Q&A: Jon Erwin

(Photo Courtesy of Icon Media Group)

Q&A: Jon Erwin

By Sarah Komisky

A few months ago, Marked Ministry had the opportunity to view and review the film, Steve McQueen: American Icon. Now, as the movie is getting ready to release to DVD this February, we are taking time to celebrate! Why? Because every purchase at Walmart and Amazon will go towards putting a Bible in the hand of a new believer! So to get the party started, we caught up with executive film producer Jon Erwin to share his thoughts on the documentary, the legend, and his spiritual conversion. It is our hope that you enjoy our interview and even more importantly, take time to make a purchase that will change lives.

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You’ve worked on so many successful films like Woodlawn and Moms’ Night Out. How did Steve McQueen differ for you as a documentary, and being able to collaborate with a pastor (Greg Laurie)?

Jon: It always starts with an incredible story. That’s why we do what we do. Andy and I love to make stories that are both entertaining and emotionally relatable, as well as ones that draw people to the transformational power of the Gospel. We’ve discovered true stories can be an incredibly effective tool for that purpose, so when Greg Laurie told me there was an unknown story of the “King of Cool” and the highest paid movie star of his time coming to faith in Christ, I had to be a part of it!

Steve McQueen is truly an American icon. How do you think this documentary will appeal to classic film lovers and how did you decide what parts of the book you would pull from for the movie?

Jon: The goal was to simply do the first entire documentary of McQueen’s life. For whatever reason, his redemption story has been omitted. But to understand the end of his life you have to understand his childhood. You have to understand his meteoric rise from nothing to the pinnacle of an industry. You have to understand that this guy had everything he wanted but nothing he needed, and it led him on this spiritual quest. So, the film is this wonderful journey through the golden ago of Hollywood and all the backstory on Steve’s incredible films like Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. It’s a really incredible and empowering underdog story of this guy who had absolutely nothing, with the deck stacked against him, and willed himself to the top of an industry. Yet when he got there, he was empty and unhappy. That was interesting to me.

Additionally, how do you think this film can relate to a generation that might have not grown up with or heard of Steve McQueen?

Jon: I think Steve still represents something to this day. They call him “The King of Cool.” He’s the original Hollywood rebel and an icon that still touches culture all these years later. He was just incredibly cool. And I think a modern generation will relate to that. On a deeper level, I think we all relate to the quest for happiness and the disappointment when the things we chase in an effort to the void leave us empty. I think we all find ourselves asking the same questions he did, which makes his journey incredibly emotionally relatable.

What did you find most fascinating about his life?

Jon: One of the things that I found really interesting was that his persona came from his painful childhood. After all to be “cool” is to be detached and guarded. That’s what made him so mesmerizing to all of us, and yet it also left a void in his life. I believe he was looking for a father most of his life. He never met his own. He was beaten by his step dads. His mom was just broken and never around. So, he was a loner, and street kid, and the Steve McQueen character we all know today was forged in that pain. So, what I love about this untold story is the father figure that Steve found while learning to fly a beautiful biplane in Santa Paula. Sammy Mason, his flight instructor, became so much more to McQueen. A friend and, I believe, even the father figure he’d wanted for so long. Finally Steve asked him “What’s different about you?” And this renowned stunt pilot said “I’m a Christian.” That was the turning point spiritually for McQueen.

The recounting of Steve’s spiritual journey is really groundbreaking because it’s been a virtually unknown story. Maybe you could share your thoughts on that?

Jon: One of the most amazing moments of discovery in this project was when I first heard an audio recording from Steve McQueen that was taken just two weeks before he died. Somehow much of this tape had never been heard before. So we used it in a way where Steve basically narrates his own story. He says so many incredible things on this tape about his faith and hope even though he was dying of cancer. My favorite line was: “My body is gone, it’s broken, but my spirit isn’t broken.” Another thing he talks about on that tape is that he wants people to know his story, and what God had done for him. He felt like his redemption offered something of value to the world. So, in a way, this film fulfills one of the dying wishes of an American Legend. That’s pretty cool to think about.