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'Pursuit of Happyness' Tops Box Office, Highlights Church

'The Pursuit of Happyness,' starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, topped the weekend box office with $27 million. And a major inspiration behind the true story was a local pastor.
( [email protected] ) Dec 18, 2006 09:46 AM EST

"The Pursuit of Happyness," starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, topped the weekend box office with $27 million. And a major inspiration behind the true story was a local pastor.

Sony's drama tells the account of Chris Gardner, a struggling dad who becomes homeless along with his young son. In pursuit of his dream of a better life for the two of them, Gardner lands an internship at a prestigious stock brokerage firm from where he and his son overcome many hardships.

Also in the film is the Rev. Cecil Williams, who plays himself. Williams was pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. The church had a homeless shelter and soup kitchen that drew many homeless people, including Gardner and his son.

"I remember him (Gardner) because he had the gall to say that, without a doubt, he was going to break out of the cycle of poverty," said Williams, according to the United Methodist News Service.

Gardner recalled Williams speaking on Sundays about "being able to walk on the waters of life."

"And he'd say that baby steps count, too, as long as you're going forward. That's food for the soul," he said.

Williams wasn't originally in the film script. But Gardner told the writers, "If there's no Cecil Williams, there's no Chris Gardner," reported the denomination's news service.

Scenes were shot at Glide Church exactly where Gardner had slept and ate.

"I was struck by the commitment that (Gardner) had to this idea of who he was and what he wanted his life to be," said actor and singer Will Smith in a press screening, UMNS reported. "He gambled everything. He put his trust in God, and in the face of homelessness and hunger he held onto that idea. That idea was food for him when he was hungry and shelter for him when he was homeless."

Smith expressed his faith in looking back at his latest film role.

"I feel that, spiritually, I did the right thing in making this movie," he said. "The tool that God has given me is my artistry. I feel I'm closer than I've ever been to doing something with that tool that will leave the world a better place."

And Gardner hopes the church can continue to assist the homeless even though the difference church members are making may not be seen immediately.

"The Pursuit of Happyness" debuted the as No. 1 movie, followed by "Eragon" and "Charlotte's Web."