Will Graham: What I Learned from Portraying My Grandfather in ‘Unbroken’

By   •   September 9, 2018

Will Graham portrays his grandfather, Billy Graham, in the remarkable true faith story of Louis Zamperini. Unbroken: Path to Redemption is .

In 2014, Angelina Jolie directed an award-winning film called Unbroken. It tells the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent turned Olympian and war hero. After Louis’ WWII plane crashed in the Pacific, he floated at sea for 47 days before being captured and ruthlessly tortured by the Japanese. He survived unimaginable atrocities and starvation, finally making it home to his family after the war.

That was where Unbroken ended, and it was a great high point. But that’s not where Louis Zamperini’s story ended. In fact, the struggles were just beginning.

After returning home, Louis’ life looked great on the outside. He was a celebrity, he married a woman whom he dearly loved, and they had a beautiful little baby. On the inside, however, Louis was sinking into a dark well of despair. He suffered from what we now know as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), was haunted by nightmares, was on the verge of divorce, and had become an alcoholic.

He had survived the ruthlessness of war, but was now on the road to destruction in peacetime.

This second part of Louis’ story is being told in the Universal Studios film , slated for nationwide theater release on Sept. 14. In it, we witness Louis in all of his heartache and pain, but we also get a glimpse of the answer to his struggles.


You see, Louis only found true and lasting peace when he surrendered his life to Christ at my grandfather’s historic 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. After beginning a , Louis never had another nightmare, never took another sip of alcohol, and his marriage was restored.

Early last year I was approached with the unique and unexpected opportunity to portray my grandfather in the film. I’m not an actor, but I prayerfully decided to accept this role. It was a nerve-wracking experience that took me far out of my comfort zone, but it was also an incredible blessing.

The biggest impact for me came from deeply studying my grandfather in preparing for the role, immersing myself in his early sermons.

>> Short audio clip: Will Graham on what he learned about his grandfather while preparing for his role.

First, I was reminded of my grandfather’s deep love for—and reliance upon—the Bible. He quoted Scripture repeatedly and at length throughout his messages. His most commonly used phrase was “The Bible says …” He knew that the Bible was the divine, powerful, living Word of God, and it pierced the hearts of those hearing it.

Second, my grandfather preached with a sense of urgency. He knew that heaven and hell hung in the balance. Decisions made in that massive tent on the corner of Hill and Washington streets in Los Angeles would not only affect lives, but eternities as well.

Third, my grandfather didn’t just ask people to respond to the Good News of Christ. He commanded them with an authority that could come only from God. “This may be your only chance. !” he would call out. Of course, those in the audience had the free will to walk forward or not, but my grandfather made it very clear that this was their opportunity to begin a new life with Jesus.

Looking back on it, we now know that Louis Zamperini was one of those who responded to the call, and he was radically changed and saved. That was 1949, but today there are just as many—if not more—people like Louis out there. People who are lost and struggling, who have no hope or peace.

Will you be like my grandfather, holding tight to the Scripture as you share the hope that you have with urgency and authority? I’m committed to doing so, and I hope you will too.


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  1. Jason Shepherd says:

    Fun coincidence: My wife and I are visiting in southern California and have invited another couple to the theater in Torrance for tonight’s premiere. I think the theater is very close to the Zamperini Field airport. Having served in Vietnam and given my life to Christ, I’m sure it will be an emotional evening.

  2. Lily Egan says:

    I’m excited to see this next important chapter in Louis Zamperini’s story. Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and doing it. May God use this film to call many broken people to Him. Praise God!

  3. Susan Criner says:

    I was at the Oklahoma City Crusade when your grandfather was there.

  4. Deborah R. Johnson says:

    Halleluiah to the Father! Glory to our Savior and King Jesus Christ, and praise be to the Holy Spirit whom we trust, believe and cry out to. We are under God’s authority and strength. We praise you Lord. We welcome you to come and boldly work through us. May we continue to march to the beat of your drum, hearing your voice and walking in your footsteps—obedient, faithful, believing and humble in Jesus’ name. We are one with the Father because we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Halleluiah, the King is coming! We are ready and watching for you, Lord. We bow to your will and receive your blessings. Yes and amen. Glory to the holy Trinity. Thank you, God and BGEA.

  5. John E. Mills says:

    God smiles down upon you, Will. I’m sure that your grandfather does, too.

  6. Deryl Holliday says:

    I pray that God will use this film to reach millions for Christ. God is using the BGEA in millions of ways to do God’s will. What a glorious opportunity we have today to share Christ with a lost world.

  7. Kimberly J. Duval says:

    Praise God for Billy Graham and his Crusades. I came to Christ at one of them as a child. I have loved him dearly in my heart ever since. He has helped God change so many lives. I am sure that he is receiving many blessings in heaven. He was a true man of God who loved his Savior with all his heart and had a strong conviction from God to impart his love and words of salvation to a world of people that were lost.

  8. Rebecca Bafford says:

    My parents were personal workers in this historic 1949 crusade while they were Bible school students in Los Angeles. They told me many times what a great honor and privilege it was to pray with countless people who came forward in the Crusade! I can’t wait to see the movie! Thank you so much for your continued dedication to soul winning. May God bless you!

  9. Lisa says:

    God bless you, Will, for taking this role for the movie. I am excited to see it! Knowing how much you are like your grandfather, who led me to Christ at 9 years old as I watched a Crusade on TV, I’m sure no one could do a better job than you! I pray for people to be led to this movie and to be saved by learning that Christ can save them and to help those already saved to grow deeper in their faith. Blessings to you and your loved ones! Thank you for all you do! My husband and I had the opportunity to visit The Cove a couple years ago while the Blackaby family was there. It was a wonderful time! We met your Aunt Gigi and loved her! The Cove is a real gem! We are grateful for the Graham family and your commitment to spreading God’s word!

  10. Kathy Sellers says:

    Will, thank you for your representation of my hero, Billy Graham. I pray this experience will strengthen your faith and witness to the world. I pray God blesses you mightily.