by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor of Film Reviews
Amanda (AJ) Michalka stars in the new Christian film, Grace Unplugged, playing a young Christian woman named Gracie Trey who rebels against her father and his ideas for her role in the worship services at church. She decides to join her father’s old manager, play country music and the movie focuses on her return journey to God. AJ plays guitar and sings in the movie and does a fantastic job.
AJ knew she wanted to act from the time she was a kid and at age nine she began studying acting when she landed a lead role in Jailhouse Rock, a church musical. On her first general audition she was cast in a national commercial. She has worked ever since, appearing on TV and now in the movies in films like Super 8 and Secretariat.
The Dove Foundation interviewed this talented young woman (age 22) recently where her enthusiasm and passion for God shined brightly.
Dove: How did you get started in the business AJ?
AJ: “I really had a good childhood growing up in this industry. I’ve been able to stay normal which is the most important part. I had a family surrounding me that has been an incredible focal point in creating a passion in my sister and I. So my parents knew at an early age that, ‘All right, this is what our girls want to do’ and my sister and I were living in Washington at the time, we grew up there. They saw that my sister and I had an incredible passion whether it was acting or music, just being involved in church and school plays.”
“And then I’ll never forget one day my sister (Aly) grabbed this flyer, it was on my mom’s desk, just laying there with part of the junk mail that was going to get thrown out and it was about an acting workshop. My sister and I saw this and we started squealing, we were just freaking out. We were about nine and eleven. We told our mom and dad, ‘This is what we want to do.’”
AJ added they had always enjoyed putting on shows for friends and family members. “We would sell fake little tickets and they would come see us perform!” AJ said her parents were concerned about the industry, and AJ and Aly had been brought up in a strong Christian home. She and Aly begged their parents for the opportunity to perform in the industry. Her parents prayed about it for a long while and even talked to their pastor at the time. Their mother realized how strong her girls’ passion was for performing and realized that it was instilled by God and both parents decided to be supportive of their daughters’ dream. “She knew that you can stay sane going into anything if you have this rock solid relationship with the Lord and your family.” So they started at an acting workshop in Washington and eventually moved back to L.A. where AJ was born. That’s when AJ started landing roles on TV and gaining opportunities in the business as did her sister. They got to use their musical talents and they signed a record deal. “We got to build ourselves as adult artists, transitioning in a really graceful way” said AJ, “which I think is really important, instead of rushing into adulthood. Everything we write has God at the center or inside of it.”
Dove: Your ability to both act and sing must have helped in you land the role of Gracie in Grace Unplugged.
AJ: “It’s so exciting. I mean there’s not many times where you’re able to really blend both worlds. I was able to do it a few years ago in the film Secretariat, which I loved being a part of.” She added that she immediately became interested when learning about the script for Grace Unplugged and wanted the role badly. She spoke with writer/director Brad J. Silverman, whom she says she adores, and passionately let him know how much she loved the role. He gave her the opportunity and she nailed the role. She would be the lead actor and said, “My challenge was just to stay focused. My character had a lot of music to play. I wanted to be completely genuine to the role. I wanted to stay focused on the guitar and piano and really play in the film. But also, certain days were really hard. We’d have to shoot twelve scenes where I’m essentially leading a lot of those scenes and it was difficult as an actor but something that I really looked at as a challenge and grew from it. I learned a ton doing this movie. And I’d never really been the lead of a feature film before.”
“So I knew that I would be able to go in prepared if I really set my sight on God.” She prayed, “Lord, help me stay focused when I’d doing these scenes”, realizing the movie could be a vessel for people to learn about Him. “The Lord just really, really got me there. I really feel like my relationship with Him drove a lot of the story. I feel like He gave me so much focus when I was on set and the ability to develop the character.” AJ also gave credit to her mother, “an incredible woman of God” who would support her on the set.
Dove: What about the feedback you are receiving from people who have seen the movie?
AJ: “The response has been incredible. Like nine out of ten are just so, so excited about the film and love it. It’s so encouraging to hear as an artist that people are really responding to this movie.” AJ added they knew it could be a really cool movie for believers and non-believers but she didn’t realize before the number of people it is now reaching.”
Dove: What’s on the horizon for you?
AJ: “I’m so excited. I have an independent film coming out in select theaters in January that I’m really proud of and I’m the star of as well. I’m just so blessed to be a part of such a cool film (Angels in Stardust). They made me one of the producers on the movie just because I creatively had a big hand in some decisions.” AJ added she and her sister are also concentrating on their music and they plan to release a record early in 2014. “God just has really cool things lined up” she said. “Sometimes things move slow and sometimes they move quick. I’ve just totally learned, you know what, it’s not up to me– it’s up to Him. So I’m just going with it as He moves me around this board game.”
AJ said she took away a blessing in that she was able to witness to people while doing Grace Unplugged. In addition she said working with Brad J. Silverman was a great experience and mostly, touching even non-believers who enjoyed the film.
Read the Dove Review of Grace Unplugged