Usually my last question for those I interview goes something like this: Got a question you wish I would have asked? That’s when the interview becomes the most interesting, or the most revealing. And by Erin Bethea’s sincerity, I was convinced that the actress’s true desire was to serve Christ and to honor others who further the Kingdom of God.
Fireproof. Facing the Giants. Letters To God. This Is Our Time. Seen them? Then you probably know Erin Bethea. Maybe not the name so much as the face. In Facing the Giants, she played a sportscaster. In Letters to God, she appeared in a supporting role as a sympathetic nurse. In Fireproof, she appeared opposite Kirk Cameron as a frustrated wife considering divorce. And in her latest film feature, This Is Our Time, Erin takes on the role of a newly graduated college student heading to India as a missionary.
Her characterizations have had dimension and the now 30-year-old actress has displayed confidence and appeal on screen. But more than that, the films she’s appeared in have contained a spiritual relevance. This Is Our Time, for example, concerns five close friends who have just graduated from dorm life and are now entering the real world, strong in their Christian convictions, believing they will make a difference in the world. The opening sequence with the friends in their graduating garb reminded me of St. Elmo’s Fire in that we were about to see comfortable kids going out into an uncomfortable world. But there is a difference; these protagonists have a devout faith – one that will be tested. With good production values despite an apparent limited budget, This Is Our Time is a satisfying, spiritually uplifting drama that has something in common with It’s A Wonderful Life. Despite the fact that we can feel overshadowed by others, it reinforces the theory that we can affect the lives of those around us.
Erin is currently the co-host for the Emmy Award winning television series from the North American Mission Board, OMX: On Mission Xtra. The series tells the stories of individuals from all parts of North America engaged in radical choices to reach the community for Christ. The series airs on FamNet.
Married to Bill Shafer in 2009, Ms. Bethea is also the daughter of Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. And if that church name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where the concepts for Facing the Giants and Fireproof developed. So where did Erin’s last name come from? Wait, wait, we’ll get there.
Also a onetime entertainer at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL., Erin remains a contracted actress at the Magic Kingdom. She has worked with Jay Strack's Student Leadership University, and assisted in the development of the Creative Outbreak Workshop conference for students interested in the arts.
During a recent phone interview, I asked Erin about that last name, and that final question that brought home the actress’s true devotion to Christ.
P.B. What’s it like being a Christian in the entertainment community, especially in today’s social/political climate?
E.B. I think it’s an exciting time for Christians. Our society is so twisted right now, but God has a funny sense of humor in that He has chosen this time for Christian media to take huge steps forward. There are more and more Christian films being made and there’s a hunger these days for positive, spiritually enlightening forms of entertainment.
P.B. What led you into acting?
E.B. When I was fifteen, I did Bye, Bye Birdie in my high school, playing the lead. That night when we did our first performance, and took our bows, I heard that applause and I thought, man, if I could do this the rest of my life, I would!
P.B. I was reminded of St. Elmo’s Fire at the opening of This Is Our Time. Ever see it?
E.B. I’m so glad you asked that, because we talked about that when we were making the movie. It’s sooo St. Elmo’s Fire.
P.B. Any comparisons?
E.B. There is that friendship. It’s like the TV show Friends. You just knew that these characters, and the actors playing them, liked each other. I think that’s something we all cherish – having friendships, knowing these people will be there for you. Though we didn’t know each other before making the film, when we first got on the set, we just clicked, like we had known each other for years. I think you can sense that when watching the film. There’s nothing like having a friendship with like-minded Believers.
P.B. What are you hoping people will take from viewing This Is Our Time?
E.B. Knowing that our time is not our own and that we are living on God’s time and in His plan and His perspective. When you find yourself in a situation you never thought would happen to you, and you will, you must remember that God knew you would be in exactly this position and you have to trust that He has the next step planned out for you.
P.B. I see actors who proclaim to be Christians, yet take on appalling roles. I understand they’re just playing a part, but it still frustrates me when I hear them profane God’s name. Have you set a standard, a line you will not cross?
E.B. Actually, I do have a list; I will say this word, I won’t say that word. When I’m with a new agent, I let them know. I heard Jim Caviezel (star of The Passion of the Christ) say this once, and I so admire him, and I’ve sort of stolen it from him. He’s comfortable with pretty much any role as long as good is upheld and that evil is revealed for what it is. I don’t mind playing a rotten, nasty person, just so long as the rotten nastiness isn’t glorified.
P.B. How do you advise those who ask you for directions into show business?
E.B. When they say they want to be an actor, I ask what else would you like to do. If they answer with, well, if I wasn’t acting, I could see myself doing this or that, then I tell them, then do this or that. If you have anything else you can imagine yourself doing, go do it. There are some, and I’m one of them, that simply can’t imagine not doing what we do. That’s what keeps you moving forward despite all the hardships and the rejection. This industry looks glamorous from the outside, but it can tear out your self-esteem, your principles and your soul.
P.B. What’s up next for you?
E. B. I’m doing a western called The Redemption of Henry Myers. It will be coming out theatrically in the spring of 2014. And hopefully this summer we’ll be going into production on a film that I’m starring in and that I co-wrote and am producing. It’s called Nouvelle Zzi which is French for New Life. The Redemption of Henry Myers has a very strong faith element to the story and Nouvelle Zzi, though a more mainstream film, has a very positive, uplifting message about true love. So, I’m excited about both.
P.B. I have to ask, since that’s not your married or maiden name, where did you get Bethea?
E.B. Bethea (Beth-a) is actually my middle name. It was my grandmother’s name and I took it for professional reasons. I thought it sounded pretty.
P.B. So, Erin, got a question you wish I would have asked?
E.B. My character and her husband, played by T. J. Dalrymple, a fantastic actor, are missionaries who work for Embrace a Village. That’s an actual organization. It works with lepers and it completely changed my life and my perspective on that disease and how I view the people who are suffering with it. I hope the film points to that ministry and that people will be supportive of it. Your readers can go to their site for more information. It’s embraceavillage.org.
Erin’s answer impressed me. Rather than relaying more about herself, she chose to spotlight an organization that aids others. It convinced me that Ms. Bethea wants to use her talents and her life to fight the good fight of the faith.
This Is Our Time also stars Shawn-Caulin Young (Thor), Bruce Marchiano (The Encounter), Kate Cobb (The Ghosts), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), Dawn Wells (Gilligan’s Island) and Erik Estrada (Chips). Not rated, I found nothing objectionable and the film is suitable for ages 12 on up. The DVD contains a well-made documentary on Embrace a Village, which is definitely worth viewing. This Is Our Time is the recent winner of the 2013 International Christian Film Festival.