Michael W. Smith is best known to most as one of the defining voices in contemporary Christian music. Over the past two decades, his songs of inspiration have touched millions the world over. No stranger to the lime light, (having toured all over the world to sold out shows) is a lesser known fact about the Grammy Winning artist, his love of acting. Though he made his film debut in 1994, (rarely ever gracing the silver screen, preferring quality content over quantity) he now returns in the much anticipated true life story “90 Minutes in Heaven” set for release on September 11th. The film, an adaptation of the best selling book by the same name, tells the harrowing story of Don Piper’s horrific car crash and death, only to come back to life after visiting Heaven. What follows, is a remarkable journey of redemption, rehabilitation and restoration. Smith plays Cliff McArdle, Don’s best friend. The film also stars Hayden Christensen as Don and Kate Bosworth, in the role of Eva— Piper’s wife. We recently sat down with Michael to discuss his role in the film (which he also co-scored with his son Tyler), the importance of its message and the power of prayer.
Lingk2us: How did you get involved with the project.
M. W. Smith: I had heard about the book for the last twenty years. I heard through the grapevine that they were turning it into a movie. And then I got a call from my agent telling me that not only were they interested in having me score the film, but that they also wanted me to star in it as well. So I said, first things first. I need to read the scrip. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of bad scripts, so I’m always cautious. Earlier on, I decided I’m not going to do a project just for the sake of being in it. This was different though, I read the script and found out who the director was,( Michael Polish) and the talent was very impressive. The book sold 9 million copies, and not only is it a true story, but its extraordinary… the guy dies for 90 minutes and comes back! I think it will speak to people, it looks great on the big screen and I think it’s going to play well.
Lingk2us: You just touched on how you’ve read quite a few bad scripts over the years. What was different about this one? In your opinion what makes for a good script?
M.W. Smith: It has to have good content and be a good story. It doesn’t have to be faith based necessarily, but it has to be something that I can dive into and believe in. I liked what I read. What I love about this project was, the core of the story… What Don goes through… He’s in so much pain and is facing so much adversity… He just wants to check out, but then the people in his life decide they are going to will him back to life. They literally prayed him back. You watch him make the turn and comes back, that’s the beauty of the story. Hayden( Christensen) also does an amazing job playing Don as does Kate as Eva. I’m honored to be apart of it.
Ling2us : Your role, is as Don’s best friend Cliff Ardell. Did you consult with him?
M.W. Smith: I didn’t speak to Cliff personally. I did speak in great detail to Don though. He gave me a pretty clear picture on what Cliff did for him and Eva. He was there from the get go. He took Eva to the hospital, stayed by her side almost the entire time. He was more then a friend. He was a lifeline.
Ling2us :What was your inspiration for the score?
M.W. Smith: I scored it [the film] with my son who is just amazing by the way. It was great to be able to do this with him. I learned so much of what I know from John Williams, who has scored some of the biggest movies of all time. Star Wars, E.T. and Jaws. He said that he would really listen to what was being said in the script and compose around that. I’ll admit, at one point I thought I was just way in too deep. I thought, they got the wrong guy and then I remembered what Hans Zimmer, who scored Gladiator said, you just keep at it. You keep at it until you can hear the music…And before I knew it, we had written the entire score.
Ling2us : What was your fondest moment from the film?
M.W. Smith: First off being on set with the crew, no egos. There was so much talent. My favorite though, was maybe meeting Don for the first time and having him tell me that my music played a pivotal part in his life as well as Eva’s— helping them both to heal.
Ling2us :The movie is about believing that miracles really do happens, how were you touched by this?
M.W. Smith: The one thing that sticks out is, how prayer works. Don was destined to die, even after he comes back. He has double pneumonia, he’s looking at death…staring it in the face, no way around it. He’s ready to give up… But then to see the community just rally around him and come together… And say, we got this? They literally prayed him back. What I took away was the power of prayer and community and what happens when we believe.
Ling2us : What’s next for Michael W. Smith ? Are you presently touring?
M.W. Smith: I am as a matter of fact. I’m on a world tour right now… I’m heading to Japan and then Indonesia and then to South Africa and then a Christmas tour with Amy Grant. And then I’m going to rest. But I’m thankful to be able to work and be able to do all that I do. But, yes I am looking forward to a much needed break.
“90 Minutes In Heaven ” releases on September 11th