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Sam Childers on Gerard Butler, violence and how best to help Africa
Matthew Jenkin meets the real Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, to find out the truth behind Marc Forster's biopic.
SCOTTISH beefcake Gerard Butler returns to the big screen this week as real-life rebel-with-a-cause biker turned missionary Sam Childers in Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher.
An ex-con and junkie, Sam turns his life around and travels to south Sudan where he builds an orphanage and takes up arms to protect the region's children from brutal militia group the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, who forces them into war and slavery.
I met up with the real-life Childers in London yesterday in the plush Soho Hotel - a world away from his spiritual home of Africa.
Dressed in a leather jacket, sporting a handlebar moustache and chewing on a tooth pick, he looks every bit the man who Butler portrays so well on film, minus the Kalashnikov.
"A lot of people get hung up about the machine gun, but this movie was pre-2008. It's not like I walk around with a machine gun," Childers reassures me when pressed about his critics' concerns about a preacher using violence to achieve his cause.
"Jesus didn't condone violence, but he said you're worse than an infidel if you don't take care of your family. He wanted you to stand up for yourself.
"I would rescue any child, no matter what the means are.
"Would I pick up a gun again to protect a child? Absolutely. But things have really changed - there hasn't been anyone killed around our orphanage in two years."
Childers says he was approached about making the film after being featured on popular US news programme Dateline.
However, his involvement in the film was minimal and he was initially nervous about the casting.
He said: "I wouldn't have picked Gerard Butler from the start - I didn't know who he was. But after seeing the finished product, I don't think anyone else could've done the role. I thought he did an excellent job."
What's more, his relationship with screenwriter Jason Keeler was less than happy at the beginning.
"I didn't like Jason at all when I first met him," Childers admits.
"But after a year, he was like a rash - you just got used to him.
"He moved himself right into my house after a while. He did a really good job.
"But even though you've got a good screenwriter, once the screenplay leaves his hands, it's out of his hands to. If the director wants to change things or add thngs, he can."
And though changes were made, Childers seems happy enough with the end result. He has seen the film around 20 times now after all.
"The action scenes in Africa were amped up and there were a few little things that were added that were not true. But if the good outweighs the bad, don't bitch!"
Indeed. The small town pastor from Pennsylvania is fast becoming a household name in America, even starring in his own TV show.
But it's all in aid of his charity Angels of East Africa, which continues to help some of the poorest communities people in continent.
Despite his tough exterior, and he is pretty tough at heard too, Childers is defiantly humble about his inspirational work.
So there have been no proud moments in his career, he says.
"If I get big-headed it's time for God to take me out of here.
"I think the thing to ask me is what is my saddest moment: when you can't rescue all the children; when there are starving people to this day; when there's so much starvation in Africa, but there are millions of dollars running through NGOs' hands.
"It's a sad moment when CEOs of NGOs will make half a million dollars.
"The answer to the problem is non-profit groups need to focus on the CEOs of their companies, and how much they're getting paid. I know some who are making $280,000 a year. Totally ridiculous."
Machine Gun Preacher (15) is out in cinemas now.
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