Below are snippets of interviews conducted by Preview editor Greg Shull and other family-friendly media with Because of Winn-Dixie cast members AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels and Cicely Tyson.
Newcomer AnnaSophia plays the film’s lead role, 10-year-old Opal who adopts a dog named Winn-Dixie. Jeff plays her father, who is a small-town Baptist preacher. Cicely Tyson plays Gloria Dump, a reclusive woman thought to be a witch by the neighborhood children. The questions have one theme: the spiritual background and views of these actors.
Q: Do you pray? And have you ever had a prayer answered?
AnnaSophia: I do pray. And I love being able to pray just because you can tell God anything, and he just listens. And even if it doesn’t seem like he’s listening, he’s always there. I think that’s really great because sometimes you just need someone to talk to, but you can’t talk to your friends or you can’t talk to your parents, and you just want to talk to someone. I think your animals are kind of like a symbol of God because they listen to you always, and they’re so sweet, and they just love you no matter what. Even if you hit them or throw them, which you definitely do not want to do, they still love you. And I think that’s wonderful.
Q: How is it being a Christian in Hollywood?
AnnaSophia: I don’t think it really changes. I don’t know. You go with yourself and you pray, but I don’t like force anything on people, y’know, talk about what they think about God. Sometimes, it makes them feel uncomfortable. And I think everybody can believe what they believe. I believe what I believe, and that’s okay.
Q: What are the criteria you have for doing movies?
AnnaSophia: No bad language.
Q: As you get older, what sort of films would you like to do?
AnnaSophia: Well, I don’t want to do any Victoria’s Secret commercials. I want to do stuff that kids can watch.
Q: How does your church background compare to Open Arms Baptist Church in the movie?
Jeff: I was raised a Methodist. I haven’t been in a church, I haven’t gone to church in 30 years. But I consider myself very spiritual. I believe in something. I’m not as specific about it as you guys. But I believe there’s something. I’m hoping for something. And the lessons, whether it’s Jesus or whatever you can pull from on how to live your life are valuable, valuable lessons that I wish the whole world adhered to a little better. It’s interesting, my wife’s Catholic, and she sings at Mass every Christmas Eve, and I always go in there and see her, watch her sing, and then I leave. And you can never find a seat. She’s a good singer, but she’s not that good. But it’s that Christmas/Easter thing. And, y’know, I kind of live with some kind of spirituality everyday. I can’t be specific about it except that I believe in it and know that it’s there, trust that it’s there, but then I see all these people who come twice a year and then claim to be. No, I haven’t been in a church in 30 years, but I’d say I’m more spiritual than a lot of the people who claim to be. So, I’m real happy with where I am.
Q: You said that you believe in something and then you hope for something. What is it that you hope for?
Jeff: I don’t know. I don’t know. I believe that there’s something beyond here. I believe in ghosts. I believe in spirits. I’ve had things happen to friends of mine and to me that I can’t explain, which instead of being scared of it, I want to believe that there’s some kind of spirit world. It gives you something to hope for as well as a way to lead your life.
Q: In your bottle-tree scene, you look at the young girl and tell her, “You gotta know the most important thing.” What’s the most important thing to you?
Cicely: Do unto others as you would have others to do unto you. To me, that’s something I’ve followed all my life because if you want to be treated a certain way, then you have to treat the next person exactly the same way. You get only what you give in life. And that’s something that’s important to me. That to me is the most, just do as you would have someone do to you. I think we’d have a lot less tragedy in life today. Just remember that. I think it was called the Golden Rule.
Q: How do the values and the faith in the film align with your personal spiritual values?
Cicely: I was brought up in the church. The fact that I’m in this business is a source of amazement to my family and friends but to myself as well. As a child, the church was my circumference of social activity. Everything we did took place within the doors and the walls of that church. I recited. I played the piano. I sang in the choir. I taught Sunday School. I mean we went to church from Sunday morning till Saturday night. And I vowed that if I ever lived to become a woman that I would never enter the portals of a church again because it was my life. I mean I knew nothing as we went to prayer meeting Monday nights, children’s meeting, grown-ups’ meeting Wednesday, old-folks’ meeting Thursday, and Saturday we cleaned the church. So were always there. So when we saw movies, it had to do with movies that were approved of by the church, and we sat there and watched movies. But all of our social activity took place within the walls of the church, and we were never permitted to go to the movies, never … So, my faith is very spiritual, has always been. There was a time when I decided that I didn’t really understand why it was except that I was taught that way. And so, I decided to stop going to church much to my mother’s dismay. And I studied religions. And what I learned was that it’s here (points at her heart). If you don’t have it, it’s nowhere. And so that made it possible for me to walk into the door of any church that was open.
Q: So you did not keep your vow?
Cicely: To not go to church again? No, no. I go to church on a regular basis. Believe me.