At a time when religious tension is rising around the world, further heightened by the recent Paris attacks carried out by extremists, religion is becoming a more important part of the public discussion.
Religio recently spoke with British actor and TV host Danny De Lillo, who shares with us his background, thoughts on religion, violence, peace and making an impact in the world where “we’re a lot more similar than we think we are.”
Danny De Lillo’s acting career began in London, but he eventually moved to the U.S. to study at the prestigious New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, which includes a long list of famous alumni including Kirk Douglas and Danny De Vito. He currently works and resides in Los Angeles, where he also serves on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Los Angeles Youth Education Outreach Committee working with the youth and underprivileged.
Read on for the interview and watch the exclusive video below for more of his views about peace, love and understanding.
[Q&A has been edited for clarity]
Religio Magazine: How has growing up in London sculpted you?
Danny De Lillo: I grew up in the British countryside and mostly around women–my mother, two sisters, my grandmother and my aunt. I had an open upbringing, surrounded with different cultures and different people who taught me a lot. It was great because it got me interested in what was out there. I’ve got friends from different religions and cultures and thought, “There must be a big world out there, I want to go and see it.” I decided to take an opportunity to move to the United States to study.
RM: Did you always want to study acting? How did you transition into hosting?
DDL: I actually didn’t have much confidence when I was young. I felt like my confidence was taken away. I didn’t have a father and came from a broken family, but thought “I’m going to prove myself.” Where I found lacking academically, I found creatively.
The last thing I was expecting when I came to LA was going into TV hosting, but I had an opportunity to co-host with a famous actor and decided I liked doing it. I wanted to highlight people’s hopes and dreams…It’s like inviting someone for tea and you can invite them in and talk about their greatness… I try to avoid questions like “what are you wearing,” “what’s your favorite restaurant,” but ask more meaningful questions. You’re basically celebrating people, and I really really enjoyed doing that.
RM: Did you have any mentors?
DDL: I’ve had various role models over the years, and I can certainly say that my mother was the person who never gives up on you…I grew up around women, and it’s the women in my life who taught me to be a man, to be a strong person….But also I got taught to be your own role model. Where you have something missing in your life, where you come from or where you are, e.g., young boys and girls who haven’t had the right parental guidance in their lives, that you can transfer that energy and start with a clean slate.
RM: How do you make an impact with the youth you mentor?
DDL: I joined the BAFTA Youth Education Outreach Committee. We go to the inner city and encourage and mentor young lives and the underprivileged. There were certain factors in my childhood that gave me a very heartfelt reason to be involved. I’m a lucky and privileged person to be able to be in an industry I love, and it’s important to give to the community wherever you are in the world. For me on a personal level, I feel like it’s my duty as a member of the entertainment industry, and the fact that it’s my community. This year we made movies with elementary students where they actually wrote the script, filmed it and did the whole thing.
RM: As an interfaith magazine that raises understanding among different cultures and religions, we see a lot of violence and tension. Why do you think there are misunderstandings?
DDL: What you guys are trying to create is not only fantastic but essential. It’s a huge question and I think the misunderstanding is the lack of knowledge of each other…the will to understand each other. If you’ve got the will to understand, we will grow closer together. But we only hear what we want to hear…we only want to take in what we want to take in.
I come from a Christian background. I have best friends from all religions and I don’t love anybody differently…I think people who are afraid of religion…the problem is that the minority get more profiled about the religion than the majority….It’s lack of knowledge.
When it comes to religion, we have to pinpoint what the values are of our religions. When we come down to it, it’s similar. Every religion wants to do good. Atheists may not follow a religion but want to do good just like those who do follow a religion. If we all use that reason and understood that everyone’s a person…If we can just come back to the basics, we can work together. We’re all going off in our avenues and not coming together. It’s the lack of understanding that forces conflict.
RM: What is the role of social media in peace and goodness? How can it be used to empower?
DDL: Social media is where we go to be interactive with something or someone and all of us get caught by interest. We hear the good, bad or ugly…and we choose to like it or not. It’s now a newsfeed. People go on Twitter before a news corporation. The way we get interested in a social post or person is by something we can relate to. It has to be a story we can feel something. And I think the more universal we can make it, the more inviting. Social media works in both ways–the good, the bad, but also works to educate. If we can start engaging the environment rather than about ourselves, that’s more social.
Going back to peace, we all find peace in different ways…but we are so in our world sometimes. Even just the word peace is one of the most relaxing words to say. People want peace but don’t know how to get it. But if I understand more about something, the more I’m likely to be engaged and share. I feel like we’re doing a lot of individual things but not together things. I don’t want to be in a world where we’re all fighting for our own causes. Why can’t we work together? Why are different religions fighting against each other?
People are going to be less afraid of something they know. Most people are afraid of what they don’t know. That word fear is so far away from peace. Generally it’s a lack of understanding that causes fear.
I love the fact that my job as a host I get every type of person–everything. I’m interested in what it is they can teach me. What can we learn together?