Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen, who star as Lee and Leslie Strobel in the new faith-based film "The Case for Christ", have shared how the relationship between the real-life couple encouraged their own marriages.
"Leslie's love is remarkable," Erika told The Gospel Herald at the red-carpet premiere of "The Case for Christ" at Chicago's AMC River East on April 6, 2017. "She's a very passionate person and also not afraid to express the way that she's feeling. That's the core of who she is, and what spoke to me about her. That's what I love about her as a person and her as a character to play."
Vogel, who married his wife, Courtney, in 2003, added, "You meet Lee and Leslie today, and they're such a kind-hearted, beautiful couple, and so in love. As a husband and as a father, it's an awesome example for me to see that stand the test of time, but to also see that they're human."
But Lee and Leslie Strobel's marriage wasn't always so amicable.
"The Case for Christ", which opened on April 7, 2017, is based on Lee Strobel's award-winning, best-selling book of the same name. After Leslie converts to Christianity, Lee, at the time a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and self-proclaimed atheist, becomes angry, fearing his wife has joined a "cult". His antagonism toward Christianity clashes with his wife's newfound faith, putting a great strain on their marriage.
"You're cheating on me with Jesus!" he tells her during one particularly heated argument.
Thus, he sets out to discredit Christianity, using his journalistic and legal training to investigate and disprove Jesus. However, following an intense investigation lasting nearly two years and his wife's tireless prayers, Lee himself embraces Christianity.
Vogel told GH that Lee and Leslie's relationship is evidence that there is hope for Christians married to a non-believer.
He recalled: "I had a youth pastor tell me when I was much younger, 'fellas, love is choice. There will be many times when you don't feel love for your wife, or vice versa, she may not feel love for you, but that does not mean that you are not in love still. It is a choice to pick up and continue in that.' Seeing that in [Lee and Leslie] and seeing how they fought for their marriage...when what they went through would pull many apart."
Erika, who married Cole Maness in 2015, added that even during the most tumultuous of times, Lee and Leslie's love for one another was evident: "What kept them both going was that they cared so much about making it work, ultimately. They were both trying very different approaches to how to make it work, but they were both fighting so hard for that marriage...Lee and Leslie, in the middle of the craziest fights, would still know that they loved each other."
In an earlier interview with GH, Lee admitted scenes in the film detailing the toll his resistance to Christianity and alcoholism took on the couple's marriage are not inaccurate.
"We were driving 100 miles an hour toward a cliff - a self-destructive cliff - in our marriage," Lee told GH. "I wasn't proud of my behavior back before I was a Christian. I was a narcissistic, hedonistic, heavily drinking, self-destructive, self-absorbed person. So, nobody wants that portrayed in a movie. But, for the greater good of this message of redemption and transformation to get out, it's worth telling."
In fact, Leslie revealed that scenes depicting their marriage were so realistic, she was brought to tears.
"It was really hard [watching the film] in the fact that it dredged up old feelings and emotions and things that I'd put behind me," she said. "Having said that, it's humbling and an honor that it's being used in a way that can hopefully help people that are in a similar situation. But it was very difficult, and it still is emotional to watch the movie."
As she struggled to deal with her husband's ever-growing anger, Leslie revealed that she began praying Ezekiel 36:26 over him, and, as "The Case for Christ" film beautifully depicts, God answered Leslie's tireless prayers.
Lee said: "God was able to take control of the car, turn it around, and take us on a new path that's been full of adventure and joy and wonder and surprises ever since."
From the makers of "God's not Dead," Pure Flix and Triple Horse Studios "The Case for Christ" also stars Academy Award-winner Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde"), Academy Award nominee Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown"), L. Scott Caldwell ("Lost") and Frankie Faison ("The Wire").