For movie producers, the prospect of filming a movie in Manitoba can be daunting, despite seasoned crews and aggressive tax incentives. The fly in the ointment is the absence of a direct flight from Winnipeg to and from Los Angeles or New York City. It tars the province with a reputation for "isolation."
Let it be known that actor Thomas Haden Church doesn't have a problem with isolation. The 53-year-old actor who has dabbled in TV sitcoms (Wings), acclaimed indie comedies (Sideways) and even superhero movies (Spider-Man 3) likes his privacy.
"I live in the middle of nowhere on a ranch," Church says, referring to an 800-hectare ranch in Bandera County, Texas.
"So isolation for me is synonymous with peace and contentment."
That made it a pleasure to shoot Heaven Is for Real in southern Manitoba last year, he says.
The film is based on the real-life experiences of Nebraska minister Todd Burpo and his son Colton. But in the role of Todd's best friend, bank manager Jay Wilkins, Church had no real-life corollary character to study.
"He's just sort of an aggregate character," Church says, adding that he has no shortage of role models for playing a guy who has his friend's back.
"That kind of guy is around me all the time whenever I'm home," Church says. "I would say most of my friends in Texas are like that dude. If I need them in an emergency, I know they'll be there."
Celebrating that kind of brotherly love is what drew Church to the adaptation of Burpo's book, which he only knew from its reputation in the Christian enclaves of small-town Texas.
"I wasn't looking to do a Christian film," he says. "But last year, when the script came to me and I read it, there was just something in me that said I need to explore this a little bit more.
"And I had such a great experience on it," he says. "Randall Wallace, the writer-director, just created this warm, honest open, positive set and everybody was pushing forward to be truthful and true to the book."
Off the set, Church got to indulge his penchant for solitary exploration.
"I lead a fairly lonesome existence," he says. "I have a ranch, there's a town about 40 miles away and I have a home there where my daughters live with their mother, so when I need daughterly companionship, it's available."
For that reason, Church says he wasn't any kind of social butterfly while shooting Heaven Is for Real.
"I spent a lot of time driving around in the country," he says. "I like driving around. I do that a lot when I'm in a city I'm not familiar with.
"Because I'm a rancher, I'm just fascinated with farming," he says. "I had never really experienced agricultural plains like that, the vast flatness of the farms. It's quite different from Texas."