Interview: 'Screwtape' Actor on Playing a Demon, Modern Temptation

The star of the hit play "The Screwtape Letters," Max McLean, sat down with The Christian Post this week to chat about how he feels about playing a devil and what he thinks is the most common temptation in society today.

"The Screwtape Letters" began showing in Washington, D.C., on April 17 and will run through May 18.

The following are excerpts taken from the interview:

CP: How do you feel about playing a devil? Is it difficult because you are a Christian?

McLean: From actually an acting perspective, it's a lot of fun. That's the reality of it. But as a Christian, I think what has been very helpful about it is that he (Screwtape) exposes in me my pride because he is pure pride. So in order to play him you got to just go for those places which unfortunately were quite easy for me to find.

So I think the net result spiritually has been a gain, and I think that is Lewis' point – pride kills and humility is a sign of grace. Screwtape, of course, never finds humility or else he wouldn't be in hell but in heaven. But I would say that is the big takeaway for me.

CP: What do you admire most about C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters?

McLean: Well, what I most admire about Lewis is, well, his brilliance is obvious, but I think that as brilliant as he was, he was so self-forgetful. And I think that is what I most admire about him and that is why I think he could write this.

He could say 'What if I look at it from the other point of view?' and I think that is where the genius of Screwtape is.

First of all, it really takes the enemy very seriously, which is of course like the James verse about you believe in God, great, the demons believe in God and they shutter. That is exactly where Screwtape is at.

CP: Which temptation from the play do you think is most frequently employed in today's modern society?

McLean: If you go to Mere Christianity, Lewis describes this world as enemy occupied territory. So it has a pervasive world view where being cool is better than being authentic, where superficiality is more important than substance, and I think if he (devil) can he'd like to stay on the external and not deal with the character issues, which is most firmly rooted in humility. He wants us to get outside of ourselves and that is why he wants so much noise so we don't have any quiet and we can't really reflect.

That is why he wants us to admire women who are sexy and we think, 'Oh, I don't want to date this person because she won't make me look good,' whereas she might have the best character and provide you with a happy family. Whereas you can marry a person that is really sexy and makes you look good and she can ruin your life.

Screwtape wants us to play on the external and when you see magazines and the TV shows, that is exactly what his culture is. I think Screwtape unearths that. It was published in 1942 and it was true then and even truer today.

CP: An idea from the play that left a great impression on the audience is that it's not the big sins that land people in hell, but the culminate effect of the small sins. How do you see this idea played out in today's church or among the average Christian?

McLean: The big sins begin with little sins, don't they? That's always the start. I think that we always have to watch our hearts because the Scripture says to guard your heart. I think that is where the little things begin.

I mean by the time someone is a rapist or an adulterer there has been a lot of other little things that have emerged to get there. Jesus talks about even if you think about it, it's a sin. So he (the devil) is having us think about the little things first. So deal and confess those and we won't have to deal with the big sins because once you get there you are already gone.

CP: What do you hope your audience will walk away with after watching this play?

McLean: I think we need to take Satan very seriously. In the Middle Ages there was this movement to portray Satan with horns and a tail, and its interesting because that has been a sort of common comical caricature of Satan. But of course what they were doing was they knew that Satan did not like to be mocked so they were mocking him. And why would they mock? Because mocking him hurts his pride.

Whereas in our day, again going back to Lewis, the idea of the devil and Satan is being minimized in our culture and yet we are very quick to point out how much evil there is in the world. But where is that evil rooted, where does it come from, and where does it come from in our hearts?

So we don't have to personify him in a particular way, but we do have to recognize that he is there and he is God's enemy. It is like what John Milton said in 'Paradise Lost' – he'd rather rule in hell than serve in heaven and he'd like us to go with him.