Thom Geier
April 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”What about The Passion Fruit of the Christ?” suggested Jerry B. Jenkins, who just published Glorious Appearing, the 12th apocalyptic thriller in the Left Behind series (inspired by the evangelical Christian theology of coauthor Tim LaHaye). Even so, there was plenty to talk about with Ralph Winter, a 20th Century Fox-based producer whose credits include both X-Men movies and the film version of the first Left Behind book; Martha Williamson, who executive-produced CBS’ Touched by an Angel for nine seasons; and Mitch Albom, the sports commentator whose first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, hit best-seller lists just as his Tuesdays With Morrie did.

Ralph Winter * Born in Glendale, Calif., in 1952 * Has attended Glendale Presbyterian since age 7 * Doing preproduction work on Fox’s comic-book adaptation Fantastic Four for release in ’05 and the indie The Visitation, a follow-up to the now-on-DVD adaptation of Christian novelist Frank Peretti’s Hangman’s Curse

Phil Vischer * Born in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1966 * Evangelical Christian * He’s sold more than 35 million copies of VeggieTales videos and DVDs, musical adaptations of Bible stories and other faith-based yarns starring animated vegetables, beginning with 1993’s Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?

Mitch Albom * Born in Passaic, N.J., in 1958 * Raised Jewish * In addition to his column for the Detroit Free Press and panelist gig on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, he’s writing the script for a movie version of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and working on his second novel

Martha Williamson * Born in Denver in 1955 * A Christian who attends the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif. * Oversaw nine seasons of Touched by an Angel, the first of which is due out on DVD later this year; developing TV and film projects under her MoonWater Prods. banner

Jerry B. Jenkins * Born in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1949 * Evangelical Christian * Glorious Appearing, the 12th volume in the Left Behind series of apocalyptic thrillers he writes with the inspiration of evangelical theologian Tim LaHaye, hit stores March 30 with a first printing of 1.9 million

EW Does the success of The Passion surprise you?

PHIL VISCHER Internally, we were predicting about $60 million or so. We couldn’t imagine, even if they fully mobilized the evangelical community, that you would go much beyond that.

JERRY B. JENKINS After seeing the trailer and all the controversy, I couldn’t imagine a Protestant or a Catholic who didn’t want to see it.

RALPH WINTER There’s also Mel Gibson. He’s the underdog. He’s doing it on his own, with his money, outside the system, and that makes it hard to duplicate the phenomenon.

MITCH ALBOM And you have Jesus. Mel Gibson and Jesus, big combination right there.

JENKINS Which name was first on the title? [Laughter.]

MARTHA WILLIAMSON I wasn’t surprised because we had nine years of success with Touched by an Angel and it absolutely proved that there was an audience out there. How many people would you say are represented by that $350 million?

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