Q&A: Former Teen Heartthrob and Evangelical Speaker Kirk Cameron

There was a time—before Justin Bieber, before Zac Efron, before even the New Kids on the Block—where one teen heartthrob towered o'er all the rest, ruling the hearts of prepubescent girls with a twinkle in his eye and a winsome smile. That boy was Kirk Cameron, aka Mike Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains, which had 20 million weekly viewers at the peak of it popularity in the late 1980s.

Cameron lost his heartthrob status when he married the actress who played his girlfriend on the show at the young age of 20. But almost 22 years later, Cameron and Chelsea Noble have shown that sometimes Hollywood marriages can last, even when six (!) kids are involved.

Of course, it's no secret that Cameron attributes the success of his marriage—and everything else—to his strong evangelical faith. It's a faith that has lost him some of his earliest fans, as Cameron has staked out positions opposed to evolution and called homosexuality "unnatural, detrimental, and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization." But for his newer Christian fans, Cameron is a man they can believe in, one who has stepped outside the traditional Hollywood machine to make movies with religious themes and has found success doing so, most notably with the Left Behind series and 2008's Fireproof.

Cameron brings his seminar on sustaining a healthy marriage to town this weekend. We chatted with him over the phone about his films, family, and faith.

Back in the '80s, at the height of your teen heartthrob status, what was it like, being 16 or 17 and knowing that hundreds of thousands of girls had your picture up on their walls? I mean, I had so many friends who were completely obsessed with you. How did you get through that time and come out on the other side pretty normal?
Well, I'm hoping all those pictures have come down now, and all those women have stopped thinking about me and are more focussed on their husbands now! [laughs] Seriously, it was crazy, it it was also the only reality that I knew. I don't know that I came out completely normal, though.

Do you think it was your conversion to Christianity at 17 that prevented you from having the type of breakdowns or drug problems that happen to so many child stars?
It's hard to say exactly the most important thing that shaped your life. If you look back, you can say, well, I had good friends, and they were maybe there for me at times when I needed them, and I had family who was around me and kept me from doing things I might have otherwise. And I can also say that for someone taking me to church. You know, I was an atheist, I grew up an atheist, and when that friend started taking me to church, it really got me thinking about important things—what happens when we die? How did we get here? And it really changed my life. … It's been the best thing to happen to me.

You starred in Fireproof a few years back, which was a pretty big hit, considering it was an independent, comparatively low-budget film. Are more movies on the horizon?
Definitely. I have a movie that's going to be coming out this fall with the same company that made Fireproof. That's going to be call Unstoppable. And last year I made a documentary, Monumental, that involved me retracing the journey the Pilgrims took in founding our country. … I have lots of plans for future projects.

I understand you have kind of a reality show called The Way of the Master, in which you witness your faith.
Basically, it's a program where a friend of mine [minister and evangelist Ray Comfort] go out to college campuses, beaches, parks, places like that, and we ask people provocation questions. Like, do you believe in heaven? What about hell? What do you think happens when you die? … We have these great conversations with them, and then we explain how to find everlasting life.

I would imagine that not everyone would enjoy this. Do you get a lot of negative reactions from people? Or are people more willing to listen simply because you're a celebrity?
There are a wide range of reactions, but most people really are interested in talking with us and learning more. These kinds of conversations, like what happens after you die, are conversations that most people don't have because it's uncomfortable.

I have to say, here in Tennessee, that's not an issue. People talk about heaven and hell and religion all the time, just in the normal course of the day here.
Well, I'm in California, and out here it's a whole different culture.

So you'll be in Knoxville presenting your marriage seminar, "Love Worth Fighting For." Is it heavily based on the success of your marriage with Chelsea?
It is. I share the stuff that I've learned, the stuff that works, the stuff that makes my marriage—not perfect—but great. … And most people think there isn't a guide to marriage, but there is. There is an instruction manual, you just have to use it. … Marriage is really a school where you learn to become a different person, a less selfish person. Marriages never fail, it's people that fail. And once you start to get a hold of things, your best days can be in front of you.

You say there's an instruction manual. I assume you're talking about the Bible?
Yes.

So would it be fair to say that the secret to a happy marriage is to live by Jesus' one commandment, to love one another as we love ourselves?
Ultimately you could say that, yeah. If you can apply that consistently, you can have a good marriage. Because love is the greatest of all things. This problem is, most people are selfish. … That's why we're doing this, to show people how do you overcome hurt and find forgiveness. So many people are struggling in their marriage. I just want to help.