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Exclusive: Cheryl Ladd Talks The Perfect Wave

South Dakota-born Cheryl Ladd originally moved west to Hollywood for a career in music, but “Charlie’s Angels” (in which she was cast prior to the second season, to replace a departing Farrah Fawcett) made her a star. She remained a familiar face on television for the next decade-plus, starring in more than 30 made-for-TV films. In her latest movie, “The Perfect Wave,” she plays mother to a wandering-spirit surfer, Ian (Scott Eastwood), who discovers God following a near-death experience. Ladd recently took the time to speak to ShockYa about her movie, the recent rise of faith-based entertainment, how she found God during her crumbling first marriage and more. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: How did you come to be involved in this project? I guess the cute way to phrase it would be, “How did you catch ‘The Perfect Wave’?”

Cheryl Ladd: That’s very good! I caught “The Perfect Wave” through prayer, actually. I prayed about a project that God would want me to do, and to use my skills not just for myself but for him. And within a month of these prayers, which were just about every day — when I walked my dog I’d have this conversation — and I must say these prayers were also triggered by receiving material that was like… {here Ladd makes a variety of unsatisfied noises} It was like, “I don’t want to spend my time doing that, you know?” It’s not that I dislike edgy, but some of the material is so dark that I’m just really not interested in doing that. So I was praying and talking to God about what I could do that uplifts him and tells the story that he would have me tell and be who he would have me be, and to really use me — I was so grateful for all of the gifts that he’s given me in my life, and I really wanted to do something uplifting. And it came, and I got goosebumps when I read it. I knew it was the one.

ShockYa: Have you always felt in the past that your personal beliefs as a Christian have drawn you to a certain type of material that’s maybe been somewhat in conflict with the marketplace? Have you felt a tension between personal instincts and career opportunity?

Cheryl Ladd: Well, I think you always follow your instincts. Like, I never did nudity, but that was a personal choice for me, because I had a daughter. For me, how I wanted to represent myself in the world, it really mattered to me. I had two daughters, actually — a daughter and a step-daughter. But I knew that before I had them. I knew that I was going to have a family, and that my goal in life was to be someone’s mother. And as a mother I knew I had to represent myself as the kind of mother that I thought I should be. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t do sexy things — I did a couple of really edgy TV movies, and played a really awful woman. But she caught, she paid for her quote-unquote sins. So it wasn’t as if I wouldn’t play people who hadn’t made really bad decisions and mistakes and did bad things in their lives. But for me they needed to be shown in the right light, if that makes any sense — that good didn’t come from that. And then gratuitous gore and gratuitous sex — I just don’t want to do it, I just wasn’t ever interested in it. I don’t mind playing really edgy where everybody gets the truth from it — where they get the story, and get to see a lesson, I guess.

ShockYa: There seems to be a resurgence in some explicitly Christian film and TV projects, like “The Bible” miniseries, but also, more broadly, faith-based projects. To what do you attribute that?

Cheryl Ladd: I think people are starving for them. I think people are really starving for them. I certainly was. I couldn’t wait to go see “Heaven Is For Real.” I read the book, I loved it, they did a great job with it — Greg Kinnear was wonderful and the message of it was, for believers, so hopeful and [empowering]. To be able to see it portrayed on the screen was a confirmation. And I think this movie, “The Perfect Wave,” is the same way — such a confirmation. I have to tell you that I got a call from a close friend who didn’t actually even know that I’d done the film or that anybody could see it. Her nephew found the Lord, and he was not in a good place before this, but he saw the movie and got baptized that night. So this is having a big impact on people.

ShockYa: People will certainly recognize scenes in the movie of bargaining with God in prayer.

Cheryl Ladd: Absolutely! Whatever it takes, (my character is) begging for her son’s life, she really is. A mother’s love is pretty powerful. But she was a believer — she’d had an experience when her mother was dying and the prayers for her mother didn’t keep her mother alive. But she had an experience in the prayer with the Lord that brought her peace, so she knew he was really real. She wasn’t just praying to some “maybe,” she was praying to someone who had already spoken to her. That was a moment that was really powerful in the film, I think.

ShockYa: You can have those moments in prayer that aren’t answered the way you want them to be, but maybe reveal a greater truth — do you remember one of those first incidents in your own life?

Cheryl Ladd: Yes. I think that at the height of “Charlie’s Angels” and at the height of my success, my marriage was falling apart and it was very, very hard. It was the most successful time of my life and yet in my spirit it was the darkest. And it was so difficult, but at the same time when I prayed and talked to the Lord I found a peace in it that was nowhere to be found until I spoke to the Lord. I felt this calm come over me, and that (everything) was going to be okay — however difficult the choice was going to be, it was going to be okay. And it was. I’ve been married now to my second husband for 33, almost 34 years, and God is in our lives and at the center of our relationship, and that makes a big difference.

ShockYa: Surfing is unique among other sports and hobbies in that there’s a certain connection to nature. If you talk to any surfer for any length of time they describe it in almost spiritual terms. They feel a calm come over them in the midst of these huge waves.

Cheryl Ladd: Yes, in the mighty power of the waves, they find a calm! That has to be an amazing feeling.

ShockYa: Did you have any background with surfing, or are you familiar at all with surf culture?

Cheryl Ladd: Well, you didn’t see my episode of “Charlie’s Angels” when I was surfing? (laughs) We did an episode in Hawaii, and I didn’t get the bug, as they say. I didn’t become a surfer girl. But in that little bit I did, I understood it — just being out on the ocean, in the water. But I did such a limited amount, and I knew it wasn’t for me, actually. (laughs) I’m not that brave. And I’m not a good enough swimmer.

ShockYa: What were your impressions of Scott Eastwood, who bears such a striking resemblance to his father? I know he’s done other stuff, but the movie seems like it will be an introduction to him for a lot of people.

Cheryl Ladd: Yes, a lot of people are going to see him for the first time, I think. I thought he did a terrific job, and I think a lot of young people are going to relate to him, and that’s the most important thing. He’s just a regular guy, like other regular guys who have dreams, who push against their parents to go find themselves. I think he played that really well and that was very authentic, so that when what happens to him happens and this change occurs, with this incredible gift he was given — to be there in (the Lord’s) presence and then be sent back — I think that was pretty powerful. And Ian McCormack himself — to be in his presence and to listen to him tell the story is also just hard to describe how powerful it is.

NOTE: “The Perfect Wave” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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