We first met John Corbett as the quirky radio deejay who loved to wax philosophical on the brilliant TV series, Northern Exposure. More recently, we've seen him as a hunky love interest in both My Big Fat Greek Wedding (with Nia Vardalos) and HBO's Sex and the City (with Sarah Jessica Parker). Now he's back in another "nice guy" role, playing a Lutheran pastor in the new romantic comedy, Raising Helen, which opens May 28 in theaters nationwide. In this interview, the enigmatic Corbett, 43, who grew up Catholic, says he's a born-again Christian who refuses to do nude scenes, claiming he didn't know Sex and the City was so "dirty" when he took the part. And yet he fesses up to a fondness for "cussing" in real life, including a propensity for using the "F-word way too much." At any rate, he's an interesting study…
So, how much preparation did you need to play a priest?
John Corbett: Zero. Twelve years of Catholic school! I had a necktie on since I was five. I didn't know that Lutheran pastors could get married. I thought the collar meant "no," no can do. Anyway, I'm not Catholic anymore. I'm a born again Christian now.You became Greek Orthodox in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.Corbett: Yeah, but I'm a born again Christian now.
What does that mean to you?
Corbett: I went to 12 years of Catholic school and never read the Bible. Weird. I read the Bible for the first time when I accepted the Lord in 1986, when I was about 25 or 26. The Catholic Church had all this pomp and circumstance that just sort of left me in a daze. I ended up in a non-denominational church, where you have a fellow up there, he wasn't wearing anything fancy, and he was just sort of interpreting the Bible, and I liked that. That never happened in the Catholic church.So, you're attending a non-denominational church now?Corbett: No. Not anymore. I'm a guy who reads the Bible now. I don't go to church.
Is there a particular book or passage of the Bible that is meaningful to you?
Corbett: I like Revelation.
Corbett: I like sci-fi, I guess [laughter]. It is just really scary to me, man. Nothing scares me like the Book of Revelation.
Any other Bible stories intrigue you?
Corbett: Noah's Ark. I was listening to the radio the other day, and they were talking about these satellite photos that they just got from Mt. Ararat and what could be Noah's Ark. Then I looked through the papers and watched the evening news, but I never saw anything else or heard anything else about it. That kind of stuff is interesting to me, because I have always kinda been looking for proof, and that is sort of heavy proof right there.
Once you learned you could put your arms around Kate Hudson and wear a collar at the same time…
Corbett: That's the proof I've been looking for [laughter]!
When did you first meet Kate?
Corbett: I did a movie in 1993, called Tombstone, with Kate's dad (stepfather Kurt Russell). Kate was out there; she was 12 years old. I mean, I'm 20 years older than Kate. There is no way in the world I thought they would let me play this role. But when I saw the movie yesterday, I thought, You don't see any sort of age difference. You know, you don't feel that this guy is older than her.
Corbett: Yeah, it somehow works. I was pleasantly surprised at how much of it actually worked, our relationship together.
What about the religious references in the movie?
Corbett: There were a ton of religious references in the movie, and I begged Garry [Marshall] to take a lot of them out. I mean, every time I spoke, it was a religious overtone. But he made me do a couple of them anyway. One funny one Garry made up is when I first meet Kate in the movie. She's telling me she's a Lutheran, and she calls me "Father." Then I say, "Pastor." She says, "Father Pastor," and I say, "Pastor Parker." It was funny.
If you had to choose a single scene that really sums up the whole thing, what would that be?
Corbett: Well, I'll tell you the scene that made me cry yesterday when I saw the movie. There's no dialog. It's when they are at Kate's sister's house after the accident and everybody is there, and Kate goes up in the closet and finds the three kids … I'm gonna cry right now. It made me cry just to see those three kids there in the closet. That doesn't sum up the movie, but that was an emotional moment for me. I feel bad for any kids who've lost their parents. My parents are still alive, so I have never been through that, you know.
The line, "I'm a sexy man of God," was that scripted or was that your creation?
Corbett: That wasn't mine, man. I hated that line [laughter]. I hated it.
Why? Is it embarrassing?
Corbett: It is totally … it is just a bad line. You can read the script and go, "I can say this, I can say this, aw, I'm never going to say this." So you get to that day and you have to stand there when they say "action," and you have to say that line, even though you've been dreading it. I just wanted it to be done. Yeah, it is embarrassing. I hated it. But I saw it yesterday and somehow it worked, you know?
How do you choose the parts you play in projects?
Corbett: I kind of wait for the phone to ring with something nice. The phone rings and they say we're sending you a script and we think you will like it. It comes and I like it. I've only gotten one part that I have auditioned for, and that was Northern Exposure. Since then I think I have auditioned for maybe a thousand things, and I've never gotten one thing that I've auditioned for. Everything I have ever done has been somebody calling up saying we want you in our project. So, that's my technique. But I say no way more than I say yes. I've been offered a lot of things that I just wouldn't be proud to be in; it's just not the kind of movie that I want to go see.
What are your criteria for saying yes to one and no to another?
Corbett: I wouldn't do nudity. I don't think I want the world to see me naked. I mean, my mom still watches everything I do, so she doesn't need to see me naked, for one!
But you've done Sex in the City, even though you were never naked on the show.
Corbett: I turned it down three times because in my first script I was supposed to get naked and show my butt, and I said that I can't do that. They finally said, "Well, how naked will you be?" I said that I would take my shirt off but that is going to be it. So they said that's okay. I guess Sex in the City is about the raciest stuff I have ever done. When I took that show, I took it based on two episodes. I had never seen the show, and it was dirtier than I thought. It was pretty graphic, but I'm a big boy and I sort of enjoyed it. I cuss a lot in my real life; I use the F-word way too much. That is a bad habit, but I don't mind cussing in a movie.
Garry Marshall said you were a little hesitant to do a nice guy in this role.
Corbett: Yeah, because that is all I have been playing—and then they want to give me a priest collar! I did a TV show called Lucky last year, and the reviews just kept beating me up, saying "He's playing another nice guy, it's all this guy plays." And I started thinking I needed to play some sort of darker character. That thinking lasted for a few months, then I thought, Screw that. I don't have to prove myself to any critic that I never met. But when this movie came along, I was feeling that I'm not playing another nice guy right now. But I really wanted to work with Garry and Kate. When I read this script I thought, I can do something with this, I can make this guy a little different than your typical priest. I thought I would give him a little quirk. I thought I could make him a little more likeable.
Seems like they established him as someone who would be a good father for the children.
Corbett: Yeah, and that was important. But they cut a lot of stuff in the movie. In the script, she had a thing with that young guy she was with; they were really getting it on. It showed the contrast of this nice guy, Pastor Dan, and this sort of party guy that she was kind of hanging out with. But they cut that character down.
Are you enjoying your life?
Corbett: I am. I don't want it to end. I like this planet. I want to stay here as long as I can.
Pubication date: May 21, 2004