It seems like the stars have aligned for Alexandra Pelosi and her new film, Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi, a sort of primer to this massive phenomenon called the evangelical movement. In early November 2006, days after she finished shooting her documentary (premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET on HBO), Pastor Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a main focus of the movie, made headlines when he confessed to having sex with male prostitutes and using crystal meth. A few days after that, the filmmaker's mother, Nancy Pelosi, was elected the first female Speaker of the House. And another week later, Alexandra gave birth to her first child, Paul Michael Vos!
Pelosi had already made a splash with her Emmy-winning Journeys with George and Diary of a Political Tourist. With such a blue-state pedigree, Pelosi surprisingly went out of her way to make a movie that shows Haggard, Rev. Joel Osteen and their followers as friendly, relatable, normal human beings. She recently called TVGuide.com to explain her approach.
TVGuide.com: You seem to be having a good year so far!
Alexandra Pelosi: So far, yeah. I'm peaking in January. I hope it doesn't go downhill from here.
TVGuide.com: Did you imagine your film was going to come out amid this perfect storm of publicity? Your mother becoming Speaker, Ted Haggard's downfall....
Pelosi: I had this airdate [booked] two years ago.... If Pastor Ted hadn't fallen, this movie would have been received totally differently. People would have thought, "Oh, that's interesting. Those people are not as bad as we think they are." He kind of spoiled that premise, didn't he?
TVGuide.com: But in the movie, he seems so nice!
Pelosi: When you go into the situation like I did, from HBO and with my last name, it's hard to get access. In the evangelical community, those are two strikes. For me, Ted Haggard was the one who took me everywhere — he took me on his book tour, he took me on his Promise Keepers tour, he was the one who totally welcomed me in, knew who I was and was OK with that. Whereas, people like Jerry Falwell, for a while there he didn't know my last name and then once he knew it, he was like, "OK, thanks" and kicked me out of the trailer.
TVGuide.com: When you were filming, did you ever get caught up in it all and want to join in?
Pelosi: [Pastor Ted's New Life Church] was the most fun. They had their own coffee shop, their own concerts, volleyball games, aerobics classes, everything. There was a moment when I got back to New York and was like, "I have to move to Colorado Springs and join that church." I was eight months pregnant and I was walking out of the HBO building, and this guy was running for a cab and pushed me, and I went right into traffic. I almost got hit by a car. I was like, "This would never happen in Colorado Springs!" In those communities, they look out for people. It's very seductive.
TVGuide.com: I was surprised by how likable everyone seems.
Pelosi: I tried to focus on the people that I liked. I didn't interview Pat Robertson, because I don't think he represents evangelicals very well. I had to interview Jerry Falwell because everyone was asking me, "Are you talking to Jerry Falwell?" But I tried to pick people that I actually liked. I liked the Christian wrestlers. They were nice guys. I shot a lot of stuff, and I didn't include a lot of people who I thought were unfriendly or hostile or crazy.
TVGuide.com: Why not?
Pelosi: Because it's so cliché to go there and just try to make everybody look bad. I was going to try to understand these people, not to make fun of them. I think a lot of times people sit in New York and L.A. and they write about places they've never been. And it seemed like after the 2004 presidential elections, people were writing about the "evangelicals" as if they were some rare breed of pygmies or something. I wanted to talk to them and see what they were all about. A lot of people welcomed me into their homes, like that family with 11 kids. I love that family. That [mother] was my hero — as I'm sitting here multitasking, working with my child on my lap.
TVGuide.com: OK, but do you think the evangelicals give the other side the benefit of the doubt, the way you're doing?
Pelosi: That's a really, really good question.... If you think of Pastor Ted, his congregation forgave him. But it's funny how the leaders of the evangelical movement didn't forgive him. They totally dropped him and disassociated themselves from him. The people themselves were fine. If you asked 10 evangelicals, probably nine of them would say, "Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not speak for me, please don't listen to them." I don't really believe in that red-state/blue-state thing. There is a culture war, but I think the culture war is more from the crap that we put on television. As long as Hollywood and New York keep making entertainment that people in the red states aren't comfortable with, there's going to be a holy war.
TVGuide.com: Why does it have to be a war?
Pelosi: Because we put porn on TV.
TVGuide.com: Can't they turn off the TV?
Pelosi: They want to see Christian-friendly television. And there's a heck of a lot of them out there, so they say, "Why do you dictate? Why do you decide?"
TVGuide.com: So what about their complete intolerance of homosexuality? That's an example where they're imposing their values on other people — the very thing they claim Hollywood does to them.
Pelosi: I've never understood why anybody cares. Like, a gay family is hurting your family? I tried to look past abortion and gay marriage, because I never understood [their position].
TVGuide.com: Did they ever try to explain that to you?
Pelosi: I never had any heated political conversations with them, because they win. Their whole answer to everything is, "It's in the Bible." What are you supposed to say back? "Well, I think.... " "It doesn't matter what you think, it's in the Bible!" They interpret things to say anything that they want. My sisters and I all went to Catholic school, and none of us were ever told that being gay was wrong and abortion was wrong. Last week when I was in Washington, DC [for my mother's swearing-in], we had to go to mass in the morning, and there were people with signs saying terrible, nasty things because my mother is pro-choice and pro-gay. My sister's kids are old enough to read now, so that was not very pleasant. I don't have very many charitable things to say about the evangelicals at this exact moment, so I'm trying not to go there.
TVGuide.com: This is the third film you've made with just your hand-held camcorder. Why don't you have a crew?
Pelosi: I'm so jealous when I see other documentaries and I see all the credits of the people who worked on them. But my shtick is that I walk into a room with a little camera, and I see who will talk to me. After all my time in network news at NBC, I know that when you show up with a big camera, people act like they're on camera. The handheld thing seems more genuine to me. It feels like you get people to talk to you because they forget they're going to be on camera. The hard part is reminding them they're going to be on television.
TVGuide.com: Do you ever want to make a movie that does get into the fight?
Pelosi: I don't want to be Michael Moore, no. I don't have the stomach for it. I'm too weak for that. I said in the first movie that I had the appetite for politics, but I didn't have the stomach for it. My mother is the most resilient human being you'll ever meet. You could walk up to her face and say, "I think you're an idiot." And she would say, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Those women who are really successful have a different stomach than I do.
TVGuide.com: Do you have a new project planned?
Pelosi: All I have in my future is breastfeeding. I'm officially unemployed at this moment. Now I have this child, and I have to figure out how to take care of him. Maybe I could make a movie about that for HBO Family. It would be nice if I could stay home and videotape my son all day and then get it on television somehow. Something tells me that's not going to happen.
TVGuide.com: Is this style going to be harder now that your mother's name is so much more prominent?
Pelosi: Yeah. I got married when I was 34, so it was weird to change my name [then], but maybe it's time to change my name now. No, I need to do something that's not related to politics. If you have any ideas, let me know.
TVGuide.com: Hmmm. I'm drawing a blank. Readers, got any suggestions?
Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi premieres tonight at 9 pm/ET, on HBO.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.