by Edwin L. Carpenter – Editor, The Dove Foundation
Rebecca St. James plays Sarah Collins in the recently released DVD Sarah’s Choice. In the film Rebecca’s character must decide between having her unborn baby and getting an abortion. The actress Rebecca St. James wanted this role badly and loved the idea of making a pro-life film. It was an easy choice for her to make.
Rebecca was born in Sydney, Australia, and is the oldest of seven children, five boys and two girls. She was the lead vocalist at the Christian school she used to attend. When she was thirteen years old Carmen, the nationally recognized singer and performer, invited her to open shows during his Australian tour. During this same breakthrough year for her she recorded her first album, Refresh My Heart. At age sixteen she was given a record deal and in 1994 released a self titled debut album and has been going strong in the field of music ever since.
The Dove Foundation recently caught up with Rebecca and she was happy to talk about her latest film and its importance to her. We began by asking Rebecca how she became involved in Sarah’s Choice.
“Well, my passion for faith and family films has been kind of increasing over the last couple of years,” she said in her distinctive Australian accent. “I think I’ve seen the need for more Christians to be involved in the mix in Hollywood, helping shape content. It’s such a powerful vehicle, movies. You put spoken word and music and images together and you’ve got the power to change the world.”
“I don’t think Christians have been involved enough in the mix of Hollywood so God’s been increasing my passion for that. I’ve dabbled in film before but this last year I really felt the sense of God calling me to be involved in faith and family films. Doors started opening in L.A. Also around that same time as I was starting to dive in on films here I got involved with a crisis pregnancy center in L.A. through a couple of friends and so I saw the need for the arts – as in movies and music – that supported the pro-life message.”
Rebecca mentioned that the film Bella was one of the few pro-life films she could think of. “So my heart was ignited for the message,” she said. “I saw the need and I was like, ‘Lord, what can I do?’ I felt like He was going to give me a song that was a pro-life song, and then months after that I was asked to audition for Sarah’s Choice. I was like, ‘Okay, Lord, you knew what you were doing those months ago!’”
She began to gather research material and songs upon learning that she had won the role for the film.
“The song that I felt God was going to give me landed in my lap in about a half an hour. It’s in the movie at the very end and so it’s just been kind of a miraculous journey honestly.”
Dick Van Patten is in the movie, playing a pastor Sarah seeks counseling from. We asked Rebecca what it was like working with such a well known actor.
“He is such a sweet man,” she replied. “He just brought such warmth to that role. He’s a very kind, humble, sweet man. He was just on set I think for one day with us so it was just great interacting with him. He was a very kind, affirming gentle person for as much success as he’s had. It was just very cool to see that kind of humility.”
Another important cast member in the film was Julian Bailey, who played Matt Evans, Sarah’s boyfriend in the movie. We asked what it was like working with him.
“Fabulous,” she replied. “He has actually become one of my closest friends in L.A. He’s a really strong Christian. I really feel, and I’ve said this to him, that if it hadn’t been him playing that role I don’t think that I could have been as relaxed playing someone who’s in love with someone else (his character of Matt). We met once before our first day on set but he is such a strong Christian that there was this immediate trust and a sense of relief that it was just easy to be very natural in our scenes because he’s a really good man.”
We asked Rebecca what appealed to her about this particular role and she mentioned that it is a heartwarming story. “The humanity of the situation really drew me in. It felt very real. Here’s a girl who is feeling an incredible amount of pressure and pain and confusion. All of us in life, if we have lived for any period of time on this planet, we’ve experienced all of that. It’s a very human character. She’s angry at God and she’s open about that. I think people watching the film can see this journey from her kind of doing her own thing, and (she) has got this underlying anger toward God because of her dad’s passing and then really being drawn by the love of God to Him.”
Rebecca nervously watched the film with friends and family at an early screening but she adds, “I’m proud to have been involved with it. The team was fantastic and the editors did a good job cutting it together. I really feel like God brought a strong team together. I was intrigued by the script from day one.”
Rebecca spoke about the challenges of making the film which included this being her first lead role. “I had probably at that point done five smaller roles in different films,” she said. “Doing a lead role–it’s a very intimidating concept. I was very much praying for God to inspire me and give me what I needed.”
She added that an actress friend told her she had seen her in concert and that she always showed up with her heart and that’s what she had to do with this film role. “Show up with your authenticity and your heart,” Rebecca said her friend told her. She did all of that and brought her life experience to the table. She was also determined to not be self-conscious and overly concerned about camera angles and the like.
She did her homework which included reading the materials from the pregnancy centers and understanding what the pregnant girls felt like. She said she did her best to bring the pain, the pressure, and the fear to the role.
She did feel some pressure on day two on the set when she was supposed to cry on cue. “The director said, ‘We need snot and tears,’” she laughed. She remembered her desire to bring authenticity to the role and since she was feeling fear that day, she brought it to the scene. She did an ad-lib in her prayer scene, and instead of praying about needing God’s help to act out this crying scene, she used the fear for the role of Sarah and prayed that she needed God’s help to be a mother.
Having reviewed this film, I can say that Rebecca nails her role and does a tremendous job.
In closing, Rebecca told us the rewarding aspects of taking on the role. “It was just a real thrill to work with the people that I was working with.” She added that as a child she wanted to be an actress and to play pretend with grown-ups was a lot of fun. She enjoyed working with Staci Keanan who was on a TV show she watched when she was about fifteen years old. Finally, the friends she made and getting the pro-life message out meant a lot to Rebecca.
The real culmination of the rewarding aspects might have come at the Baltimore premiere of Sarah’s Choice in front of eight or nine hundred crisis pregnancy center leaders from around the country. “They gave the film a standing ovation,” said Rebecca. “It was profound,” she said. “You heard people crying at the scene at the end,” she added. “The Spirit of God moved through the finished piece.”
Rebecca St. James plans on making some more faith and family films in the future. Like Sarah in the movie, Rebecca is making some great choices.