Pastor Greg Laurie teamed up with popular Christian filmmakers The Erwin Brothers (“Woodlawn,” “Mom’s Night Out”) to share the never before told story of American icon Steve McQueen and his journey to Christian faith.
For one-night only on Sept. 28, American Icon Films LLC and Fathom Events is bringing “Steve McQueen: American Icon” to U.S. theaters everywhere. The Jon and Andy Erwin-directed documentary will give this new generation an inside look into the life of the highest-paid actor in Hollywood in his era — McQueen, known as “The King of Cool.”
People may recognize McQueen from his legendary films such as “Bullitt,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape” but this film will explore beyond his Hollywood success and provide insight into his troubled childhood, and the spiritual journey he was on that ultimately led to a genuine Christian faith before his death.
“My hope for this film is that people would be entertained,” filmmaker Jon Erwin told The Christian Post in a recent interview. “I love telling stories that are entertaining and emotionally available. I feel like if you tell the right story in the right way, we hold this belief that entertainment can be a part of changing someone’s life.”
Erwin said Jesus told “incredibly relatable stories.” So he and his brother, Andy, want to always focus on stories that are relatable as well, along with showcasing the “transformational power” of the Gospel no matter what a person’s belief is.
“[It’s the] untold story of the biggest movie star in the world, the highest paid movie star in the world and how this guy climbed up from nothing and the worst situations he could be in as a child, to the biggest movie star in the world and then he realized that it didn’t make him happy,” the director said, running through some of the focal points featured in “Steve McQueen: American Icon.”
Erwin noted that many people live under the “lie” that if they are accomplished, successful or rich, they would be happy. However, he said McQueen is a prime example that that is not the case.
“Steve McQueen: American Icon” features an exclusive recorded interview that the entertainer did two weeks before he died, but for some reason the interview never surfaced. McQueen’s widow, model Barbara Minty McQueen, shared the interview with The Erwin Brothers, as well as some of her candid photographs from McQueen’s last years.
“I’m very grateful that Barbara McQueen agreed to be involved. She was also an executive producer in the film. So a lot of great things came from that relationship,” Erwin said.
The exclusive interview tape that somewhat narrates the film was “unbelievably moving,” according to Erwin, and featured many great quotes about McQueen’s faith.
“Steve talked about his childhood and said, ‘When a kid doesn’t have love when you’re young you think you’re not worth anything,'” the movie director shared.
“He was like what Eminem is to music today, he was that, to that era of film,” Erwin continued. “You had all these squared-jawed, upper-class actors and then here comes this scrappy rebel street kid that willed himself to the very top of the entertainment industry. It really is this underdog American success story. Yet when he got to the pinnacle of that success, he wasn’t happy.”
The tape also shows McQueen’s heart to share his faith with others which will now be, thanks to the film, evangelism beyond the grave.
“This is the first time in my filmmaking career that I felt like an investigative journalist and I’m almost breaking a story,” Erwin gushed. “I do believe that this documentary fulfills one of the dying wishes of Steve McQueen, the biggest movie star in the world of his day.”
In the movie, McQueen says, “I want to change people’s lives. I want people to know what has happened to me.”
When asked if he found the cure to life, he said, “Finding the Lord was the cure” in his life. He even ended his never before heard interview by saying, “My body’s gone, it’s broken but my spirit isn’t broken.”
Although McQueen’s career plummeted at one point, it was actually not until the height of his success that the bad boy turned superstar actually left Hollywood.
“The things that we chase sometimes just don’t satisfy and we realize that our hearts were built for something different and something more,” the Erwin brother said.
“The American dream is a bit of a double-edged sword. I love America and patriotism, I love this country. America is more than a country, it’s a dream where you can become anything you want to be and you can chase success and happiness as you see it,” he went on to say.
However, Erwin believes people ought to be careful of what they chase after because it’s not always what it’s made out to be. He sourced a study done by Knox University on people trying to attain happiness externally and others trying to attain it intrinsically. The study, which can be seen in the documentary “Happy” on Netflix, revealed that those trying to find fulfillment by success or beauty could never be satisfied.
Erwin said “Steve McQueen: American Icon” shows that firsthand. He accredits Pastor Greg Laurie and his drive and passion for really making the film what it is.
The senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, was always a big fan of McQueen and even has a replica of McQueen’s famous 1968 Bullitt car. Laurie, who is in the movie, interviewed Mel Gibson, who is also a part of the film.
The Hollywood actor esteems McQueen as well and shared that he has had a similar journey and result of fame as well.
“Mel had submitted the same mountain as McQueen and it was fascinating to get him,” Erwin told CP.
The creator’s goal with the documentary was to get inside McQueen’s head to try and understand why he did some of the things he did and Gibson was very instrumental in helping with that. “The Passion of Christ” filmmaker talked about McQueen’s incredible talent on film and how the legendary actor understood the camera, the lens, and how to use a prop in a way that became a main part of any movie.
“Mel did this incredible actor on actor interview, which was incredibly insightful. He’s a huge McQueen fan,” Erwin added. “Mel was the perfect guy to contribute that perspective and it was very powerful.”
“Once you get famous you’ll never be anonymous again,” Gibson pointed out in the taping. That statement echoed McQueen’s quote from his last interview.
“I can’t be what people think I am or I’ll die,” McQueen is heard saying. The photos featured in the cinematic flick were taken later in McQueen’s life when he grew out his beard and stayed under the radar, hoping to never be recognized by the public.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the film is the least known part of McQueen’s life.
Stunt double extraordinaire Stan Barrett was the first to witness Christ to McQueen throughout his career. Sometime later, stunt pilot Sammie Mason became a father figure to the troubled celebrity and because of his kindness and generosity, McQueen was compelled to ask Mason about his Christian faith, which led McQueen to church. McQueen eventually came to his own faith in Christ but soon after became terminally ill.
“You couldn’t make up the things that happen in this story,” Erwin stated.
“Steve McQueen’s life had been transformed. He really experienced a peace that he wanted and he really wanted the world to know about it and then he found out he had cancer, terminal cancer,” the Christian director explained. “One of the people he wanted to meet was Billy Graham.”
On McQueen’s last flight to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where he, unfortunately, passed away, he met with the world-renowned evangelist, Graham. Graham later wrote about that visit and how authentic he believed the actor’s faith was.
“[During the visit] McQueen had misplaced his Bible and Billy said, ‘Here you can have mine,'” Erwin illustrated.
He added, “I held this Bible and it was Billy Graham’s preaching Bible. There’s phone numbers in it, sermon outlines in it and it’s just this well-worn Bible.”
On Nov. 7, 1980, McQueen died of a heart attack just hours after undergoing a successful cancer surgery. The legendary icon passed away while clutching that very Bible that Graham gave him to his chest.
“Billy Graham did have a special relationship with many celebrities and many presidents and Steve McQueen was one of them,” Erwin concluded.
The Erwin brother said the movie brings him to tears and he is in awe that God allowed his team to share it with the world. He believes the film is an opportunity for Christians to engage those friends that are chasing “the dream.”
Furthermore, Erwin said everyone sometime or another has lain in bed at night and thought “there must be something more in life than this hamster wheel that I’m on.” McQueen’s story answers that question.
For tickets to “Steve McQueen: American Icon” or for more information, visit SteveMcQueenMovie.com