Meeting Douglas Gresham, Producer of the Narnia Movies and Stepson of CS Lewis!
Spent a lovely evening with Douglas Gresham and his wife Mary at a hotel in Quezon City last night. He came over to Manila to share his experiences as a producer of the Narnia Films and what it was like to be the step son of Narnia creator and writer CS Lewis. It was so cool because all the big rival networks – ABS-CBN2, GMA7 and TV5 were hobnobbing in one room like they were all one big, happy family! Also present was my family at CBN Asia, 700 Club Philippines.
The last time Douglas and Mary Gresham were here was some 14 or 15 years ago when Trumpets staged The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Douglas was personally involved in finalizing the script for the musical and flew into town to watch the show.
Douglas arrived at the ballroom of the Luxent Hotel in his trademark white turtleneck, cross pendant and riding boots while his wife came in a pretty white summer dress and long braided hair. They were a picture of what marriage should be like, even later in life. Not once did they separate in the entire evening and all throughout his talk, they sat close to one another holding hands. Really beautiful and spoke volumes about the kind of people they were… Anyway, here are just a few of the things I picked up from Douglas…
ON MEETING CS LEWIS
In 1953, the life of 8-year-old Douglas Gresham turned upside down when his parents broke up and his Mom, Joy Gresham decided to move from America to jolly old England. Aside from dealing with the shock of such a big move, Douglas found it difficult to understand people in the new land he was living in. But it was there were he met his step-dad to be, the famous author, CS Lewis, of which his Mom was a huge fan.
Unfortunately, their first meeting was a big disappointment for the young Douglas Gresham because Jack (as Douglas fondly calls him) turned out to be an unremarkable man with a shabby fashion sense and nicotine stains on his hands and teeth. But the disappointment ended there. CS Lewis turned out to be a wonderful step-father who poured his life into Douglas over the span of their 10-year relationship.
HIS DADDY IS JACK!
Although Jack (CS Lewis) always claimed he was terrible with children, Douglas Gresham insists he was a wonderful step-father who was so devoted to his Mother. Even if Douglas considered himself to be a strange child, he said Jack never treated him strangely nor did he ever speak down to him. Jack always treated him like a young man and encouraged him to share his thoughts and opinions. He adds that his step-father kept a big library at home and that he was allowed to read any book he wanted to. As a result, Douglas became a voracious reader, reading everything, even the Encylopaedia Britannica. Photo from this site.
Although CS Lewis never really taught Douglas how to write, he did give his step-son some unforgettable advice:
First be sure you know EXACTLY what you want to say. And second, make sure you say it EXACTLY the way you wanted to say it.
MOM’S BATTLE WITH CANCER
Just when God had given him a ‘new’ step-dad, Douglas Gresham’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and was expected to die within days. The news was a terrible shock to all of them. But then, a miracle happened. On his way to the hospital, he stopped by church where something very odd happened to him. As he unlatched the church gate and walked in, the colors of the trees, leaves and flowers suddenly came alive. It was like a black and white film that suddenly became Technicolor.
As he was praying for his Mom inside the church, he heard God’s voice; not an audible voice but an utterance in his heart. It said: If you really feel you can’t live without your Mother, just ask and it will be fixed. So he prayed even harder and asked for his Mom to be spared. Right after that incident, Doctors declared an unexplainable development; his Mother was in remission. Douglas got his miracle! Photo from this site.
But four years later the cancer resumed. And once again, Douglas went to the same church and the same thing happened. As he unlatched the gate to enter the church grounds, all the colors around him jumped to life and as he was praying, he heard the same voice again saying: It can be fixed. If you think you can’t live without your Mother, just ask. But the 14-year-old Douglas had a new prayer:
“Your will be done.”
Within days his Mother had died, leaving a gaping hole in his life and in CS Lewis’ life. But out of that dark and grave experience, two things came out: The movie “Shadowlands” which chronicles the relationship of CS Lewis and Joy Gresham and the book “A Grief Observed“, a collection of CS Lewis’ thoughts while dealing with the illness of his wife and her eventual death. “Grief Observed” was published under the pseudonym NW Clark and according to Douglas Gresham, the book is very helpful to those who are bereaved or about to lose someone special in their lives.
LAST DAYS WITH CS LEWIS
CS Lewis did not live long after losing his wife. After a couple years of deteriorating health, he too passed on. But right before his death CS Lewis had an odd experience: he fell into a coma only to wake up again. What was more amazing than that, Douglas Gresham said, was that Jack was actually disappointed to ‘come back’. In the end, CS Lewis welcomed death, not in a morbid way, but in the way a person feels like he is coming home.
ON PRODUCING THE NARNIA MOVIES
Douglas Gresham describes it as a full-time job. Sorting through scripts, proposals, budgets and all sorts of reports. As the manager/executor of CS Lewis’ work, it also falls upon him to make sure the vision of his step-father is fulfilled in all things Narnia. He remembers having to fight for one of the child actors whom he believed truly fit the role. A Hollywood casting director felt that the child was not ‘attractive’ enough for the big screen, an idea that Douglas Gresham found preposterous. He stood his ground and got the actor he wanted.
One of the biggest temptations he faces, though, is a curious one. It’s the temptation to put more of the gospel into the Narnia movies. Douglas and Mary Gresham do not hide the fact that they are Christians and are very serious about their faith in Jesus. But he says his step-father wrote the Narnian Chronicles not to overtly share the message of the Gospel, (his other books already that do that) but to tell a story of faith and courage with the central character – Aslan the lion – as representative of Christ. The message was meant to be subtle. And if you’ve watched any of the 3 Narnian movies, you’ll agree that the message will only be clear to those who are ‘in the know’.
As for the next Narnia movie to be shot, Douglas Gresham says it will be “The Silver Chair” but due to murky issues surrounding the rights to the story and film, we won’t see it on the silver screen until after the year 2017. They’ll also have to cast a new actor to play Eustace (who debuted in “Dawn Treader”) because the original actor, Will Poulter, is now more than 6 feet tall. LOLZ! For now, he is focused on getting ready to film the movie version of “The Screwtape Letters” which will most likely be produced as an indie film.
ON HOLLYWOOD AND CHRISTIANITY
In a lighter moment during the talk, Douglas Gresham joked that Hollywood and Christianity mix well. Like oil and water. That drew lots of laughter from the crowd but he suddenly grew serious and emphasized that it is difficult for any Christian to thrive in Hollywood because of all the temptations that you run into. From financial to sexual temptations – it’s all there. He believes
that the devil saves his best attacks for the true leaders of this world – the TV producers and the movie-makers. So, Douglas and Mary’s advice to Christians in media is to seriously pray and read God’s word and be careful with every decision they make.
But the one thing that hit me the hardest in this intimate evening with Douglas Gresham was this piece of wisdom:
“Don’t bother with trying to break into Hollywood unless if it’s what God wants you to do. Do it right here in the Philippines! Do it yourselves, do it here, do it right!”
And the best thing about what Douglas Gresham said is that you can be in any field or industry and take that advice to heart. I left the Luxent Hotel with a new focus and exhilarated feeling. Like I just came face-to-face encounter with the most fabulous lion on earth.
Thank you to the group Artist in Touch for bringing Douglas and Mary Gresham back to Manila. Good job Orpah Marasigan for a great production and congratulations to our wonderful emcees Audie Gemora and Anthony Pangilinan, who asked all the right questions 🙂