‘You know I’m not a trained actress, right?’ How this Christian author and speaker ended up in the new movie ‘Overcomer’
When the Christian filmmaking Kendrick Brothers first contacted Priscilla Shirer about appearing in their 2011 film “Courageous,” she turned them down.
SALT LAKE CITY — When the Christian filmmaking team Kendrick Brothers first contacted Priscilla Shirer about appearing in their 2011 film “Courageous,” she turned them down.
”I said, ‘you know I’m not a trained actress, right?’ And it wasn’t a good time for my kids for me to take on a project like that,” said Shirer, a Texas-based author, motivational speaker and Christian evangelist.
Three years later, they came back, bent on convincing her to star in 2014’s “War Room.” When she declined a second time, citing her focus on teaching from the Bible through speaking engagements and writing, they persisted.
“They said, ‘Read the script again and we think you’ll see it’s not just a movie, it’s ministering,’” she said.
Shirer agreed, and found a new way to reach an audience interested in learning more about Christian teachings. Now, she’s back on the big screen, this time in the Kendrick Brothers’ film “Overcomer” in an effort to continue that broadened outreach and promote movies and stories with positive themes.
Part sports story and part tale of redemption, “Overcomer,” which opens Friday, centers on Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), a 15-year-old cross country runner being raised by her grandmother after losing both her parents to drug use as a baby. When the town’s steel plant closes, causing the local high school’s student body and faculty numbers to plunge, Hannah is reluctantly coached by the basketball coach, John Harrison (Alex Kendrick). A chance meeting with Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnet), a blind man who used to be a champion runner, gives John an edge in helping Hannah win, but Thomas’ secret past raises the stakes for everyone.
Shirer plays Olivia Brooks, Hannah’s principal, benefactor and mentor — a role Shirer said has reminded her of the many ways a person can help those around them as a mentor or friend.
”We have those experiences where we can read between the lines and see chances to have spiritual conversations with people to give encouragement or have deeper connections with people,” she said. “Mentoring doesn’t have to be some big investment over days and weeks and months and years. Sometimes I think we make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. What it means is when I’m talking with you … in those moments, I’m just mindful about if there’s an opportunity to help guide someone.”
Christian themes run deep through the movie by design, but the same was true behind the camera during filming, too, Shirer recalled. Her husband and three sons were able to watch her in a family-friendly atmosphere, and prayer preceded filming each day. In addition, the Kendrick Brothers looked for filming locations that were surrounded by active Christian congregations, regardless of sect.
”The Kendrick brothers always film their movies in a place where they have church support, where they have churches in the community, no matter the racial mix or background, that are willing to volunteer,” said Shirer, noting that locals volunteered in many ways, from lending out a home or building for filming or simply praying for the filmmakers. “That is not only important to the filmmaking process but a beautiful picture of what the kingdom can accomplish when we come together.”
“Overcomer” also includes several elements similar to real-life challenges that may be familiar to many viewers. Shirer said showing those difficult situations on-screen is important for connecting with the audience, as well as a sign of the maturation of Christian entertainment from its simpler and sometimes sugar-coated roots.
”Those situations are important. It is what in my mind rolls out the red carpet for God to come into people’s hearts and speak to them, so when people can think about their relationships with their estranged parents or remember when they lost someone who was close to them,” Shirer said. “When someone sees themselves in those pockets of reality, the movie becomes more meaningful.”
Although “actress” was an unexpected addition to the many other hats she wears, Shirer said she feels the experience has made her better at writing, preaching and teaching.
”It’s broadened my horizons in terms of the many ways and the many layers in which God can tell a story and reach a person’s heart,” she said. “In film, it’s all about story. It’s about connecting with an individual via story and paint it and digest it,” she said. “Seeing that path in film has inspired my writing. Now on the page, in the words I choose to write, I need to paint a picture, whether it’s a scene from my life or a Biblical story.”