Seven years ago, in the fall of 2013, I met a man who altered my life forever. Mike, a producer and fledgling screenwriter, had spearheaded the formation of a production company called St. Michael Movies. And now they were casting their second feature film Promises to Keep. Since the main character was a devout Catholic based on Mike himself, Mike took an intense interest in getting the casting right.
I came in second, and was cast in a smaller role. But two days into production, after seeing the lead actor’s performance in a particularly crucial scene, Mike stopped production! “He doesn’t believe what he’s saying,” Mike told the film’s stunned director, “but that other guy, What’s-his-name, does.”
I was “What’s-his-name.” And it was true. I’m not a Catholic, I’m just a garden variety Jesus-follower. But the character Jonathan struck a chord with me. And yes, I did believe what I said in the auditions.
So I was re-cast in the lead role, and a few days later production resumed. It was invigorating and terrifying to begin playing, with minimal prep time, a character who had roughly as many lines as Hamlet. Mike was new to screenwriting, and so, although he wrote good dialogue, he wrote too much (it was trimmed down during editing). But we got there. And in the process I came to know Mike, who I often teased for being “more Catholic than the Pope.”
I struggled with one scene, in particular, in which my character prays for the leading lady’s soul by saying the rosary all night. I had to find a way into his inner life—because that’s what acting is all about. The key, I discovered, was that, where I’m inclined to “just talk to God,” Catholics tend to express their faith through what I call “the two S’s”: symbols and sacraments.
I did find a way in, fortunately, and gave an honest and heart-felt performance, I think. In the process, I came to love Jonathan, and Mike too (although our relationship has been tumultuous at times). And, while I’m still not a Catholic, the two S’s do play a larger role in my faith these days.
A year later, Mike shocked me by allowing me to become the first non-Catholic (and first non-him) to write a feature film for St. Michael Movies.
Healing River, starring my gifted leading lady from Promises to Keep, Christine Jones, became my first feature film as a writer-director-producer. It’s also Amazon Prime’s top-rated inspirational movie this year.
Is Promises to Keep perfect? No, but it has a tenderness and earnestness rooted in the real-life character of Mike himself…
The man who altered my life forever.