Ethan Hawke's great-grandmother had wanted him to become a priest, but the American actor prayed that he would never get the calling, he said at the Venice film festival on Thursday.
Hawke finally got his taste of priesthood when he was cast as a minister in Paul Schrader's spiritual drama "First Reformed," one of 21 movies competing for the Golden Lion that will be awarded on Sept. 9.
"I've been surrounded by religion my whole life and it's a very important dialogue, in my head anyway, so I was very grateful for the opportunity to play this character," Hawke told journalists before the film's premier.
Hawke plays Toller, an ex-military chaplain struggling to come to terms with the loss of his son, who he had encouraged to enlist.
Toller now looks after a small but largely empty tourist church. He is further challenged in his faith when a pregnant parishioner, Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried, and her radical activist husband ask for counseling.
The idea that life is a balance between "hope and despair" is a theme throughout the movie, although the film does not answer which wins, Hawke said.
"It's asking questions and how it bounces off you is what's most relevant," he said.
"The movie definitely walks that razor's edge between utter despair and completely believing in love. The two are at war throughout the film and they are so at the end to me."
The movie is Schrader's first feature about spiritual life, but it also touches on the topic of climate change.
When Mary's husband, tortured by the idea of bringing a child into a world that is on the edge of self-destruction, commits suicide, Toller begins to ask himself and others whether the church should take a greater responsibility in eco-activism.
For Schrader, who wrote the script for classics such as "Taxi Driver" and directed 18 feature films, including "American Gigolo," the fight for the climate might already be lost.
"If you're hopeful about humanity and the planet, you're not paying attention. I don't see humanity outliving this century," he said, adding how his own generation of baby boomers has "screwed the planet for our children."
Asked about the changes in the film industry, Schrader said more than making a movie, the hard part was getting it seen.
"You know how do you get your head above the crowd? When there is 10,000 people in the piazza. We are here now in Venice for just that reason," he said.