Two months after we interviewed actor Brian Presley about his new film, his family, and his sobriety, he became a social media phenomenon.
Model Melissa Stetten published several items to Twitter during a late-night flight about her ongoing conversation with Presley, suggesting that he was drunk and hitting on her. Several popular aggregation sites picked up the tweets and added suggestions that he had propositioned her. As often happens with celebrity gossip (even if few people had heard of Presley or Stetten before the incident), bloggers and commenters began choosing sides. The Frisky's Alexandra Gekas called Stetten a jerk who owed Presley an apology, even if the tweets were true. Jezebel's Hugo Schwyzer called Presley a creep who deserved ridicule. And on it went, eventually drawing mainstream media attention in the U.S. and Britain. (Meanwhile, CT's interview with Presley became the most-read article on our site for nearly a week.)
Apart from a brief denial last week on Facebook, Presley had not publicly addressed the controversy. In a Christianity Today exclusive interview, he spoke about it for the first time.
So what did happen?
First, it's really important for me to say that in doing this interview, my intention is not to sling mud. I just want to stand up for me and my family.
I was on my way to New York for business, and we were having the screening of Touchback and some other business—two days and [then] back home. I sat next to this person and had a friendly conversation. She seemed like a nice person. She asked why I was going to New York. I said work and shared part of the industry I'm in. She shared what part of the industry she's in. And I brought up Touchback.
I'm a passionate guy in general and I feel passionate about what I do, but in no way was I rambling on about myself. It was just a small-talk conversation with somebody who I thought shared a similar industry. Probably 10 or 15 minutes max. I put my headphones on, watched a little bit of the movie, and went to sleep. And the next thing, I was in New York and I had meetings the next morning.
I wasn't sneaking off to the bathroom drinking beers. The [topic] of my family never came up. And I never denied being married. I never took my wedding ring off. When it comes to making advances or having a conversation with somebody, never did I say What's your phone number? Should we get together? or imply that I was insinuating that.
She specifically said that you were drinking a Heineken.
No. I had a Diet Coke. To be honest with you, I honestly didn't go through every tweet. I think she said I was drinking a Heineken in the bathroom. I'm a real germ freak. If I was really going to come out of sobriety and make that decision, I'm not going to be doing it in an airplane bathroom, which I can't stand to walk into anyway.
The accusations of me saying I wasn't married, that didn't happen. The accusations of me taking my ring off in the bathroom and coming back without my ring on never happened. Me drinking didn't happen. I want to [state] that it didn't happen, but I don't want to sling it back.
Did you tell Melissa Steffen that you were a recovering alcoholic?
No, I didn't. I didn't get into any personal aspects of my life other than from a work standpoint.
What did your conversation entail?
She seemed very friendly and in no way was I coming on to her. I think we've probably all been on an airplane [and had] small talk with the person sitting next to you [about where] you're from, wherever you're headed. To be honest with you, I didn't think twice about it.
I didn't find out that this was happening until two days later, when I started getting phone calls from my agents and publicists. At first I was like, You got to be kidding me. But I immediately called my wife.
On the way home, on the airplane, I made sure I didn't talk to anybody. I had my headphones on, and they're talking about it on a talk show on the airplane! There's so many more relevant issues out there today that it's so silly this even got this amount of attention.
My motto is, I live my life for the audience of One. And that's my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That might not be the person next to me's God. But that's okay. We're called to love each other. I don't hold any grudges. I hope people can look at this as an example. Even people who have been caught up in the Brian-bashing or Melissa-bashing. It's not how we're called to live.
The most disturbing thing to me and my wife through the process is just the level of hatred toward people on the Internet—and not just towards me. I've seen a lot of really nasty bad things that have been written to this person.
I think that we need to take a look at people who are doing this as a form of sabotage to increase social status. Social media outlets can be a great platform to build awareness on, but I think we're using them in an abusive way. Bullying is rampant. And you have adults doing this to each other, [and] we wonder where this behavior gets learned.
Have you said anything to Stetten at all since this transpired?
No. My intention is not to sling mud. I don't agree with what she did, but I wish this person the best and my main focus is my family and my relationship with God and my sobriety and my program. The one thing I've learned through Joel Osteen is life brings you unexpected challenges and they can make you a stronger person.
And so I don't really have anything to say to her, or have anything to say other than I wish this person the best. And I hope that all the people writing on her blog or Twitter will stop with the bashing on her as well as me and my family.
What do you think the high Internet interest in this story indicates? Does it reveal that society still has a high view of marriage? Or is it all about taking pleasure in other people's misfortunes?
I think the news is about drama and it's usually somewhat depressing. Look at reality TV. And here you have a model actress, and then you have a guy who's married with two kids and sober and [has] beliefs. I think it was an easy target. To be honest with you, I don't know.
I know the enemy doesn't want me and my wife to be married and me to be sober. And I'm aware of that. Also, I think people in the secular world think that because you say you're a Christian you think you're perfect. This Jesus figure, we think we're like him. What's really important is we all fall short. We all have struggles we deal with in life. And what's great about our God is we can lay those at the foot of the cross and know that it's okay. I think it's time we start loving each other's issues versus judging each other's issues.
I think anybody who has spent five minutes on this can probably agree it's been a waste of time. I'm fine. My family is fine. I look at it as a blessing. It's going to be a great teaching tool for my kids and for people in my circle. I still am staying focused on my calling in life, and to me that is using movies and film and television to bridge the faith world and secular world together.