In “The Undershepherd,” radio personality/filmmaker Russ Parr takes on the black church and pastors who use their power for personal gain rather than helping their congregations. Parr told an audience at the American Black Film Festival last year, where the film premiered, that he met with some resistance in the black church but forged ahead anyway as the story needed to be told. The film won Best Narrative Feature, Best Actress and Best Director at the festival.
In “The Undershepherd,” Isaiah Washington of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame plays a Lawrence “LC” Case, a pastor looking to advance in the church who comes into conflict with his best friend, his lead pastor and ultimately, himself. Lanman Rucker plays Roland, a young pastor who realizes his friend has gone too far astray to help, and Malinda Williams is LC’s long-suffering wife who has problems of her own. While the film is weakened by too many implausible dramatic scenarios near the end, Washington is scarily charismatic as LC, who fails to see how leading a church has led to his ultimate spiritual destruction. Many church goers may find parallels in their own church experience and this movie and that’s precisely why Parr was moved to write, direct and produce the film via his Uptoparr Productions.
TV One is premiering “The Undershepherd” for network television and it will air on Saturday, March 30 and Sunday, March 31, at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Parr joined Tom, Sybil and J. Anthony Brown to discuss “The Undershepherd” and why he fought to tell this story.
TOM JOYNER: Russ Parr took time out of his own show to be on our show. Russ Parr, Good morning!
RUSS PARR: I was telling some people Tom is the reason why I make a little bit of money. Man, I know you’re really modest and everything, but I will cancel my show to be on your show. I don’t give a damn. (laughter). With J .Anthony Brown, are you kidding?
J. ANTHONY BROWN: What up, Russ?
Russ Parr: J. Anthony Brown always complaining “Man, when are you going to put me in the movies?”
J. Anthony Brown: Yeah, when are you?
Russ: I got this new movie called “The Pillow Biter.” (Laughter). You can do your own stunts. It’s a prison love story.
Tom Joyner: Aww man.
Russ: You’ll come in like ‘You didn’t braid my hair so good. On the pillow.’ Oh, man.
J. Anthony Brown: You a funny guy sometime, Russ.
Russ: I’m going to write that one down because that just came off the top.
SYBIL WILKES: Russ, what is “The Undershepherd?”
Russ: “The Undershepherd” is a movie about the church. It’s not your typical ‘OK, we’re going to love each other, we’re going to go off and build a church.’ This is a pretty powerful movie and we pretty much every festival that we’ve been in swept all the awards. It stars Isaiah Washington, Lanman Rucker and Lou Gossett, Jr. What we’re doing here is – a lot of people expect me to write comedies and you’ve seen some of my worst comedies and J. Anthony Brown starred in those –
Sybil: Bought you down every time.
Russ Parr: But what I tried to do, my journey in the church the whole nine has been a problem for me. I don’t want to indict all churches and that’s what I want to put across here. My point that I’m trying to make is that you need to worship God, not man. Isaiah Washington’s portrayal of the lead pastor is chilling. I remember the first day of shooting I was so caught up in his performance I forgot to direct everybody else. He really took my words to another level. I’ve been getting some pushback, Tom, I’ve been getting some pushback.
Tom Joyner: From the church?
Russ Parr: Man, I had a group of pastors come to my house and watch it in my basement. Man, they cussed me out.
Tom Joyner: Pastors cussed you out?
Russ Parr: Man, they cussed me out bad.
Tom Joyner: Pastors cussed you out?
Russ Parr: It was mother—that and no, they were saying this is a bad time for this with all the negative images out there and blah blah blah. But what I didn’t do, I didn’t do the Bishop Eddie Long stuff. That’s just so easy. I wanted to take a simple story and talk about how people get drunk with power and idolize people and put them up on a pedestal. They shouldn’t be idolizing these people because these people have their own sets of issues. Making life decisions based on what this man says? That is just a man who’s fallible.
Sybil: Did you have one of our bishops in this movie?
Russ Parr: Which bishop would that be?
J. Anthony Brown: (in comic voice) Seriously, T. D. Jakes – (Laughter)
Russ Parr: No actually man, cause he’s –
J. Anthony Brown: (in comic voice) Well, I can’t wait to see it.
Russ Parr: Hilarious. I think the big thing though, is that a lot of women in the church embraced the movie.
J. Anthony Brown: Because they know the real stories. That’s the difference because they know the real stories and the real stories behind the men.
Russ Parr: Right. These people end up telling me ‘Man, none of that stuff happens.’ Of course I’m going to embellish the story a little bit just for entertainment purposes. And I had one lady who stood up and said ‘You crazy if you don’t think this kind of stuff happens in the church. It’s dealing with power, infidelity, greed. Lou Gossett, Jr. is brilliant in it. Lanman Rucker, everyone is used to him taking his shirt off –
Sybil: Did he?
Russ Parr: No, however, he did expose his genitals. (Laughter)
Sybil: Now you got a movie!
Tom: Now this movie is going to air Easter weekend.
Tom: On TV One.
Russ: Yeah, it’s going to be on Saturday night 8 p.m. Eastern, we’re actually paying you to watch.
J. Anthony Brown: That’s like that with most of your movies.
Russ: We’re giving away tickets. And selling some of those loud suits you wear. (Laughter.) No, it’s 8 o’clock Eastern. It’s kind of gutsy for TV One to put this on. When you look at the title “The Und’ ershepherd” you’re thinking ‘this is going to be a cute movie.’ It ain’t that kind of movie.
Tom Joyner: Congratulations, Russ.
Sybil: And thanks for bringing Isaiah Washington back.
Russ Parr: Man, I think it’s a darn shame what they did with Isaiah so I’m glad to be able to give him a platform, because this man is brilliant.
Tom Joyner: How many movies have you done now?
Russ Parr: Six. Hey man, thank you for supporting me, man, you are my man, for real.