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Unlike many thespians, Charles Andrew Payne does not seem to fear typecasting.
When it is pointed out that his role in the Calgary-shot Christian film Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist marks the second time he has played a man of the cloth for director-star Kevin Sorbo, Payne says that it is all part of the plan.
“I’ve been cultivating a certain persona in the film world on purpose: Lawyer. Doctor. Cop. Minister. Priest,” he says, before breaking out in a hearty laugh.
Perhaps it’s his look or perhaps it’s because he considers himself first and foremost to be a journeyman actor who goes where the work is, but Payne seems at peace with the prospect of being forever cast as serious men with steady jobs. The actor, stand-up comedian and motivational speaker plays Pastor Bruce Barnes in Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist, one of the main characters and the film’s narrator. It’s the latest instalment of the right-leaning Left Behind series, which is based on the controversial but popular Christian fundamentalist books by authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
The main narrative thrust of Rise of the Antichrist is exploring life after “The Rapture,” an end-time scenario eagerly anticipated by evangelical Christians where believers are swept up to heaven while the “left behind” stew in the apocalyptic chaos they have brought upon themselves through sinful living. Barnes is a preacher but hadn’t really believed in what he was preaching until this event. It was this conflict of faith that attracted Payne to the role.
“I’m a storyteller, I like to tell a good story,” he says. “First of all, I never read the books and didn’t do any research on the previous movies, I just read the script. Pastor Barnes is a man in crisis. That’s a good story. He’s a man whose faith has been challenged and come to realize he has to face the truth that even though he was a pastor, he was paying lip service as a pastor and didn’t actually believe up until this event happened that shattered his faith. You could take any job and make that real. That’s what spoke to me. Yeah, I get this guy. I understand this guy and this crisis, where he has lost his wife and his family, his own parishioners, he has started drinking and then he finds redemption and hope.”
Payne describes himself as a “kind of a lapsed Catholic,” but was raised in the church and knows the Bible.
“I still do believe, so parts of that did speak to me,” he says. “I know it’s trite to say ‘I’m not religious but I’m spiritual,’ but it’s true for me.”
Asking an actor about their personal religious beliefs is certainly not a common practice. But it’s a hard topic to avoid when discussing the Left Behind films. They are part of that lucrative parallel universe described as “faith-based” entertainment. Of course, the faith these films are exclusively based on is a conservative strain of Christianity and they seem designed to appeal to millions of Christians who feel Hollywood has left them behind. They can be wildly popular in certain circles but tend to fly under the radar of the mainstream. The books were first adapted for the screen in 2000 when conservative-Christian activist and sometimes actor Kirk Cameron was enlisted to headline the first film version. It was widely panned but did manage to spawn two sequels. In 2012, the series was rebooted with a Hollywood sheen that found Nicolas Cage playing the role of Rayford Steele, the harried pilot protagonist of the series. The film grossed $30 million at the box office.
That role has been taken over by Sorbo in Rise of the Antichrist, who also cast Neal McDonough and Christian film regular Corbin Bernsen. It also stars Sorbo’s wife, Sam, and son, Braeden. The storyline focuses on a charismatic new leader who rises to head the United Nations. But who is he really? Well, we won’t say but the title may offer a bit of a spoiler.
Sorbo rose to fame playing the title character in the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys for six seasons and for his starring role in the cult-favourite sci-fi series Andromeda. But recently he has dedicated himself to directing and starring in Christian films. He has also become a polarizing figure due to his vocal support of Donald Trump, among other things. He recently promoted Rise of the Antichrist on Huckabee, a talk show styled on late-night television hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. On it, he talked about the “woke world” taking over churches and how Christians are in a battle against the “agenda” that Hollywood and mainstream media are supposedly forcing on them.
Some media outlets have indeed pulled no punches in their descriptions of the actor-director. He made headlines in 2021 when his former co-star Lucy Lawless took him to task on Twitter for spreading baseless conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 capital riots after Trump’s election defeat. Vanity Fair ran the story under a headline that referred to him as “Conspiracy-peddling, Trump-supporting Kevin Sorbo.”
For his part, Payne “tries not to pay attention to all the political stuff” and says he never discussed politics or religion with Sorbo during the 19-day Calgary shoot in late fall of 2021. He has a history with the actor. Payne played Reverend Reese in Sorbo’s 2019 Christian period film Miracle in East Texas, which was also shot in Calgary. He also had a role in an episode of Andromeda in 2000.
“I’ve worked with Kevin three times now: He’s always been civil, he’s always been kind, he’s always been generous as a director,” Payne says. “That’s all I’m looking for and we don’t talk politics.”
Sorbo even let Payne ad-lib and improvise occasionally, a treat for the stand-up comedian, as long as he stuck to the script when the dialogue directly quoted the Bible. Payne began acting in the mid-1980s and was often cast as a gang member on TV series as a young actor. He quit the business in 2006 when he moved to Calgary and worked in sales before his wife convinced him to get back into acting and stand up. Since being in Alberta, he has landed small roles on Heartland and Wynonna Earp and started a collective of actors, directors and writers to make short films.
Barnes is Payne’s biggest role to date and he says he has no plans to move to Vancouver or Toronto for career purposes. He says Calgary is full of creative people creating interesting projects but admits it can be tough for local actors to land roles in bigger productions shot in the city.
“When I see all the news stories about this stuff, the only thing that frustrates me is they talk about our great locations, some of our new studios and our fantastic crews – all of which is 100 per cent accurate – but they rarely talk about the talent base that is available here,” he says. “I wish they would talk more about the talent base because there are a lot of talented performers here.”
Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist opens in Landmark Cinemas 10 Shawnessy and Landmark Cinemas Country Hills on Jan. 26.