The Love of a Good Woman and Michael Ealy: an Interview with Papa Joe
By Dee Stewart
UNCONDITIONAL, a new inspirational family movie heralded by American churches and Christian organizations nationwide, was released on Friday, September 21. The film stars Lynn Collins and Golden Globe nominated actor, Michael Ealy. Written and directed by Brent McCorkle (Harbinger Media), the film tells the story of Sam (Collins), a woman whose storybook marriage is ripped away from her by a senseless act of violence. It is “Papa” Joe (Ealy), her oldest friend, who leads Sam on a journey back toward unconditional love.
Papa Joe chats with Hope for Women Magazine about the inspiration behind the film that is based on his life, his new friendship with Michael Ealy, and the woman who saved his life.
Tell me about the genesis of UNCONDITIONAL. How did this movie come to be?
The executive producer moved to Nashville where I lived and began to volunteer at Elijah’s Heart, our ministry that works with hundreds of at-risk kids and their parents, providing food, clothing, laptops, uniforms and tutoring programs. After spending some time with me for a while, we began talking. He was inspired by my story and wanted to turn it into a film.
Why is Sam important to this story?
It was important to me that we showed the transformation of a woman who worked in this ministry. Most of our volunteers are women, and many have dealt with their own struggles by helping those less fortunate. I want people to realize that you don’t have to be rich or famous to give back.
What was it like watching Michael Ealy portray you?
That was heavy. It was enigma that the Lord had done. The man is beautiful. He makes me look real good. [Chuckles] Michael has become a close friend. If I could, I would have him portray me six months out the year. I would love it!
Why do you think he was cast?
We wanted someone who has appeal to both secular and Christian audiences. But he had the heart of the movie in him to me. When we met him, he shared that he is a godly man. His grandfather was a pastor. He wanted to do the movie, because it allowed him to show his faith without being preachy. We didn’t get him, because he looked like me. Some of the antics like the clowning around were similar to me. He came to the house and met the family. Before and throughout the movie, we got to spend time together. He was a very good guy, and I’m honored that he’s playing me.
What parts of the movie are true?
90% of the movie is true. However, Denise and I were married before we began the ministry. In the movie, we are not.
When we entered in this ministry, I didn’t want to do it. It was Denise’s idea to start all this craziness. But one day there was a deaf girl who came to our door. I didn’t know she was deaf. Denise gave her a piece of candy. Before we knew it, there were fifty kids outside. It was a lot more children in our real story then the movie.
Why were so many children coming to you for help?
When we got there, we had two small children. We witnessed tragedies to these children: dads getting killed and moms being put in prison. A girl saw her father get shot in front of her. We take food to kids, because they run out of food after the third week. I somehow became a surrogate father to these children without knowing it.
How is your health now?
My health is unusually well. The kidney transplant was a poor match, according to medical science. However, the doctors couldn’t find the disease anymore, and I have had this kidney for fourteen years. After my transplant, the doctor suggested I shouldn’t be around kids because of a weak immune system, but if I couldn’t be around those kids, I never would have recovered.
What do you hope this movie will do for the Act Campaign?
That’s the most important part of the movie. I hope the movie makes showing love to under privileged children a popular thing, a movement…a campaign. Help children all over the country.
What advice would you give to HOPE FOR WOMEN MAGAZINE readers?
Women are heaven sent. Whether they have children of their own, they still have a maternal love for children. I’m very transparent about how Denise changed my life. If men open up their lives to what God says through a woman, we could change the world.