Hollywood actor Brian Presley talks faith, mission to make films that benefit charities

The Great Alaskan Race
Actor Brian Presley in the "The Great Alaskan Race" October 2019. |

Actor Brian Presley directed and stars in “The Great Alaskan Race,” a film that's now showing in select theaters nationwide. And unlike most films, all proceeds will be donated to support two nonprofit organizations. 

Presley is a professing Christian and under his new production company P12 Films, profits from “The Great Alaskan Race” will go to the Christian addiction network Hope is Alive, and Battle Dawgs, an organization that helps veterans suffering from PTSD through the use of therapy dogs. 

“The Great Alaskan Race” tells the true story of “a team of sled dog mushers in 1925 who race through a blizzard to bring a needed antitoxin to Nome, Alaska, to prevent an outbreak of diphtheria. After overcoming personal tragedy, widowed father and champion musher Leonhard 'Sepp' Seppala (Presley) steps in the midst of a diphtheria outbreak in his small dock town of Nome, Alaska, to safely deliver the anti-toxin to the hospital," the film's synopsis reads. 

"With his own child's life on the line, Sepp battles the impossible, accompanied by his trusty pack of sled dogs. When a severe winter storm has made it impossible journey for planes, trains, or any form of transportation, Sepp and his dogs are able to get the anti-toxin to the children in need, just in the nick of time.”

The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Presley, where he talks about his faith, mission, and his new film “The Great Alaskan Race.”

Christian Post: What drew you to this story and wanting to tell it both as an actor and as a filmmaker?

Presley: I feel like my calling is to tell stories that are true stories; stories of inspiration, stories of hope, stories that can bridge the faith world, secular world. I like watching flawed people overcome unimaginable obstacles that draws them closer to their face and to God. All the elements, when I first came across this over nine years ago, I just said, "I've got to make this movie. I gotta tell the story." 

I had everybody in town tell me, "No, there's no way." Faith is part of my life and I just never gave up; persistence paid off. I just knew at the heart of it at some point I was going to be able to make this movie. It's perfect being able to make it with my daughter playing my daughter in the movie, and timing is everything. It was a blast being able to have her alongside to have that experience.

CP: Speak on the importance of telling true stories with a redemptive theme in these times we live in? 

Presley: The world we live in is a crazy place. You can turn on the news and find a million reasons why to get depressed about the stuff that gets broadcasted. I just think no matter what trial you're going through, for me in storytelling, no matter what time period, whether it be the 1800s, 1900s, I believe that even though we're a hundred years later, people are still dealing with losing their jobs and how you’re going to pay for your family? How are you going to put food on the table? What's the next job going to be? I think those are all relatable issues, whether you lived in 1925 or you live in 2019. We're [still] facing disease and epidemics.

For me, my message is, in the times that have been the hardest in my life, my faith is what's gotten me through it. I'm letting the man upstairs guide my life and it makes things a lot smoother. I'm not out to shove a Bible down people's throats, that's just not my approach. 

Whether you're Christian, Muslim, atheist, whatever, we're working [to help] nonprofits that are impacting lives. We have animal shelters that are saving animals. We have organizations that are providing an escape for the men and women that serve our country. We have a wide range of outlets and I just think, instead of me spending time, I know my God's going to show upon what we're doing.

I think there's no other way to really show who God is by loving one another and giving back and helping out somebody in need. That doesn't require anything, you might not believe in anything, but you still might want to come be a part of giving back.

That's really the approach. We're trying to bridge together communities, bridge together human beings. We all are flawed and we all can come together to help out people in need. Some of the greatest joys and satisfactions in my life have come by helping out somebody in need. Not by saying, "Oh, look at what movie I did or look at who I was opposite of."

The eyes pointing outward is much more fulfilling than having eyes pointed inward. That's how I try to approach my storytelling and how I approach our mission as a company and my journey on this crazy business of making movies.

CP: In the film, your character loses his wife and his grief made it difficult for him to accept an invitation to church in the beginning. Tell us about perseverance in the midst of life's challenges as you did in real life to make the film?

Presley:  I wanted to have it ( the movie) be a character-driven story at the heart of it that people can relate to. I think, especially as adults, whether you're facing tragedy or whatever it is you face, we all face obstacles. There's moments where, even as Christians, you get mad at God: "Why did this happened? Why did you take this loved one from me? Why, why, why?” It can sometimes hold you up and distance you from people that you don't want to be near because why would God do something like that? 

I think, for me, what I try to tell people is that we all don't have all the answers. But I believe He takes everything at turns it into something that's for Him, then. I wanted that element in the movie and the political tragedy of the epidemic, and [possibly] losing his daughter, and experiencing that miracle is what really brought him back.

I love the last image in the movie. It's him walking out of church, and I wanted to present it and not in a heavy-handed way but in a subtle way and in a visual way where I believe you see God throughout. Sometimes our actions speak louder than words, and so I wanted that to echo through the movie.

CP: What was it like to work with the animals in such harsh winter weather?

Presley: We shot the movie in Silverton, Colorado, where the snow levels there are intense. If there was a blizzard day coming and we were supposed to be shooting inside, I would call an audible and go outside. We were in the element for sure. It definitely had its challenges, working with animals and dogs and kids. But I like a good challenge and we had a great team, and I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot. 

There were nights where we'd start at 5 p.m. and end at 5 a.m., and it was cold. I mean, I had to crawl myself back to the hotel and literally lay in a hot shower for a long period of time trying to thaw out, it was that cold. The weather was intense. 

“The Great Alaskan Race” is now showing in select theaters nationwide

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