Very few famous Hollywood actors are Mormon, even fewer are practicing Mormons. While there are some obvious disconnects (e.g. law of chastity, modesty, time commitments), there are some equally compelling connections between some of the basic values of Hollywood and Mormonism and other values that are close, if not quite aligned.
I was giving this topic some thought as we prepared to host our second semi-annual General Conference After Party. This is like the parties actors host after the Oscars; we convene with other ward members to have desserts and talk about our favorite conference talks and any big “reveals” that we sniffed out during conference. It is a seething bed of hot Mormon (doctrinal) gossip! There’s always a ripple of Uchdorff admiration amongst the women in attendance–he’s sort of the George Clooney of the apostles. But I digress.
Why aren’t there any successful practicing Mormon Hollywood actors? My definition of “sucessful” for this purpose is those cast in leading roles in major motion pictures. There are several non-practicing Mormons who have broken through that tier:
- Katherine Heigl’s family converted when she was seven, but she is not practicing
- Aaron Eckhart served a full-time mission in France, attended BYU, and admires the church, but he no longer practices.
- Amy Adams quit attending when her parents divorced (she was 11).
- Paul Walker – now refers to himself as non-denominational Christian, but fond of Mormonism.
- Matthew Modine – actually not sure about his status either as a practicing Mormon (I don’t think so) or whether he qualifies on the name recognition scale either.
A few practicing LDS actors have become pretty successful and could buck the trend: Rick Schroeder (TV) and Jon Heder who may not have leading man appeal but has developed a certain cachet since Blades of Glory.
So, why aren’t more Hollywood actors Mormons? What values do Hollywood actors espouse and how do those values match up to Mormonism? Here are a few of the Hollywood-touted values that seem particularly well suited to Mormonism:
- An open-mindedness toward non-traditional religions. Many famous actors are affiliated with more controversial religions or new religious movements (Scientology, anyone?). Unusual religious movements seem to hold an appeal, especially those with a new age bent. There are many aspects of Mormonism, especially the theoretical, that could be described as new age.
- Focus on a physically healthy lifestyle. Actors are committed to physical regimens that are very rigorous to stay in “castable” shape.
- Belief in the power of love. This might be a little like trying to justify the Song of Solomon as being an allegory for Christ’s love for the church, but there is no question that in Hollywood “loooove” conquers all. With a Barry White (or Mariah Carey) soundtrack.
- A focus on family. Notice I said “focus” vs. what actually happens in practice. But for every Brittany Spears, there’s a Tom Hanks. Of course, marriage is optional, but kids are at least in vogue.
- A desire to promote causes. Mormons, like Hollywood actors, are constantly involved in humanitarian aid, and what could be better PR than that?
- An understanding of the importance of branding & PR. The church has a clear image to portray, one that downplays contraversy and embodies clean living. While this image may not be totally consistent with a Hollywood image, it is not totally contradictory either. Frankly, Lindsey Lohan could use a little LDS imaging.
So, the main conflicts would be:
- Unwillingness to take direction. This applies to those actors who are of the Prima Dona variety, for all actors must take direction in their craft. However, there is a desire to individual expression that goes against the grain of being told what to do or being asked to conform.
- Image vs. Authenticity. As a believer, putting oneself out in the public eye has to be done with a thought to how one’s image impacts the church’s mission. And to keep that positive PR for the church can stifle one’s creativity or make one want to white-wash elements of one’s personality that contradict with the church’s image.
- The Commandments. Let’s just call this the restrictive LDS lifestyle. Those who cite a Mormon upbringing but are no longer practicing usually refer to the fact that they are not “living the lifestyle” or are “too lazy” although they respect the values.
- Enduring to the End. In reviewing a list of actors of non-traditional religions, many do not practice those faiths for their entire lifetime (even Scientology which can apparently put a hurt on you when you decide to leave). Perhaps this is due to the drive for variety that actors feel that leads them to that career in the first place.
- LDS focus on positive and uplifting. Actors prize being able to inhabit a full range of characters, which includes exploring all human emotion: evil, depression, sexuality, perversion, etc. Being type-cast as a “boy scout” can be limiting to an actor (although one could argue all the aforementioned things exist in Boy Scouts–now there’s a movie pitch!). Restricting oneself as an actor is fine if you want to be a character actor (e.g. perhaps where Jon Heder is heading), but not all actors want to be.
So, what do you think? Can the church be reconciled with a Hollywood career? Anyone want to hit the Oscars with some Books of Mormon?