Friday, May 20, 2022

Kevin Downes Film Producer of ‘American Underdog’ Talks Faith and Triumph

Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner and Kurt Warner on the set of American Underdog
Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner and Kurt Warner on the set of American Underdog. Photo Credit: Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate

*Kurt Warner, 50, true-life story is heading to theaters on Dec. 25, and he truly exemplifies the scripture Psalm 118:22 “the stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone.”

The movie aptly titled “American Underdog” is a certified tear-jerker, inspirational, will induce goosebumps – the good kind and is entirely apropos considering the time of our nation, now entering year two of a global pandemic amidst economic strife. With its uplifting message, this film is what is needed in this trying season.

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“American Underdog” official movie poster. Courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity.

Warner is highly revered in the annals of NFL history. Still, his journey to the mountain peak of success was an arduous task, as he detailed in his memoir “All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football and the First Miracle Season.”
He came from humble beginnings and attended the University of Iowa. After graduating college, he spent the next five years working towards being drafted to the NFL and, as if guided by hands of providence, crossed paths with a spiky-haired ex-marine by the name of Brenda. She was a struggling single mother of two children, including a vision impaired son, due to a head injury. Warner did everything in his power to keep her in his life, ultimately marrying her.

“American Underdog” allows audiences to behold Warner’s remarkable story.  Many will witness how his dream of becoming a professional football player led him to stocking shelves at a supermarket and playing arena football with the Iowa Barnstormers. Eventually arising as a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion as an undrafted player for the St. Louis Rams.  Later on, Warner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“We got to make this incredible film that tells an incredible story about an incredible guy — but not just about the guy, about his incredible wife and his incredible kids. They’re all underdogs, and they’re all just struggling to somehow make it in this rat race of life — and it’s tough. It requires a lot of faith in oneself and faith in a higher power and stick-to-itiveness,” actor Zachary Levi, who plays Kurt Warner in the film, told the Oklahoman.

Warner, now an on-air analyst for the NFL Network, entrusted the telling of his astonishing memoir to the Erwin Brothers and their producing partner Kevin Downes through their Kingdom Story Co.  The production company has a distribution deal with Lionsgate movie studio to create “event-level entertainment for audiences of faith.”

EURweb correspondent Yolanda Baruch caught up with film producer and actor Kevin Downes to discuss “American Underdog” and how having faith can help achieve the impossible.

Kevin Downes, actor and film producer via IMDb.com.

EURweb: How did you come across the Kurt Warner story, and what made you decide to produce the film about his life?

Kevin Downes: I’ve been a fan of Kurt Warner ever since he played for the Ram, he’d spoken about his faith, and I grew up a Rams fan. I am an Arizona Cardinal season ticket holder, and when he came to the Cardinals, it was a dream come true. I remember his last home game, and I had tears in my eyes thinking about how his whole story played out and thinking to myself what a great movie [his story would be]. I was like, who is this guy? He’s so relatable. I mean, he’s bagging groceries, he’s a Christian, and now he’s on the Rams. Not thinking that I would be involved with the movie when the Erwin brothers and myself released our film “I Can Only Imagine.”

We were connected to Kurt by a mutual friend, and as soon as we were introduced to each other, we absolutely hit it off. We were like, okay, this is a story we got to tell. And so here we are, it’s done, and it’s in theaters, it looks fantastic, and I still get misty-eyed whenever I watch it. I can’t wait for the world to see it.

Actor Zachary Levi plays NFL legend Kurt Warner in AMERICAN UNDERDOG. Photo Credit: Mike Kubeisy

EURweb: Becoming a successful actor/producer is a long shot. What element in Kurt’s story did you most relate to, considering you both fulfilled big dreams for your lives?

KD: I relate to the fact he came from humble beginnings, whether [it was being] on food stamps, working at the grocery store, and having nothing, nothing was handed to him. He had to work for all of it. To me, that’s very inspirational because it’s something that I can relate to; nobody gave me anything. I had to figure out [how] to produce a movie and act in movies independently. I love that fact about his story; just don’t give up. If you believe that God has called you to certain things, then don’t give up. I believe that’s the overall message of his story.

EURweb: There’s a great line in the movie. The university coach says to Kurt, “Stay in the pocket – when things get hard, you bail, you run from adversity, you don’t trust your team or my playbook.” Why is it essential to stay in the pocket in life even when it gets difficult? 

Zachary Levi (left) as ‘Kurt Warner’ and Dennis Quaid (right) as ‘Dick Vermeil’ in AMERICAN UNDERDOG. Photo Credit: Mike Kubeisy

KD: It’s like in the Bible, you talk about Job staying in the pocket, things got really tough and really difficult at the end of the day no matter how hard those things got. God delivered him through it. When I look back in my life and the trials I went through [starting] my career, [I] allowed God to work [my] life. It’s going to play out differently for everybody, but at the end of the day, God will deliver you from that circumstance; it just might not be what you expect.

EURweb: You have produced other faith-based films and documentaries. How important is it to you to promote faith in cinema?

KD: It’s very important, those are the movies I’m called to do. I believe the kind of movies I want to do are true-life stories that showcase the power of the gospel. These types of films are what excites me, it’s hard work putting a movie together, but it excites me to see people going to a theater and watching at home—watching their lives transform in such a way that they’re encouraged by it. They’re encouraged by that story, and suddenly, they make different life decisions for the betterment of their own lives, their family’s lives, and their community. So basically, every day we wake up, we have the opportunity to impact people in a positive way, and movies can be a catalyst to be able to do that.

EURweb: So many people are chasing dreams who are considered underdogs. There is a line in the movie that says, “You’re too old to be a rookie, too green to be a pro, you don’t belong here.” Why do you think God uses the underdog as an instrument to achieve great things?

KD: That’s a good question. If you look at the example of Jesus, He was the ultimate underdog. He was born in a manger, which is the lowest of the low, yet God sent His son to die on a cross and pay the ultimate price so that we can have eternal life. The ultimate example is Christ Himself on the cross. Whether true or fictional stories, we find ourselves in the position of rooting for the underdog at all costs because we believe we are the underdogs because life itself is difficult. We want to see victory in the face of defeat. I’m attracted to stories like that. 

EURweb: What is the biggest lesson you want audiences to take from this film?

KD: We made the movie as a source of encouragement as a source of hope. In a time that might be void of hope, our movies are a source of inspiration for people when they need it most because they’re not necessarily getting it from their friends or their neighbor. Go to the movies, go to a clean movie that’s rated PG, an incredible source of hope and inspiration, and allow your life to be changed.

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