Christian Cinema caught up with Jenn Gotzon, a rare Christian actress who has found success both in specifically Christian media and in crossing over to the broader film market. Having just participated in the premiere of her latest film, Love Different, Gotzon talked about her experiences along the way, as well as the difference that Christian film can make in today’s society.
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Gotzon, a middle child, was a pageant winner early on, but her drama teacher in the countryside of Northampton, Pennsylvania, didn’t believe she had what it would take to make it as an actress. As a twenty-year-old portraying President Richard Nixon’s daughter in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Gotzon came into her own, pushing her into a different sphere of acting. Discussing her film career, it becomes clear that Gotzon’s theological perspective informs everything she does, not least of which is choosing roles.
“It’s clear to me in the way that we were created with a hope and a purpose that we’re here for a reason,” Gotzon shared. “I want to play roles in stories that can inspire and impact people’s lives. It’s not for a limited group of people, but all of humankind, worldwide.”
“I seek out films that reach people where they are, and then explore how that challenge can lead them to move past obstacles in the storyline. Since that is where I believe my direction is, I love trying to find films that would be considered “crossover” to the Christian market but that the broader market would just call good movies. These movies show that there are consequences for bad choices and there is celebration when we choose things that are lovely and beautiful. A person who shares a Christian worldview would be able to recognize where that comes from.”
But what makes the divide so broad between people’s expectations about film and their expectations about specifically Christian films?
Gotzon explained, “The division happens when people don’t know what something is about or what it’s like, so they create their own understanding. If someone is able to understand why a character is making certain choices, instead of alienating that character or story, we can help them move forward and recognize the beauty there.”
Warming to the subject, Gotzon grew audibly excited by the impact she believes that good Christian film can have on the life of the audience, even if it’s just one person watching on their own. “Imagine an eight-year-old kid who is home alone without mom and dad flipping through the channels at home. There’s a ridiculous number of hours per week spent on media at home! Imagine that this one kid or some adults would be entertained; that they would be laughing, crying, and gripped by the story, escaping the world for a minute; that they would connect with the character I’m playing; that they would see that and choose not to live that way anymore but embrace peace.”
“I hope that the films I work on would be a stimulant to do that on their own, that a movie could be a CATALYST FOR CHANGE. It’s where my interest and calling live. Since I’m bold with what I believe, I want to be transparent with my walk.”
I asked Gotzon if I could throw out a few of her films and have her respond with the first things that came to mind. She gamely agreed.
Beginning with Doonby, we launched into her career, as Mark Joseph cast her solely off of seeing her in Frost/Nixon. Here, Gotzon starred opposite John Schneider in a parable where the supernatural and the everyday collide. “It’s about the pursuit to understand our own significance in life,” Gotzon mused. “Where do we find it? We can turn to partying, drinking at home, filling it some sort of way. But there is this deep, deep call within us to find our purpose and our hope. If it wasn’t fulfilled, there are other lives that would be affected.”
In The Good Book, writer/directors Fred and Sharon Wilharm paint a story of faith without using words at all! “It’s a story through action which represents what a Christian life should be,” Gotzon said. “We should be living our life through how we love, forgive, and have grace which is without words.”
“Sharon and Fred cultivate a family. No one thought it would do what it did but it hit people’s hearts and gathered awards at festivals. Everyone saw themselves in the movie in one of the ensemble stories. Do we turn to the Gospel for health and healing? My character went through trying to do all of the things she was supposed to but then experienced her husband going through an affair. It’s riveting because it paralleled a relationship that was happening in my personal life.”
In the historical drama Alone Yet Not Alone, a devout immigrant family encounters persecution at the hands of Native American Indians. “This is a historical representation of an intimate relationship with God,” Gotzon responded, “that in the midst of wilderness (or desert), you can feel like you’re alone but you’re not. God never leaves us or forsakes us.”
In the coming-of-age romance, Princess Cut, a young woman struggles to integrate her life and her family with her dreams of finding the right man to marry. Looking back over her oan experiences in love and marriage, and having filmed the story herself, Gotzon’s response was deeply personal.
“It’s hard when you’re seeking to find that love in a relationship that’s everlasting,” she shared. “In our culture, we call that marriage. We can look in the self-fulfilling area or we can look at the Bible as Jesus is the representation for what a relationship looks like. This is just the most beautiful visual story about how to find the love. I don’t think many movies show what a healthy relationship looks like for folks who are tweens, teens, and those in the dating stage.”
Finally, we arrived at the present time, where Gotzon continues to shoot other projects, but is sharing her latest completed film with others.
In Love Different, Gotzon plays Lindsay Walker, who takes a job at an African-American consulting firm in writer/director Anthony Hackett’s second film. [The other is the thriller Catastasis]. As a white woman with limited exposure to African-American perspectives and culture, Walker becomes the audience’s viewpoint into a different world, complete with heart-wrenching missteps and hilarious moments of growth.
“I grew up in a town in Pennsylvania that was similar to the part my character played,” Gotzon admitted. “Ninety percent of my responses in character were how I would’ve responded. As I was learning, at first, I thought Anthony was making up that the black culture was interacting that way. I didn’t realize that whites and blacks were that different.”
“Then I started to ask what other white people thought; for instance, I asked about an EBT card and I only found one other person who had heard of it. My sister leaned over to me during the premiere and asked, ‘what is an EBT card?’ And then my character asked the same question.”
“That’s a small slice of what I learned,” she continued, “to realize how ignorant I was. It’s not derogatory, it’s about not knowing because we haven’t spent the time to be aware. All humankind is made in God’s image, so I hadn’t realized how different we were in community. But the cultures are different and if we could learn about them, we could learn to love better and love each other differently.”
So, I asked, was it heard being that viewpoint – often through laughter at the expense of her character?
“My character is the butt of the joke to help both worlds understand,” Gotzon explained. “I’m excited and privileged to have been asked by Anthony to play the part. I hope people are entertained, and laugh, and that they’ll ask each other if that’s true so that they can really learn to love each other. It will make better friendships – and be better for all of us.”
That’s Jenn Gotzon. Transparent, authentic, and always aimed at bringing people hope through the witness of the gospel.
Love Different will debut on DVD on April 29.
For more, visit www.JennGotzon.com
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