Pure Flix Entertainment released the Bible epic "Samson" in theaters Friday and lead actor Taylor James says that along with being inspired by his role, he began a Christian practice that he plans to take with him on other Hollywood movie sets.
"Samson" features Billy Zane, Golden Globe-winner Rutger Hauer, Jackson Rathbone, Lindsay Wagner, Caitlin Leahy and Taylor James as Samson.
James said he never anticipated playing a biblical character, but felt led to begin preparing for the role of Samson two years before he learned about it.
"A few years ago, as an actor I had this — I don't wanna say premonition, but I just had this thought and I decided to grow my hair for two years. I just didn't cut it and I decided to not be embarrassed that I like to go to the gym and that I take pride in keeping up with my appearance," James told The Christian Post.
"I wanted to be a leading man and have some sort of action physique and have some sort of action career within this business. And not more than two years to the day, I had the opportunity to play him, Samson," he said. "Occasionally, as an actor, you get a part where you just think, 'This is mine,' and I do remember nearly a year ago getting that audition for Samson."
"So I may not have grown up dreaming to play him, but as soon as it landed on my lap I had to play it," he said.
According to the film's synopsis, "'Samson' is based on the powerful, biblical champion chosen by God to deliver Israel. His supernatural strength and impulsive decisions quickly pit him against the oppressive Philistine empire. After being betrayed by a wicked prince and a beautiful temptress, Samson is captured and blinded by his enemies. Samson calls upon God once more for supernatural strength and turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory."
Though he was impacted by the filming of "Samson," James revealed that it's what happened off camera that will stick with him for the rest of his career. Unlike being on the set of his last film, "Justice League," or the Hollywood films before that, Pure Flix always set the tone by starting shoots with prayer.
"Bruce Macdonald, who is the major director of the film, led the team with love and kindness. I never heard him raise his voice, I never heard him shout at anybody or be aggressive or dominating, or be unkind in any way. He listens to everybody," James told CP.
The actor was surprised that Macdonald was always happy to take advice from everyone, even the man who drove him to work every morning. The director told him, "'You'd be a fool not to listen to everybody because everybody has an experience and something to say, whether you use that or not, that is your decision.'"
James, who's British, added that Macdonald led the team with such a "pureness" that it filtered down. He maintained that throughout his career, all of the filmmakers he's worked with have all had a great leadership quality.
"There were many days when we first started filming, and this has never happened in my career before, but Bruce would say a prayer and it became something that I lent on and I [would] ask a lot more from him," James admitted.
"There were days where I just said to him, 'Bruce, can we just have a moment before this scene?' I felt comforted just like a father figure. So for me, that was probably the one take away from the experience with 'Samson' and the Pure Flix team that was never an option or hadn't been there on other projects."
James, who spoke openly about the importance of religion and the value it provides to others, said the religious practice of prayer will stick with him beyond this film.
"Giving someone that option, to invite you to meditate or invite you to prayer, it's a wonderful thing! I think I will definitely take it with me. Some days it will be a prayer and some days it will be a little bit of mindfulness, and sometimes it'll be just a little bit of calm," he said.
James was drawn to playing the biblical figure because of how diverse the role was. In the film, viewers will see Samson in his early 20s to the end of his life, at age 40.
"There are not many roles where you get to play a 20-year spectrum," James said. "You go from the start where he has youth, cockiness, pride and charm and chasing the ladies. And then you see him love and then lose it. And you see the passion and you see the fear, his vulnerability and his struggles and challenges."
As Samson, James underwent several physical transformations, such as growing a beard, all of which he says he enjoyed.
Even though he was "familiar with the story," prior to getting the role James said he didn't know many of the facts about Samson's life. He said a game he used to play with his family and friends would often bring up Samson's name. He had heard of Samson and Delilah, Samson and the pillars, or Samson and the Lion. However, it wasn't until taking on the role that he delve deeper into the details of his life.
"I won't lie, there were some things that people would say, and I thought, what are you talking about? And it was only when I dived into the material that I found the depths of the story, and the most iconic moments, and they just kept coming and coming," he said.
"My research was everything that's out there on the internet. Whether it would be sermons that were on YouTube, whether it be conversations, whether it be group discussions, or whether it just be the material from Judges 13:16," he explained.
The production was filmed in South Africa and Pure Flix says the journey of the biblical figure showcases "passion, betrayal, and redemption," which will inspire audiences to "realize that life's failures need not define their future."
Although many have said Samson's weakness was his relationship with women, James doesn't believe that.
"Women are not a weakness. Women are a wonderful thing and the emotions they evoke within other humans is that addictive quality," he said. "It's not that women were his down fall or anything like that, it was just the emotions that they evoked."
James told CP he was deeply impacted by Sampson's story and hopes the film will go on to reach others as well.
"Personally, as Taylor, I hope that we all take away something different from the film because good art should allow that," he said.
"On a religious message, I think it's that God is willing to forgive us and love us no matter how many times we fail or sin, and that's the one thing I took the most from Samson's story and other religious stories. It's one of love."
"I hope it's twofold, I hope [people] take away their own personal thing but I hope they see that love from God that is so powerful," he added.
"Samson" was written by Zachary Warren Smith, Jason Baumgardner, Galen Gilbert, and Timothy Ratajczak. The team at Pure Flix behind the $100 million 2014 blockbuster "God's Not Dead" — David A.R. White, Michael Scott, Elizabeth Travis, Alysoun Wolfe, Vlokkie Gordon, Bruce MacDonald, Craig Jones and Brittany Yost — were also involved in the production of "Samson."
For more information about the film, click here.