Clarence Gilyard is known to television viewers as Ranger Jimmy Trivette in the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which through the miracle of cable TV is still available in most places in reruns.
But now Gilyard has taken on a different role: to bring the faith to his colleagues in the entertainment business. A convert to the faith, he is now a professor of cinema and theater at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
He spoke Nov. 15 with Register correspondent Edward Pentin while he was in Rome to attend a conference on how the laity can effectively evangelize in today’s world, organized by the Springtime of Faith organization.
What have you been doing since leaving television acting?
I worked 10 years straight on two television series and, when “Walker” was done, I decided that it was important to focus on my family. Now I am a professor at a university. I do theater around the United States and around the world — theater projects that are actually fueled by the need to engage people in existential issues and in God. That’s where I get the opportunity to talk to the individual and tell them about my relationship with Jesus.
So, your goal for the future is to reach out to other actors?
Absolutely, and that’s what I’m doing. And you know, it’s not just the actors — it’s all the people involved in the industry: the technicians, the craftspeople. It’s about the relationship with people down the line, because it’s the individual person that you meet all the time.
Have you had a lot of resistance in Hollywood?
I think so. I’m about to start back in Hollywood again. My base is in Las Vegas, and I’ve taken the initiative to really work on my own personal aesthetic of the theater around the country, and now, developing projects around the world. You can engage the artist where they live. Jesus wants us to meet the person where they are. John Paul II wrote that letter to artists in the Jubilee Year, and so, he gives me the resources to do what God wants me to do in engaging the particular actor or artist where they are, and then letting them know that one needs to be able to give thanks to the Person who gave one all of this — that kind of thing.
Why is there often this dissension and animosity in Hollywood toward faith?
Because the individual is needy. We’re very, very needy people, and each individual artist has his own formation channel — single parents, alcohol and drugs. All these things can detach you from a real experience of joy in this life. It can become a protection, as it were. You don’t want to lose that, and you don’t know that that is actually destroying you.
Fame is like an addiction, as well?
It is, and you don’t want to lose it, because you think that that is it. You don’t know of the other.
How do you overcome that?
Letting God do what he is supposed to do, replacing what is really the dark side that is lying to you.
Have you tried to reach out to Chuck Norris?
He knows I’m Catholic, and it’s out there in the media that he has a relationship with Jesus.
Are you a member of a group or guild of actors who share your faith?
In a way, I am, because I work with Family Theater, Father Patrick Peyton’s organization. I’m on the board of directors of the Congregation of the Holy Cross Family Ministries, which is out of Easton, Mass., and we have the office and production company on Sunset Boulevard.
So with that group I get an opportunity to stay connected to Hollywood. But like I say, I’m also a professor of cinema, and I do my own projects. It’s growing for me individually, but I had to pull away, which I think many people like to do. Once you start having this grace of conversation with God, you change your purview, you change your relationships. Now, my relationships are within the Church, so I feel stronger because I’m growing in my faith. I’m a convert of 12 years, so I feel stronger and feel I can go back to the front lines so to speak, but prior to that, I don’t think I stood a chance!
Tell us about your family.
I have a 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, and 18-year-old son, Paul; I have a 5-year-old son, Maximilian, an 18-month-old baby, Peter, and my wife, Elena. It’s a challenge raising them as teens — that’s a whole other article — but it’s my job to stay in there to give the parenting that is necessary for the individual child.
Is it a great source of irritation to you when movies come out that are negative and not very accurate about the Church?
Of course it is, but at the same time, it’s the individual connection that matters. The movies are a testament to the world; the movies just keep reminding me why, in a sense, I have to get up in the morning and engage the individual person. That person may say: “Oh my gosh, it’s Trivette from ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’!” Then, if they ask me for an autograph …
It’s a great lead in, isn’t it?
Absolutely. And that’s why I have to be strong to get back engaging these people.
Edward Pentin is
based in Rome.