Life is good for actor Kirk Cameron. In 2008, he starred in the hit independent movie Fireproof and released his autobiography, aptly titled Still Growing.
In Fireproof, Cameron plays a firefighter named Caleb, who is called a hero at work but facing marital strife and burnout at home. The inspiring and action-packed film cost $500,000 to make but as of early February has raked in more than $33 million in ticket sales and is now out on DVD.
While forever linked to his role as the lovable teenage troublemaker Mike Seaver on the award-winning TV series Growing Pains, the actor did an about face in his teens, converting to Christianity and leaving the Hollywood scene behind. In 1991, the former teen heartthrob married his on-screen girlfriend, actress Chelsea Noble. Seventeen years later, the couple—along with their six children—remains happily together.
The Post recently caught up with the actor to learn more about his latest movie, his family, and his faith.
In Fireproof, the firemen emphasize the firefighters’ creed “Never leave your partner behind.” While a theme in the movie, is this also a key to successful marriages?
Absolutely. Never leave your partner behind. Statistics today tell us that more than half of people who say “I do” at the altar end up with a failed marriage before long. In this movie, we wanted to uphold a very, very high standard of marriage in a day when marriage is attacked and undermined in many ways. The writers, producers, and I wanted to say, “No, marriage is honorable, sacred, and wonderful—a foundation for a family.”
Your character lives in a strained relationship on the verge of divorce. Both parties blame the problem on lack of respect. You say, “Marriages aren’t fireproof. Sometimes you get burned.” Do you believe that all marriages can be saved?
If including all possibilities, I would say yes. Now, there are extreme circumstances where marriages are just destroyed beyond hope of recovery. I was talking to a friend the other day who did everything he could possibly do to save his marriage, but his wife was just absolutely set on a divorce. You can’t make somebody love you and stay in a marriage if they don’t want to. But more often than not, both people suffer from the same thing—a chronic case of selfishness. If one person can find what it takes to make an about face and put 200 percent into loving their spouse, the effort can transform a person. Suddenly an antagonistic spouse begins to melt and warm up. Pretty soon, he or she starts to bloom into the flower you married. That’s what love can do. It’s certainly not easy. It takes hard work. For many people today, it’s just so easy to trade in your spouse for a newer model.
Your character, Caleb, questions his faith in the movie. Did he mirror your personal struggles with faith and belief?
Yes. I call myself a recovering atheist. When I was young, I never went to church. We never talked about God — never saw the need for it. Things were going great in my life. I was 9 years old and in the entertainment industry. Growing Pains was going great. I just started asking questions like, What happens when you die? Walking down that path and asking those questions led me to a place where really, with all my heart’s desire, I turned my heart to God and allowed God to make me the person that he created me to be. That has just transformed my life. When I get a chance to share that with people on a personal level or in an inspirational movie like Fireproof, I consider it a privilege.
Was there one central message you wanted to convey in the film?
A line in the movie keeps coming back to me. My character’s wife is talking with her girlfriends, and they’re consoling her. One of the ladies says, “A man has got to learn to be a hero to his wife before he can be one to anybody else.” She’s absolutely right. If you’re getting an A at work and a D at home, you’re not successful. You made a commitment and a vow. I know that marriage is hard and everyone has got their unique situations, but a man has to learn to be a hero to his wife and kids first before he can be a real hero.
What is the “Love Dare” challenge, and how did it translate into a book?
In the movie, the “Love Dare” is the 40-day challenge passed from father to son. It was just a plot device in the movie. There wasn’t a published book titled The Love Dare until after the movie was released, then everyone asked where to get that book. They wrote the book quickly so that they could release it with the opening of the movie. The 40-day challenge is to love your spouse unconditionally. Halfway through the dare, you realize you can’t do it. The standard for unconditional love goes against so much of your feelings, as a person who deals with pride and ego. You soon realize that “I don’t think I can do this without some help.” You then turn to the source of love and the creator of marriage and ask for help me.
Is it true that the film cost about $500,000 and grossed more than $33 million?
Yes. We were all very surprised when it turned out to stay in the top 10 and be the No. 1 independent movie last year. No one expected that. But we were confident that it was going to hit the bull’s eye because the script was great. We had high hopes and good expectations but the film’s success really exceeded what we thought would happen.
Did you donate your time and effort to support a personal mission?
I didn’t have a paycheck. I agreed to donate my time up front, like everybody had done in the move. And Sherwood Pictures — the filmmaker — made a donation to the nonprofit camp for terminally sick children and their families that my wife and I run. It’s called Camp Firefly.
Would you tell us about the camp?
Camp Firefly is a camp my wife and I started when we were working together on Growing Pains. We met many children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. These were kids with terminal illnesses, who wished to come to the set, meet the cast, and get an autograph. Our hearts went out to these families who were dealing with such tragedy in their lives. We wanted to do more than sign a piece of paper, so we put together an all expenses paid week’s vacation. Then, we invited six of these families to get away from the hospitals, needles, and treatments to simply be together as a family and have fun. Forget about being sick. Be around other families who understand what they’re going through. We spend time together as families, getting to know each other, making new friends, talking about life and death, what’s important and what’s not. It turned out to be a real blessing in our life and in the lives of over a 100 families who had come to camp during the last 20 years. If you go to www.campfirefly.com or www.kirkcameron.com, you can find out all about it.
In Fireproof, you had a physically demanding role. Do you exercise regularly?
It was physically demanding. I like to keep in shape, but I had to gain 15 pounds of good, solid muscle for this movie to not only look the role but to be able to carry some of the equipment and do things I had to do. I followed firefighters before the movie to research and prepare, which was very helpful. When you really realize what firefighters do, the courage it takes, the way that they put their lives on the line for other people, and the discipline to be ready in an instant to rescue somebody’s life while you put your own in danger, they command a lot of respect.
Your wife Chelsea came in for the kiss at the end of the movie instead of the actress playing your wife. What was the reasoning behind that?
When I married Chelsea, it was important for me to reassure her that my love is for her alone, so she didn’t have to worry about me being one of these actors who’s going out with other women. I’m not going to be kissing any other woman but Chelsea. That is a promise I made to my wife regardless of what it did to my career. When we did this movie, the writers were on the same page and thought, Wouldn’t it be great to write this romantic scene that is just screaming for a kiss? Then, the writers would have Kirk’s wife put on the dress and wig the actress was wearing and shoot it in silhouette, so you can’t tell. It allowed me to keep my commitment to my wife and make the movie great and romantic.
Anything coming up in the future that people might want to know about?
I recently wrote and released an autobiography called Still Growing, which is a fun, entertaining journey back into the 1980s. You get a feel for what it was like to be a teen idol and how I wound as I am today.
You and your wife have six kids and been married for 17 years. How do you maintain autonomy from the Hollywood community?
I just really dig being with my family most of all, and I don’t live right in the center of the commotion in Los Angeles. I live in the outskirts. We have a nice, big backyard for our kids, and my life is really about my family. My friends are really not in the industry—a separation that is just healthy overall. Your best friends are not the people you’re competing against in business.