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Cool Conversations/Interviews

Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis

In this interview, Jonathan and Furby have a fascinating conversation with Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis and co-producer of the upcoming new Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian. Hear unique insight about C.S. Lewis, the man Douglas calls "Jack," that you've never heard before. Discover what it was like to be in the room with the great author. Douglas shares this and more in this fun and enlightening interview.

Jonathan: I grew up the son of a pastor of a big church and people always used to ask me what it was like to live in the home with him as a father figure. And you lived in the home with C.S. Lewis...can you give us just a glimpse of what that was like sitting across the breakfast table with him?

Douglas: Well, as you're probably aware when somebody asks you that question it's always impossible to answer because your childhood is just what it is, it's absolutely normal for you. You've got nothing to compare it with. So it's very difficult to tell you what it was like growing up with C.S. Lewis, that was my childhood; that was the way life was. Looking back on it, I do regard it as a time of great privilege, a great education.

Jonathan: What is something that you just remember about him that maybe you wish more people knew about him?

Douglas: His laughter and his sense of fun without a doubt. All of the biographies that have been written about him with the exception of my own, and all the documentaries and the films made about him, they all miss out the fact that he was tremendous fun to be with, he was a man with a great sense of humor, a great imagination and a great mind. You put all those things together and the result was you could have a lot of fun with Jack all the time, in fact you couldn't really be in conversation with Jack for more than five or ten minutes without roaring with laughter. That's what really gets lost about the man.

Jonathan: That's great. I've been reading your book Jack's Life this last weekend and I love it by the way...

Douglas: Thank you.

Jonathan: ...and I'm gonna plug it to my people. It's neat because that DVD interview that comes along with it just really gave great insight into what it was like to grow up with him. And so, I'm gonna try to not repeat any of those questions because I'm gonna encourage my people to go out and watch that DVD and get that, but I do want to ask you some questions, not so commonly asked in those earlier interviews. I'd like to ask you some questions more about yourself and a few questions about the upcoming films based on Jack's work like for example, most of us are familiar with C.S. Lewis' works probably more than him as a person but in 1993...

Douglas: That's as it should be you know.

Jonathan: And I love that part where you talked in some of your interviews and books about how the focus, how C.S. Lewis himself would have wanted it, the focus to be more on Christ, than himself. I love that. Now, in Shadowlands, the thing that was interesting is, you know, I've never seen a film about myself, I've never seen a film where... Oh, hey there's my mom and that actor is playing me. What was that like just the first time you sat down and saw that...?

Douglas: Yes, it was difficult because I was actually a consultant for that project from its very first interception when Brian Sibley and Norman Stone wrote the first concept script. And I worked on it sort of off and on for all the years through it's various incarnations. I mean first of all it was a TV film with Josh Acton and Claire Bloom. Then it became a stage play, highly successful around the world and still is, by the way, and then of course it became the big Attenborough movie, but I first saw the TV film and had to watch the whole thing of my mother dying, and so forth, I was just blown away by it. I mean it's an incredibly powerful piece of work, the whole Shadowlands thing, whether you're watching movies or the stage play, it's amazingly powerful. And of course it was very difficult for me, even to this day, if we have guests that want to watch it, there are parts where I will, I will go up and get out of the room and go have a cup of tea or something. But it's just still very painful to watch one's mother die over and over again. And, yea, I think it's a wonderful film, I think it's a wonderful stage play. I think the stage play is even better than the movies of course. But then it has to be. By the nature of the media.

Jonathan: Well, I can imagine, because I know for many of us... I bawled, during the film, so I can't even imagine.

Douglas: Well, you know I have to admit that when we first put The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on the screen for the first time, I cried my way through that movie too. Prince Caspian the same, brought me to tears as well because you've got to realize that these movies, The Chronicles of Narnia, are the realization, a dream come true, of a lifetime's ambition for me.

Jonathan: And that's a good segue. We're really excited about this Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian... I think we're all sold, we're all gonna go see it, we're looking forward to it...

Douglas: Oh, I have to ask you to do that and go see it lots of times.

Jonathan: (laughing) We will.

Douglas: And go to the next one.

Jonathan: And we are definitely excited about it, what I'm curious, is... we're hearing the buzz about this Screwtape Letters?

Douglas: Well, yes that's in pre-production right now.

Jonathan: So have they got... any actors or directors connected to that?

Douglas: Well... haven't got that far yet, we're still... Well, I can't say too much because we're in the process of being about to attach a director.

Jonathan: Sure.

Douglas: We're in the process of getting the screen play done and then you've got to realize, to convert Screwtape Letters into a screenplay is going to be an exceptionally difficult task. That's going to take a while. We are always thinking about casting. We haven't come to any decisions yet. I'm a producer on that one as well. And so we're in the very early stages of getting the thing up and running. But it does seem to be coming together. It's quite exciting.

Jonathan: Oh man, we are very excited about that. Now are we ever going to see you, you know, doing like a Hitchcock cameo, in the background on any of these?

Douglas: You heard me in the first movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Jonathan: Oh, where?

Douglas: Well you remember when Lucy and the children arrive at the professor's house, there's a scene where Lucy is lying in bed and there's a radio playing in the background.

Jonathan: Ah ha.

Douglas: The announcer comes on and starts talking about the latest rage in London and what's happening. And they go over quickly and turn him off. Well, that was me.

Jonathan: And do you find that to be a normal experience, people turn you off? (laughing)

Douglas: Well, during my radio career people never turned me off. (laughing) But in this particular instance my voice was disguised because I was being a London old time announcer.

Jonathan: Well there you go.

Douglas: And they needed to turn me off, because they didn't want to scare poor little Lucy you see. I do another cameo in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian as well. I'm not going to tell you what or where it is. But I actually will be in the movie and I do speak as well. It's up to you to find it.

Jonathan: We actually get to see you?

Douglas: You see me and you hear me, yes.

Jonathan: Oooo... We'll be looking for that one.

Douglas: So as human, I'll be in make-up but, you should be able to find me if you look in the right place at the right time when I'm speaking.

Jonathan: Well, that's the challenge and we're gonna do that.

I want to get a chance for everyone to get to know you a little better so I'm going to ask you some very quick questions just about yourself.

Douglas: Sure.

Jonathan: Like for instance, name one of your favorite films?

Douglas: One of my favorite films is The Notebook. My friend Mark Johnson produced it and I think it's very nearly a perfect movie.

Jonathan: Oh, good. I love that one. O.K. so tell us, what if on a Friday night if you had no other plans, where would we typically see you on a Friday night? What would you want to be doing?

Douglas: Probably I would be out in one of the fields I just bought in Malta with a machete in my hand attacking a forest of prickly pear cactus.

Jonathan: That's great. O.K. so now, if you could eat any dish tonight, what would be your favorite dish, your favorite meal?

Douglas: A really good cheeseburger.

Jonathan: (laughing)

Furby: Excellent!

Douglas: I'm giving you all the terribly wrong answers, I know, I'm terribly not correct but there you go, you know. (laughing) Another thing I might be doing on a Friday night is driving around in my Ariel Atom somewhere around the streets of Malta.

Jonathan: Ooh, I like it. So now you said your favorite is a cheeseburger, so if you were in America what restaurant would that be stopping at?

Douglas: Well, now in Los Angeles it would definitely be an In and Out Burger.

Furby: Yea! There you go.

Jonathan: We're out of Sacramento and we have several of those.

Douglas: That's great.

Jonathan: O.K. what about the latest music that you listen to? Maybe a CD that you purchased recently, or a download, what's the latest piece of music you heard?

Douglas: You know, a piece of music I played over and over and over again on my computer just the other day at home in Malta, was the new Switchfoot song "This is Home." And it's in Prince Caspian's credits and it is a fabulous piece of work. I love it, I absolutely love it! Brings me to tears every time I listen to it.

Jonathan: I read about that, and I'm excited that we're gonna see that there. What about your favorite book? I know you're a huge literature fan.

Douglas: That's a really difficult one because I've got so many books that I love so much. It depends what genre we are looking at. I think if you're talking about modern Christian literature it has to be Randy Alcorn, his series of books, with his detective series... they're great books. If you're talking about science fiction we move into the other realms all together and there are people, well C.S. Lewis of course, with the science fiction trilogy. But it all depends on what genre you are talking about.

Jonathan: Well, there you go.

Douglas: I read "The Lord of the Rings" once a year every year.

Jonathan: Oh, good. Good choice there. What book do you think every Christian should read?

Douglas: "Mere Christianity"

Jonathan: Good answer. If you could give one book to a non-believer, what book would you give them?

Douglas: "Mere Christianity"

Jonathan: You know, I thought you would say that.

Douglas: Well, the Bible of course, but "Mere Christianity."

Jonathan: There you go. O.K. I've heard people say, who in history would they enjoy sitting down with for a conversation and a meal, you know if they could choose anybody in history and it's funny because a lot of people answer... "Oh, C.S. Lewis." Well, I didn't think I would ever ask someone who actually has eaten with C.S. Lewis. But who would you choose today if you could sit down and eat with anybody in history?

Douglas: C.S. Lewis.

Jonathan: There you go.

Douglas: Without a doubt. I miss him so much... just to have a dinner with him again, wow! And you couldn't get a better chance than that.

Furby: Oh, my Gosh. Wow!

Jonathan: Absolutely. What's the best day of your life?

Douglas: Best day of my life? Well, there were several. One was certainly the day I looked up the aisle of a church and saw my wife Mary walking towards me. And then all I could see is her sort of floating down the aisle. And then there was each of the times when my children were born. And of course, now of course, one of the best experiences one has in being the father of five children is when they hand you the grandkids and it's just phenomenal.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Douglas: And the best days of my life, apart from those deeply personal family things, is of course watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe come up on screen for the first time. Of course Prince Caspian coming up on screen for the first time... are full experiences.

Jonathan: Good.

Douglas: You can't, I mean there are very few people in the world who have had a dream since they were a young teenager and then seen it come to life and exceeding their own expectations of the way, I mean The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian... it just blows me away, it's just so fantastic. It's just wonderful.

Jonathan: Well, and I love how in your interview that comes in the DVD with the book, how you talked about, you know, that was a 20 year thing for you to try to bring that to the screen and I loved how you discussed about the Holy Spirit, how He might have even been holding that back for a while.

Douglas: I'm sure He was, because we could not have done justice to the books, we could certainly not have done justice to Aslan. The way he appears in Prince Caspian is phenomenal and we, even five years ago, or three or four years ago when we were making The Lion, and the Witch... we couldn't have done it as well as it's been done now. The team has done a fantastic job.

Jonathan: Well, the previews make it look great.

Let me ask you a serious question, what do you think was the worst day of your life?

Douglas: The worst day of my life, uh, well again there have been several. Um... the day my mother died for example was pretty... that was pretty rough. The day I had heard that my father had committed suicide... that was pretty rough. And the day that Jack died wasn't much fun either. And so it's really been uphill, my life has been going quite nicely since all that finished. The worst day of my life, well, thanks be to God, those are about the worst ones I can recall I guess.

Jonathan: Well, don't force yourself to look any harder.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Douglas: I think I'd go along with what I said about Jack, in "Jack's Life," I think it's far more important that people remember Jesus Christ whom I represent than remember much about me.

Jonathan: That's great, that's great... absolutely.

I got to ask another question because people always ask in the Christian world, there's this debate with parents about what they let there kids read and stuff and I like something you said in your interview that came with "Jack's Life," you said something about for a long time in the U.S. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" was hard because of the word "witch" was kind of a thing where you know, they wouldn't print the word witch. That was a bad thing. Well, obviously in churches there's a lot of people that were hesitant with that but now, man 99% of churches are fine with "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." But they still have a big problem with stuff like, "Harry Potter" ...

Douglas: I think it's just largely because people don't understand that what real magic, the term magic really means in today's world. Magic, well, there's a contradiction there. We have a thing we call science. So what we call science is that that we pretend that we understand. What we call magic is what we freely confess that we don't. That's about it really. Everybody getting upset about magic in that sense is really missing the point. The real magic of the world is the work of the Holy Spirit. And we can all never understand it. It's so far beyond us.

Jonathan: Well, and obviously there seems to be such an innocence in the J.R. Tolkien's books and the C.S. Lewis books. Where does it cross the line, at which point should we be worried about kids growing too comfortable with this? I mean, I'm sure there's a line that exists...

Douglas: It's not magic that you want to worry about, the whole magic, the magic in books that you want to worry about them being comfortable with. What you want to worry about them being comfortable with is the work of the Devil.

Jonathan: Sure. So where...?

Douglas: If it's about inflicting cruelty on other people and on creatures with a smile on their face... you have a problem and you need to deal with it.

Jonathan: So do you feel at any time, I mean where do you weigh in on this debate when people say... you know because people compare Harry Potter books to the Narnia books and they say, "Oh yea, they both just use witchcraft, but they're both good."

Douglas: Well the problem is that these people are talking from a basis, and I hate to say it, but a basis of lack of education rather than education. And I think if you are going to hold fort on a topic of any nature one should study it very pretty thoroughly first.

Jonathan: Sure.

Douglas: So I would simply say (to them), "Go and do some homework and then come back to me."

Jonathan: There you go.

Hey, I know your time is short, so let me ask you one final question. In most of your interviews lately, I've been seeing you and you wear that cool silver cross necklace. Is there a story behind that? Why ya "blingin it?"

Douglas: (laughing) Well really... I've had a succession of them. For some reason I keep loosing them. But no, I wear a cross just to let people know I'm a Christian.

Jonathan: Oh, that's great.

Furby: Wow.

Jonathan: Well, it's kind of a nice little piece of "bling bling" and I wondered if there was...

Douglas: Its worth about, what, two and six pence you know, it's like something somebody made in a basement or something, I don't know. And if anything, you know, I couldn't afford to wear very expensive ones.

Jonathan: So we're not going to see you wearing that in Prince Caspian?

Douglas: It's there but I'm afraid the costume covers it.

Jonathan: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

Douglas: You're very welcome. It's been a pleasure.

Jonathan: And we are looking forward to Prince Caspian.

Douglas: Great. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I think you will.

Jonathan refers to Douglas' book Jack's Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis throughout the podcast, an incredible glimpse into the life of C.S. Lewis from the viewpoint of someone who actually lived with the man!



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