NASHVILLE — In the Magnolia Lobby of the Gaylord Oryland Resort & Hotel, one of the many lobbies scattered throughout the facility which played host to the second annual KLOV Fan Awards Weekend, Shane Harper could easily appear like any other 21-year-old tourist.
Except he’s not.
Harper played the lead role in the recently popular film “God’s Not Dead” — a role in which Harper played college student Josh Wheaton, a devout Christian who challenged his philosophy professor on the very first day of class when the professor, played by Kevin Sorbo, required each student to disavow the existence of God by writing “God is dead.” Failure to do so would result in a failing grade for the class.
That role has changed Harper’s life, which was evident Sunday in the Magnolia Lobby as tourist after tourist stopped to shake hands, ask for an autograph and have a photo taken.
“It’s weird, really,” Harper said about being so readily recognized. “I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was 13, but I’ve never had anything like this happen, so it’s really cool.
“And I don’t think the film would have had the same kind of impact had it been a story about two best friends at odds over their faith,” he added. “I think having it between a student and professor was key. It seems to resonate with people more.”
Harper doesn’t wear his Christianity on his sleeve, but take the time to ask him the right question and there is no question that his faith is first and foremost in his life. And that bubbles forth whenever he is choosing song lyrics, roles in a film or opportunities for a television series.
“I do really think about any role I’m offered, no matter what kind of movie it’s for,” Harper said. “But for ‘God’s Not Dead,’ there was no hesitation at all.”
Harper said his role as Wheaton was one of the most unique things he’s done.
“It was challenging, because some of the shoots were pretty extensive,” Harper said. “We shot the big dialogues over three, 12-hour days, so it was pretty difficult. And in the end, we actually had far more footage than we could ever use in the movie.”
For Harper, who grew up in church along with his family in California, his role in “God’s Not Dead” still managed to change him to some degree.
“I was extremely intrigued by the apologetics of the role,” he said. “And it definitely changed me.
“Every season in life changes us, and the process of the movie was another season for me, and it impacted me in a very positive way,” he added.
In a way, even the KLOV Fan Awards Weekend became a season in Harper’s life.
“It’s been gnarly,” he said. “It’s so cool to see all the awesome artists in one place and get to meet them. Switchfoot is the band that got me interested in music, and I was able to meet them and talk with them. And Stephen Curtis Chapman’s songwriters’ get-together was a blast, too.”
Harper said he doesn’t lean toward any one aspect of his career — film, television or music — as a favorite. In fact, he said he’s always seen them as “married together.”
“I enjoy it all,” he said. “There is so much similarity between them, but plenty of challenging parts as well. I think one can lead to the other and feed off each other.”
Although “God’s Not Dead” has been one of the highlights of Harper’s eight-year career, he is also proud of the success behind his latest single, “Hold You Up.” He is currently working on a new record that he expects will include 10 singles and be released soon.
As for his film career, Harper said he’s not adverse to considering another faith-based movie, but he doesn’t want to type-cast himself, either.
“I don’t have that kind of focus on only faith-based films,” he said. “My career agenda is to challenge myself with each and every role.”
Harper said that, if he had one person he most want to work with — actor, actress or director — he would choose Matt Damon.
“I’ve always been a fan of his talent,” Harper said. “And he plays some pretty cool roles. I’d love to be part of a series like ‘Bourne.’”
Harper will be out in front of the general public again in the fall, when he plays the lead role in a new series titled “Happyland,” which will air on MTV.