In the new faith-based movie Selfie Dad, now available at streaming outlets online, comedian Michael Jr. plays Ben Marcus. He’s a struggling father and husband who’s quietly slipping into a mid-life crisis—at home, at work, in his faith.
Everything changes one day as Ben’s trying to pry his tween son off the computer. Jack is watching a gamer on a YouTube-like video platform, and he says that some people make millions posting videos of themselves. Suddenly, Ben has a brainstorm. Maybe he could be an online star, too. Ben’s hilarious slapstick videos of himself trying and failing to fix things (like a toilet) make him an overnight sensation.
But he’s got deeper lessons yet to learn, especially when it comes to faith, family and fatherhood.
I recently had a chance to talk with Michael Jr. about Selfie Dad, the emphasis it places on spiritual growth and some of the difficult issues our culture is facing right now.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.]
Adam Holz: Michael, for those who aren’t familiar with Selfie Dad, could you tell us a little bit about its story and its themes?
Michael Jr.: So it’s basically about this dad. He’s really tall, handsome. [Laughter]. So it’s this dad who’s stuck in a job he doesn’t like as video editor for a reality TV show host played by Shonda Pierce. Shonda is his boss, and he does not like it all. And they kind of go at it in a comedic way. But he feels stuck in life. [Because of his tween son’s influence] he decides to put a video up on UToo [a play on YouTube], and the video he puts up, it starts to blow up, like he gets really big.
So, he actually gets everything he wants, but he’s completely aware that he’s losing everything that he really needs. Which is to be a dad, a good husband, to represent the kingdom [of God] better. He’s losing all that, [even though] he’s had access to it all along. … Then a friend, a coworker recommends, “Hey, maybe you should read this book: the Bible.” Ben’s like, “The Bible? Man, I ain’t reading no Bible.” … Ben goes to church, but not really. He just goes because it’s a box he needs to check. So he’s really kind of just out there when his friend recommends reading the Bible. Well, he starts [doing that], and then he kind of fumbles a little bit, comedy kind of ensues, and drama. And it’s really cool.
My favorite part of the movie is the fact that the director, Brad Silverman decided to give me the freedom to kind of create on the spot and improv things, as well as write some items into the script. We would get every line that they needed, and then they would say, “OK, Michael, let’s do one the way Michael Jr. sees it.” And then I was able to do that. And that was pretty awesome.
Holz: I think this is a movie lots of people will connect with. But obviously, it’s really geared toward dads. What do you hope dads will take away from the movie?
Michael Jr.: I hope dads can see how important they really are. And also, that they see how you can chase and even obtain your dream, because for most dads, your true dream is going to include your family in some way or another. And, more importantly, the importance of reading God’s Word.
There’s a scene in this movie towards the end … where Ben does his first UToo video with the Bible. He’s doing a monologue, looking straight that camera—I’m telling your readers, because you’ll miss this if I didn’t tell you about it. So when he starts talking about how the Bible has changed his heart, what actually happens—and nobody would know this—is that while I’m saying those words in the character of Ben, I break character and it becomes Michael Jr., because I’m actually talking about what the Bible has done for me. If you look, you can almost see where the character is broke at. You can see where it’s like, “Oh, right there!” is where that’s Michael Jr., and no longer Ben the character. ‘Cause it rang so true with regards to what the Bible has done for me and with regards to my heart.
Holz: That connects with another question I’ve got. I wanted to say thank you for your shout out to Focus on the Family’s Bring Your Bible to School Day initiative in the credits of the movie. We really appreciate that. We’re trying to encourage not only dads, but students and really everyone to get into Scripture in their daily lives. With that in mind, as well as what you were just saying, what have been some of the hurdles to spending time in God’s Word in your own life, and how have you overcome those?
Michael Jr.: Well, one of the hurdles was really trying to find the time. Because if you look at it as something you need to find, it’ll be super hard. … And here’s the thing: I don’t like to read. And I know there’s a lot of men out there like me who’re like, “Man, I ain’t gonna be sitting around reading the Bible.” Just like the character in the movie. I don’t like to read, but I’m telling you, when you actually read the Bible—it’s not like a “to do” book. You don’t read it and then be like, “OK, this is what I’m gonna do now.” It actually gets into your heart. And then whatever gets into your heart is revealed in your walk.
So, the other good thing about this movie is that there’s laughter in it. And when you laugh, your heart opens more quickly. But you have to be very wise about what you’re watching as your heart is open, ‘cause something will be deposited there, as well. So you want to be super strategic about what you’re watching, especially while you’re laughing, about what’s going inside. So with this movie, Selfie Dad, that’s what happens. You’re laughing, but then the truth about God’s Word is also being deposited.
And it’ll be revealed in your walk. So when we read the Bible, it’s not like we have to do something: The Bible will literally show up in the midst of something. But if you don’t read it, something [else] is gonna show up. I don’t know, like it’s your favorite TV show. You ever have a random song just pop up out of nowhere, from 20 years ago? That’s because that’s what was in the heart. So when you read the Bible, you start putting His Word in your heart, and when it’s time to make a decision—like you’ll be laying in bed one day and you’ll be like, “OK, should I sleep a little longer?” and a verse will pop to you like, “A little sleep, a little slumber …” and you’ll be like, “OK, Lord.”
Holz: “ … and poverty will come upon you like an armed bandit” [Proverbs 6:10-11].
Michael Jr.: Exactly! And now, there’s your answer. Whereas right now, what’s popping up when you don’t want to get out of bed? Like, [sings] “I’m a lazy dog.” Like, what song is coming on right now? I don’t even know if that’s a real song.
Holz: It should be, though.
Michael Jr.: Yeah, it should be. Probably. It sounds like a country song. …
Holz: Well, back to Selfie Dad. There’s a scene at the end of the film where your character, Ben Marcus, gets pulled over by a police officer, and you talk about some of the things that a black person has to do during an interaction with the police. The scene is really funny. But obviously it’s dealing with a hugely important subject, too. And with everything that’s happened since you probably filmed that scene, it makes us super sensitive to that subject right now. How do you hope audiences respond to that part of the film?
Michael Jr.: Yeah, you know what’s great about that, man, is when we filmed that, the script actually said, “When Ben gets pulled over by police, he gets out of the car.” And I had to explain to the white director and the producers. I said, “Dude, I can’t get out the car. It’s just not realistic. I said, black people, we don’t just get out the car when the police pull us over. We stay in the car, hands on the wheel—and I explained all that to him. And they were kind enough to understand and yet sit down and listen to me. So then they said, “OK, how about this: When the police walk up to the car, you’re angry.” And I’m like, “I’m not angry either. The main thing is I’m trying to control my anger and my attitude toward this scenario.” And they didn’t fully understand that until I explained it.
And then the scene that actually happened is completely improv. We made the whole thing up and put a comedic tone on it, because that tone matches the movie. But if you think about the opposite—had I not explained to them what really takes place when a black man gets pulled over … Imagine if I would have just gotten out of the car angry? Then imagine if that’s the scene that’s playing, right? It would have been so inauthentic. And those people who don’t think that this is real, that would be their vision of what it looks like when a black person gets pulled over.
I did a video about an incident that I had with the police—I put it on my social media, all of the platforms. When I was 19 years old, the police came into my apartment wrongfully, and put a gun to my head and pulled the hammer back, it was just a mess. But what happened as a result of that was that shortly after that, I’m angry, I’m upset, they leave.
But shortly after that, a lady comes into my apartment. She was from the apartment across the hall that got raided. They took her boyfriend away and took all their stuff. She comes in crying. She’s in tears, she barely speaks English, I can’t understand some of what she’s saying. She’s got two kids with her. And I don’t know what to do. I’m just mad and upset about what just happened to me, and she comes in with these tears in her eyes. And the only thing I can think to do is to reach in my wallet and giver her all the money I had—which was like fourteen dollars and twelve cents or something. So, I gave her my money, and then she looked at me, she gave me a little smile—she still had tears in her face—and she gave me this hug. She gathered up the kids and left. I’ve never seen her again.
But what actually happened in that moment was she gave me a gift that I desperately needed at that time. Instead of being angry and sitting thinking about myself, I immediately decided, “What about someone else?” Immediately, I know the pain that I was feeling started to subside. More importantly, the anger I was feeling started to subside. So I believe anger perpetuates hurt and pain. I just really believe that.
Holz: Wow. That’s an amazing story. Thank you for sharing that with is. As we wrap up here, Michael, do you have any final thoughts for the Plugged In audience today?
Michael Jr.: I think what’s super important [about Selfie Dad] was that we were going to put this movie in theaters. And now, because of what’s going on, you can get it at home. You don’t have to pay $99, I think it’s $96 for popcorn. So you can actually watch it at home, and I’m just super excited about that.
And, for those out there—some people probably avoid Father’s Day, because you had a bad relationship with your father, so my word on that would be this. Please understand that no matter what your relationship with your father is—I don’t know him and I don’t know you, but I can say this with confidence, and you may not understand it right now, but I hope someday you will—your father actually did the best he possibly could do. I know that’s hard for people to swallow. I know it is. But at some point, you will understand that he absolutely did the best he could do.
And, wherever your horizontal father was lacking, your vertical Father more than made up for it. So don’t sweat the horizontal dad because your vertical Father fully understands, and He can make up for. You just have to reach for Him, because He’s certainly reaching for you.
Selfie Dad shows us one man’s path to a deeper relationship with God and with his family. If you’d like to take similar steps in your own life, check out these resources from Focus on the Family to help you thrive in your faith: