Star of "Sahara" movie is Twin Cities Lutheran pastor's son
Steve Zahn plays the sidekick in swashbuckling adventure flick
Sahara, the latest movie in which Steve Zahn stars,
opened nationwide and in Twin Cities theatres on April
The LCMS pastor’s son, who plays one of the three
leads in the North Africa action thriller, saw the film
twice before it opened.
“I love it!” said Zahn, 36, who was in the Twin Cities
March 14 as part of a press tour for “Sahara.”
Zahn is a 1986 graduate of Cooper High School, a
one-year student at Gustavus Adolphus College, and
one-time “preacher’s kid” (his father, Carlton, now
retired, was a long-time pastor of Peace Lutheran
Church, Robbinsdale, Minnesota).
In “Sahara,” Zahn stars with Matthew McConaughey
and Penelope Cruz. Zahn calls the film an “epic action
movie.” The swashbuckling tale is an Indiana
Jones-type saga, complete with speedboat chases,
harrowing camel rides and a succession of
life-and-death shoot-’em-up scenes.
The story involves a treasure hunt through West Africa
for a long-lost Civil War battleship. Zahn plays a
comedic sidekick to McCon-aughey, cast as a master
explorer. Cruz is a doctor who believes the battleship’s
hidden treasure may be connected to a lethal health
The film was shot during three and a half months in
Morocco, a month in Spain and five weeks in London,
“I’ve never done something like this before,” the
Minnesota native said. “What I don’t like about a lot of
action movies is the computer trickery. What I liked
about this movie was that the cinematography was
amazing, and it was shot on location. If there was a
sandstorm, we shot in it.
“There were huge stunts. We drove boats and rode
camels, and we were all gung-ho about it. As hard as it
was and as tired as we got, everybody was thrilled to be
there. That’s not said by anyone at all, but it’s evident in
the way you work.”
Tough weeks of training were required to get in shape
for the movie, he said.
“We were in Morocco for two weeks before we started
shooting, and we had two-a-day workouts,” Zahn
ex-plained. “We started with heavy weights and boxing.
We had a U.S. Navy Seal adviser, plus weapons
training. We had camel-riding training, where we’d go
for 90 minutes at a full gallop. They run next to a train in
the movie, so we practiced riding next to moving trains.
“In the afternoon we had more weapons training,
another workout and then a dune run. It really got us
tight. In England, we trained in booby trap houses on
During shooting of the film, Zahn said, the crew was up
at 5 a.m. and ready for pickup at the hotel by 5:15 a.m.
“We had a 45-minute drive on rocky roads in the middle
of nowhere to get to the set before sunup,” he said.
The crew stayed at “a nice hotel in the middle of
nowhere,” he said.
“In the evening, we’d have a couple of Budweisers and
chicken and open the doors behind the hotel to look at
the stars and nothing else but sand dunes,” Zahn said.
“There would be sand storms for three days straight
and drifts of sand piled up next to the hotel. Not once in
two and a half months did we ever see an airplane.
“The definition of Sahara is ‘to have no memory,’ and
it’s true. When you go out in the desert, no matter
what’s going on in your world, you see the dunes and
nothing else, and you think of nothing else.”
At one point, the crew worked for 15 days straight,
without a break, he said.
“It was okay. We had helicopters, tanks, boats, all kinds
of fun things. But you have to hit the mark and keep
concentrating. To do your job as an actor is a lot of
Zahn acknowledges that he usually is cast in a
supporting role, as a character actor.
“But the types of movies have varied drastically,” he
said. “I have no problem playing the funny sidekick. I’m
a grunt; I’m a sergeant, an officer. I’m on point with
The hardest part of his job, Zahn said, is being away
from his family for months at a time. He met his wife,
actress Robyn Peterman, when the two were appearing
together in New York, during Tommy Tune’s 13-month
national touring company of “Bye Bye Birdie.” Married in
1994, the couple now has two children, Henry, 4, and
Audrey, 3. His family accompanied Zahn to Spain and
London while he was shooting his latest movie, he
In July 2004, the Zahns moved from their rural farm in
New Jersey to a horse farm in Lexington, Ken-tucky, his
wife’s hometown, partly so Robyn could be closer to
her family while Zahn is away on film shoots.
They have three horses, Zahn said, and a pond in their
An accomplished fly fisherman, Zahn said, “I caught a
big bass in my front yard pond on February 28 — with a
He hasn’t done a play since 1994, but Zahn remains
exuberant about being an actor.
“I still really love acting. I find it really challenging. And I
really love film. It’s a lot of fun. Theater is a big
commitment. Most of the time, you sign a five-month
contract. You do eight shows a week and have one day
off. There’s no time to go home.”
After a movie shoot, Zahn said, an actor may have a
hiatus of several months.
He has appeared in 35 films since 1992, including
“That Thing You Do,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Reality Bites,”
“Saving Silverman,” “Happy Texas,” “Riding in Cars with
Boys,” “Sub Urbia,” “Daddy Day Care,” and “National
Zahn was the voice of Archie, the Bear, in “Dr. Doolittle
2,” and the voice of Monty, the Cat, in “Stuart Little.”
“You still really fight for good parts,” Zahn said. “It never
stops. It’s never a breeze. The people at the top of their
game work as hard as the people at the bottom.”
After less than 24 hours in the Twin Cities, Zahn was off
to Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles to
publicize “Sahara.” Even-tually, there will be a press
tour in Europe and Asia as well, he said.
Webber is editor of New Hope-Golden Valley Sun Post.
This story is reprinted with permission of American
Community Newspapers/ Minnesota Sun Newspapers.