a Christian. I’m going to do the show. I want to do it for a multitude of reasons.
I am curious about God’s plan for me, but I do know it’s made me explore this notion of forgiveness by simply mentioning her name. I respect where they’re coming from, but it made me explore our community online and get into discussions on forgiveness. Again, it’s just another teaching of Christ.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned your mother (Jeanne Cooper). When she and I spoke, they were not interviews, but more like friendly chats.
Corbin Bernsen: Kind of like this one (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes (laughs).
Corbin Bernsen: And I say, “Gosh, if you think Jane Fonda’s done stuff, you should hear some of my mother’s stories!” (laughs) It kind of doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth. It’s what is in your heart that matters. My mother could say some vile stuff, vile! She’d be kicked out of a church for what she said. But I know what was in her heart.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What would your mom have said to you about turning 60?
Corbin Bernsen: She would’ve just laughed I think. Her first reaction would’ve been, “Oh man, that means I’m old!” (laughs) She’d say, “I have a 60 year old son? Kill me now!” Then she’d probably do one of two things, either go, “What did you expect?” or “You made it kid. You made it. Now be who you are. Be truly who you are.” And that is what I’m striving to do. I don’t have to be the guy anymore who’s pretending to be an actor who wakes up cool in the morning and sticks a Marlborough in his head and gets a photograph to look like a hot actor. I don’t have to do any of that anymore.
I can be who I am. I can be a man who says I’m Christian, and a Christian man who says “fuck” in an interview. That’s who I am. Does it make me not a Christian? Maybe not to somebody else, but I consider myself a Christian. I follow the principles and teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s what I choose as my faith, and by the way, I could also choose to call myself a Cherokee Indian, which are my real roots. But I choose to call myself a Christian.
I’m sorry you don’t like some of the other stuff I do. I’m sorry you don’t like it when I work with Jane Fonda. Sorry about all that, but I’m a man of Christ who only knows about love and compassion. All I know is about love, compassion and community.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently did another appearance on your mom’s show, The Young and the Restless. How does it feel to go back there after her death?
Corbin Bernsen: The last one was when “Father Todd Williams” visited his brother Paul (Williams) in the hospital, and I was put in my mom’s dressing room which was … I sat where she sat and could see her there. I could feel her presence there. When someone spends 40 years in those halls, you definitely feel their presence. Her presence, even if you’re not somebody of faith … when you spend so much time in a place, does the presence leave that building? I’m not sure. I definitely felt the electric waves that just don’t escape that easily.
That show meant a lot to her. It meant a lot to us that she had a home for 40 years. I say this with all love and respect, “Mom was a somewhat troubled human being.” She had the alcoholism she dealt with in the past and was hit a terrific blow by my dad who was not a faithful husband. I think life hit her in the face a little bit, this small town girl whose mom died early. She’s done a lot of stuff, but she was a survivor more than anything.
The Young and the Restless gave her a base for 40 years, gave her a stability that could’ve taken another person to dementia or who knows where, so to go back there is always important to me. I’ll always try to keep a connection there. I’ve told them as much. Whenever they want me to come back. I never played her son on the show. Oddly enough, well before she passed, I played a man of faith.
People ask me about God and my faith. I look at the current events five or six years ago. I’m doing faith-based films, I’m exploring things, I played a priest on her show before she passed, I officiated over her funeral there as not her son on the show but a man of faith. I just find it incredibly coincidental, wonderfully, magnificently timed that all those things happened. That’s where I put God. Is it random? Maybe.
Maybe the purple and yellow flowers outside my window are random. But whatever it is, it’s exquisite in its design. That’s where I put God. I don’t have to get into whether he created it or if it was nature. I don’t have to get into that battle. I just put God in the beauty and the magnificence and the potential.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever thought of writing a documentary on your mom’s life?
Corbin Bernsen: Well, that seems so very self-serving. I don’t know. Unless I found a reason to do it, I’m not sure. The only reason that would be halfway intriguing or to write about it is the notion that again, as I explore my faith, I’d have to make it personal.
There’s a discrepancy in using the word “fuck” and calling yourself a believer. In today’s world, some people, by just the virtue of this interview, will say, “Oh I didn’t know that. Corbin uses the F-word, so He can’t possibly be a Christian.” Well, yes I can. By the way, you who cheated your neighbor and gave his kids less for his property than what it was worth … you call yourself a Christian. You’re not in my book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In other words, you are saying that it’s the actions that count more than just merely the words of someone professing to be a believer?
Corbin Bernsen: Well, I call my mother a Christian woman. I’ve read her writings. Unbelievable writings, which I would share if I did a documentary or something. When mom was in the depths of alcoholism in her darkest days, she’d write in the early mornings and say, “Dear Lord, get me though the next day. Please Jesus, guide me.” Then you’d see later that she had scratched out the words that had any religious context to them and say something like “my maker.”
It’s funny that she went back and forth in this world of sort of textbook faith Christians to faith by not calling it by names. Maybe she was feeling betrayed by it. I don’t know. Or maybe she was feeling it wasn’t honest and pure. She believed in God, and she talked about Christ, and she lived her life as Christ would’ve lived. That’s all I need to know. She opened her door to anybody. She probably invited you to come stay at her house.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She did indeed on more than one occasion.
Corbin Bernsen: Yes she did. That to me is more Christlike than going to church once every Sunday for your entire life to open your door to a stranger and say, “Come in. Let me feed you, and let me shelter you.” We used to have Thanksgiving for 100 people. We had a guy who sold newspapers on the corner who was basically homeless. She invited those kinds of people into our home for Thanksgiving dinner, and that was with my dad, oddly enough, which is another story. He sort of became more faithful in his later years probably trying to mend his way back to being a human before he exited stage left.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your mother was a beautiful person inside and out. Let's talk about your other projects.
Corbin Bernsen: I’ve become, in the last few weeks, sort of a guest star actor. I did this wonderful new CBS show called Scorpion, but I don’t know when my episode airs. The USA network (where Psych aired) was a wonderful home, but Scorpion reminded me of the L.A. Law days. I’m a huge fan of CBS. I just finished talking to a producer about this, but they seem to make stuff that’s exciting for everybody. I don’t think they dismiss the older audience that’s been there as part of their fanbase for years, so I love that network who is constantly coming up with family fare that everyone can enjoy.
I just finished a FX show called The League, which will completely throw off anyone who listens to me. It’s about five guys who are part of a fantasy football league. There’s only a certain amount of F-bombs and swearing that you can do per episode, but I certainly exhausted them with my character. He’s somewhat of a loud mouth hunter that uses expletives. I was channeling my mother a little bit in that one. Not the person you read about, but my mother. That was a lot of fun to do an unscripted show.
Starting tomorrow, I’m working on Grace and Frankie which I will enjoy and enjoy the aftermath equally (laughs). That one’s on Netflix. I’ve got an idea and have just written a pilot. Many people have said, “We’d love to see Arnie Becker again. Where’s he now?” I’ve written a pilot very similar. I call them “vaguely familiar” faces and a guy who opens up a small boutique law practice with a bunch of young lawyers. Again, this is the way I look at the purpose of all things. Here I’ve explored the unscripted thing, I’ve explored a network show, and I’ve explored this Netflix thing, which airs all of them. I’ve come in contact with a lot of people. These are all for the greater purpose of me, seeing where I want to land this project which actually means something to me.
Christian Mingle is very important, and we’re doing another faith-based film called Jesse & Naomi. We’ll shoot that in January, but I’m not going to direct. The TV show that I’ve written brings a lot of characters in that I’ve played. There’s a nod to Roger Dorn in Major League, and there’s a nod to L.A. Law and a few other things, a nod to me and a nod to my faith. I have a very Christian woman who’s one of the young attorneys in this office who gets directly in the face of this “vaguely familiar” character, some 60 year old man who’s still trying to figure it all out. That’s really my pet project, and I think all roads lead to Rome in that case.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can’t wait to see it!
Corbin Bernsen: It’s called On the Rocks, and you can take multiple meanings from that (laughs).
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