Actor Chris Kramer: Acting on Faith
By Christopher Heffron
Guided by faith and inspired by prayer, this Catholic actor is quickly making inroads into Hollywood.
APRIL 24, 2009 (www.americancatholic.org) - Canadian-born actor Chris Kramer credits his faith life—and his promising career as an actor—on one unfortunate blessing: a wicked bout of insomnia. He recalls a period of his life when he was 22 years old and living in Vancouver, British Columbia—jobless, directionless, crashing on a series of friends’ couches.
Sleep was elusive in those days. Peace of mind, even more so. But from this particular stint of wakefulness came two awakenings: He was desperate to reconnect with God, and he was determined to succeed as an actor.
“I didn’t have any real focus other than wanting to be an actor. I was depressed, away from family, probably steeped in sin,” he says.
“When I was a kid, I used to pray Hail Marys to fall asleep. That night I did. And I fell asleep. I continued to do this more and more, and a kind of peace came into my life and I started to get some desire again.”
And though Chris, now 33, is thrilled with the trajectory of his career and is eager to discuss the joys of being on-set, working with actors and directors, contributing to thoughtful and thought-provoking entertainment, he’s just as happy discussing the aspect of his life that really drives him: his faith.
Chris uses it to navigate the sometimes precarious roads of the entertainment industry.
Disciple First, Actor Second
Chris Kramer’s interview with St. Anthony Messenger was done in two parts. The first took place during the 2008 Catholic Media Convocation in Toronto in May; the second was during a phone interview the following October.
Minutes into both our conversations with Chris, his two great passions become evident. When asked about his blossoming career, Chris becomes visibly excited.
“There is nothing like being on the set. It’s a thrill; it’s a job that I absolutely love,” he says. “It allows me to play and use my imagination. And so much of acting is using your imagination. It’s a lot of fun.”
But when talking about his Catholic faith, Chris becomes more centered, calmer.
“I think, first and foremost, I am a disciple of God. Second, I’m an actor who is trying to inspire people.”
And Chris’s opportunities to inspire are growing. In case you aren’t familiar with him, consider his credentials: TV’s 24, Saving Grace, The Twilight Zone and Jericho. He has shared the small screen with actors the likes of Holly Hunter, Kiefer Sutherland and Skeet Ulrich. He’s also worked in independent films such as Stellina Blue in 2008.
In his native Canada, Chris had the lead role in The Collector, a series which is syndicated in 66 countries worldwide. The television show’s success propelled him to move to Los Angeles and pursue his dreams in the States.
But Chris isn’t one to digress about his résumé or career ambitions for long. Weightier matters, like faith and family, consistently break the surface of conversation. Both, he asserts, have aided him on the journey he is on today. But it hasn’t been a smooth one.
Epiphany on a Highway
For as long as Chris can remember, he has wanted to be a dad. Little wonder: When asked about growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan, Chris, who’s single, glowingly speaks of his father time and again.
“I had so much fun with my dad growing up. He inspired me. I want to be able to have kids someday and be a dad to them as well,” he says.
With his father in construction, Chris and his older sister, Amy, moved around frequently. Over time, he stopped going to Mass and fell away from his faith.
“My parents were having problems. They stopped going to Mass so, obviously, as kids, we stopped going,” he says. “They started enrolling us in public schools. And the friends that I had didn’t talk about God or go to church. I lost any sense of the religious lifestyle and thinking about God.”
After Chris’s parents divorced, he lived in Vancouver, but he felt powerless to repair his life and fortify his faith. He wanted to be an actor but was finding little success; he wanted to unlock the door to his faith but lost the key. Again, he turned to his father for help.
“My dad had come back to the Church about eight months before this and he was telling me I needed to go back to Church. I resisted but, within a couple of weeks of praying Hail Marys every night, I started asking questions about the faith. That prompted me to go back,” Chris says.
“As I drove back to Calgary one weekend, I was driving through the mountains. I was the only car on the highway and it was a beautiful day. I remember looking out to the sky and the mountains and thinking, God is here. And this overwhelming sense of joy and peace came over me and I just started sobbing all the way home,” he says.
Chris started devouring books on Catholicism and spirituality. He began praying the Rosary daily, going back to Mass and partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Healing soon followed.
His career, too, began to take shape.
Most actors in Hollywood can speak of “the lean years” before finding a groove in their careers. Chris Kramer survived his own by serving in restaurants, hanging drywall and working as a concrete cutter. After a work injury forced his father into early retirement, Chris again found himself at a crossroads.
“My dad couldn’t work. He didn’t have a lot of money. And I just remember praying. We needed help in this situation. And a month later I landed the lead character in The Collector and it basically changed everything,” he says.
In The Collector, which ran from 2004 to 2006, Chris played Morgan Pym, a time traveler and advocate for people who bargained their souls to the devil. Each episode tackled a different case. Morgan is given 48 hours to prevent someone’s damnation.
It was heavy material. Chris saw the irony of the character’s troubles and his own faith journey.
“I thought it was funny: Just a few years earlier I had come back to the Church and now I was in a series that involved God and the devil and the choices we make,” Chris says with a laugh. “It was a great opportunity. I got to travel around the world with it. And it allowed me to help out my dad.”
After The Collector ended, Chris moved to Los Angeles for better opportunities. In a town with more actors than there are parts to play, Chris has nevertheless been able to find steady work. His faith, which steers his choices, can sometimes inhibit him from accepting certain roles.
“When I look at a project, I look at what it is they’re promoting. If it’s just something that I’m totally against, then I won’t even audition for it,” Chris says.
“I’m a Christian first and foremost and that has to guide my entire life. I’ll always talk to a priest, let him know what the role is about, where the character is going and see if there is some sort of redemption involved.
“I recently did a movie called Out of Control for the Lifetime Network,” Chris continues. “My character is a crooked cop who isn’t guided by a moral compass. But in the end there is some redemption for this character. I always make sure that there is some good to the project I’m working on.”
Father Wilfred Raymond, C.S.C., executive director of Family Theater Productions, a film, television and radio production company in Los Angeles, met Chris about five years ago when he stumbled into the priest’s office with a friend.
“Father Willy” admires the depth of Chris’s faith and knows full well the temptations that surround him in the industry.
“Mainstream Hollywood has, in my opinion, a lot of good people working in it. But many of them have to hide the fact that they’re Christians or practicing Catholics,” Father Willy says. “There are a lot of very good people trying to work in this industry and trying to make a difference.”
But Father Willy is wise to the realities facing young actors such as Chris.
“It’s a culture that isn’t always friendly to living a moral life. That’s putting it mildly. But I know a lot of actors, like Chris, who have standards and who will not compromise. I think they earn a certain amount of respect for upholding those standards.”
He believes that such a rigid foundation of faith and principle makes Chris an ideal role model for young Catholics, particularly those who stumble on their faith journeys.
“Chris is like 90 percent of young people. At some point they have to go through a period when they put aside the faith that their parents gave them,” Father Willy says. “It’s just a natural thing to say, at one point, ‘I’m an adult. Do I really believe this, and is this going to be the framework that shapes my life?’
“I think it’s helpful for young people to see that this is a normal part of maturing in your faith, maturing within your heart and in your mind and spirit. Chris is a good model—someone who went through a very difficult struggle to get to where he is.”
Father Willy has high hopes for Chris, both as an actor and as a person of faith. “My hope for Chris, on the personal level, is that he continues to grow in his faith. We’re all on a journey. But I can see incredible development in him,” he says.
“Professionally, I think Chris will do very well. He’s highly disciplined as an actor, which is deceiving because he seems very casual and laid-back,” Father Willy says. “I think he’s just waiting to be discovered in a big way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he breaks out in the next year.”
And Chris is ready for it. Being in such close proximity to stardom can be daunting, but he stays focused, primarily because of his devotion to the Rosary. It’s been a constant in his life for as long as he can remember.
“My dad used to pray the Rosary over my bed when I was three years old,” Chris says. “It was one of the means that brought me back into faith. To this day I still pray a daily Rosary.
“Prayer is basically a conversation,” Chris says. “It’s just like any relationship that we have on earth. With God or with Mary or any of the saints—you need to spend the time with them.”
Although Chris Kramer is concentrating on his acting career, his ambitions are multi-layered. He and several friends have recently started a production company in the hopes of developing material. He’s exploring writing and directing as well.
And although his dream is a Jason Bourne-like film series, Chris is content with where his career is right now and where it’s headed. Regardless, he will remain focused and faith-filled.
“Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we’re supposed to strive after perfection. So in everything we do, whether work or play, we are supposed to do with the attitude of trying to do it perfectly,” he says.
That very faith is what gives Chris purpose, and it is what has saved him.
“My faith has really changed me. It has changed my whole life. It has changed me as an actor, changed me as a friend, as a son, as an uncle, as a brother. It changed every part of my life.”
Being so grounded in the faith will surely provide a base from which to grow and develop as an actor and a Catholic.
So if you haven’t heard of Chris Kramer, sit tight. You will.
Chris Kramer and the 'Family' Business
CHRIS KRAMER seems a restless spirit. Though he can talk openly and widely about the faith, he prefers to put that faith into action. His affiliation with Family Theater Productions has been a good fit. Family Theater Productions, a Catholic, Hollywood-based media production company and member of Holy Cross Family Ministries, has worked with Chris on quite a few projects. And it’s been a fulfilling partnership.
Chris, who attends daily Mass there, was the moderator of the “Faith Bowl,” a roundtable discussion of athletes and actors about living the Catholic faith amid the trappings of celebrity. It was televised in February of 2008.
Other participants included Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Jeff Suppan, Carolina Panther Chris Horn, former Olympic softball player Lauren Bauer, and actors Matthew Marsden (Rambo) and Eduardo Verástegui (Bella).
Chris also emceed the Rosary Bowl, which Holy Cross Family Ministries sponsored, in May of 2007. The event drew tens of thousands to the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
Father Wilfred “Willy” Raymond, C.S.C., executive director of Family Theater Productions, sought Chris for these.
“Father Willy came to me about two weeks before the Rosary Bowl and asked me if I would lead the Rosary,” Chris says. “It was such a blessing and such an amazing experience.”
Ever humble, Chris has also done far less visible work for Family Theater. Father Willy praises Chris’s lack of ego.
“A lot of people would see certain jobs on the set as beneath their dignity, but Chris is out there with a paintbrush, he’s carrying extension cords around and applying masking tape and all that stuff,” Father Willy says.
“It’s great to see someone like that who is not at all worried about his dignity and then he can go sit in a chair and be a star.”
Chris’s most recent work with Family Theater Productions was as a featured celebrity—and assistant director—for a DVD called Rosary Stars: Praying the Gospel, which features 21 young-adult Catholic celebrities offering personal reflections on the Rosary and its role in their lives. The program had its premiere screening and product launch on February 7 in Hollywood.
Celebrities who participated in the project include actors Matthew Marsden (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Rambo); Samia “Sam” Doumit (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation); Immaculée Ilibagiza, author and survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide; and professional baseball players Jeff Suppan and Mike Sweeney, among others. Each celebrity reads reflections on a particular mystery and leads a decade of the Rosary.
More information can be found at www.FamilyTheater.org. The launching of this project is in observance of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Family Theater Productions’ founder, Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. The theme is: “Honor his memory. Continue his mission.”
Christopher Heffron is an assistant editor of this publication. John Feister provided additional reporting for this story.