LOS ANGELES — Fans of veteran actor David Koechner know the onetime Chicago improv mainstay for the “Anchorman” franchise and his many comedic TV roles, the next of which is CBS’ sitcom version of the play “Superior Donuts.” However, with the grizzled character of Dale in “Priceless” (opening Friday), Koechner showcases an entirely different side of his acting ability.
The film is a project spearheaded by the faith-based, Grammy-winning Australian band For King & Country — who have long made it their mission to eliminate the international trafficking of young girls. Joel Smallbone of For King & Country stars as a man who tragically lost his wife in an accident. That leads to him losing custody of his young daughter.
Desperate to make enough money to bring his daughter back into his life, he agrees to drive a sealed truck cross-country, transporting a secret “cargo” that turns out to be two young Mexican women headed to a life of forced prostitution.
The film is directed by Joel’s brother, Ben Smallbone, making his feature directorial debut with “Priceless.” Koechner is seen as the initially forbidding owner of a seedy motel who becomes involved with Smallbone’s character.
The actor explained that his involvement “started, as things usually do, with the script. A buddy of mine, Steve Barnett, who’s a producer on the film, sent me the script and said, ‘I’ll think you’ll really like this,’ and I really did.
“Obviously, it brings up a very important subject. My wife and I have five kids — three of them are daughters. So, just to imagine the horror of any young lady having to go through this. This film is based on true events. It’s happening right now. It’s happening in Chicago. It’s happening here in Los Angeles. It’s happening globally. So, to be a participant in a film like this — to bring awareness to such a horror — makes me happy.”
Koechner, who was joined by Joel Smallbone for this interview, also pointed to the fact that when a serious issue is raised in a movie, audiences are often left uncertain what to do.
“But in this case, you are given some information, because the website pricelessthemovie.com is up there on the screen — a place giving you solid information on what individuals can do to help combat this problem,” said Koechner.
For Smallbone, this passion project for him and his entire family was something that “made me love how like-minded people in the arts can help bring attention to something like sex trafficking.”
On a lighter note, he joked a bit about being directed by his brother, Ben. “We had the brother dynamic for sure going on on the set.
“For example, there would be moments when he’d come over to Koechner and very gently whisper, ‘David, that was lovely, but could you maybe just try it a bit more like this,’ He’d be SO solicitous!
“Then he’d turn to me and go, ‘Hey! Joel! I don’t know what you were thinking in that scene!'” Smallbone with a big laugh.
The Australian native hopes audiences are struck with a few important thoughts as they leave the theaters after watching “Priceless.”
“For men, I hope they think about how they are loving women. How are they respecting women in every way and at every age?
“For women, I also hope they realize they do not have to find their identity in their looks, their figures or the way they dress.”
Explaining the faith-based messages of the film — which perhaps do not become totally clear until the end of the movie — Smallbone added, “You can only handle so much information in an hour and 37 minutes, the length of our film. But our hope is that people will be inspired to do something. Families can be restored. Women can find a new way of living their lives, no matter their circumstances. I firmly believe our culture can be changed — especially when it comes to this critical problem that is truly global in scope.”