Erin Bethea starred in one of the most profitable movies ever made.
Her 2008 film “Fireproof” made 67 times its very modest budget. Yet Bethea says some in Hollywood still don’t take her seriously.
That may change with “New Life.” The Georgia native not only stars in the heart-tugging drama but co-wrote the screenplay as well. The movie follows a lovestruck couple from when they first met as children to the hardships they face in their marriage.
HiT reached out to Bethea to talk “New Life,” why movie romances are an endangered species and her gratitude toward a certain Disney mouse.
HiT: Romantic movies are becoming increasing rare in Hollywood. Why do you think that is, and was that part of your motivation to create “New Life?”
Bethea: I think a lot of studios are tending to focus on the big blockbuster franchises to guarantee box office returns. Unfortunately that means that romances can slip through the cracks. But romance is such an important part of film history. Movies like “Love Story,” “The Notebook,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Casablanca” have shaped the culture in the past.
Love is such a central theme to who we are as human beings, and a well-told love story can become timeless. That’s what we hope “New Life” becomes for people, a timeless, emotional romance that they can go back to again and again.
HiT: The film has some heartbreaking scenes … can you share a little bit about the creative process behind those sequences? How did you and the cast prepare to deliver that kind of intensity?
Bethea: There are some very emotional scenes in the film, but they are also really beautiful. I think that for [co-star] Jonathan [Patrick Moore] and I (and for our director, Drew Waters) it was about making sure we captured the beauty of those painful moments because they are all a part of life – they are a part of our stories. The heartache is just as much a part of shaping our journey through this life as the good moments.
Luckily our cast all really trusted each other. When you trust the actors you work with and you trust your director it’s much easier to open yourself up to that kind of intense emotional content.
HiT: You’ve worked on projects with a strong spiritual component … but “New Life’s” faith elements are woven ever so gently into the narrative. Can you discuss that approach?
Bethea: I’ve always wanted to make films that appeal to a wide audience. I love films that anyone can enjoy because the story is strong and the characters are relatable. I also want to make films that don’t feature gratuitous, objectionable content, because I just don’t believe that most stories require it in order to be well told.
FAST FACT: Erin Bethea isn’t just a writer/actress. She previously worked in marketing for national theatrical campaigns for 20th Century Fox and Rollman Entertainment.
I think that as an artist my personal faith and worldview will always be reflected to a certain extent in the work that I do. But the themes of “New Life” – themes like love, loss, hope – these are faith themes but they are also universal themes that all people know and relate to and that’s what we wanted to capture with “New Life.”
HiT: Earlier in your career you worked at Walt Disney World … what did those years teach you about your craft? Any memories you’d like to share from those days?
Bethea: I absolutely loved my time with the Walt Disney Company. I can’t think of a better place to learn about excellence and integrity when it comes to character development and story telling.
I think the biggest takeaway from working there, that I hope I can apply to what we’re doing at Argentum Entertainment, is how much entertainment can impact on the lives of people. Disney creates these animated tales that resonate with people for the rest of their lives because they do it with excellence and they keep looking forward to the next great story.
Seeing the faces of the children and families who were getting to meet and experience these characters that were so beloved and step inside their stories for a bit always reminds me how powerful this business can be in shaping our minds and expanding our imagination.
HiT: Have you faced any obstacles as an openly Christian actress working in Hollywood? What would you advise young actors who want to work in Hollywood while remaining true to their beliefs?
Bethea: I have to say I really haven’t. I mean, there are certainly people in Hollywood who have been dismissive of my past work and success just because it happens to be “Faith-based.”
But overall, I find that staying true to who you are you will find others who are like-minded and can appreciate what you stand for, even if they don’t see eye to eye.
Plus, to be honest, in recent years there is a bit of a fascination that some people have in Hollywood with the Christian film business. They just don’t get how these films are so successful and they’re eager to learn more about it, so sometimes it actually provides an open door rather than a closed one.
I guess my biggest advice for young actors coming to Hollywood is just that. Let the industry make you better, let it drive you to work harder to improve your talents and your craft, let it inspire you creatively, but don’t let it change who you are.
HiT: Did you emerge from “New Life” eager to write more screenplays?
Bethea: I’m not sure. I never considered myself a writer. Although I did enjoy the process immensely (it almost nearly killed me!). But Drew just had such a clear vision for the story he wanted to tell with “New Life,” that it was fun to come alongside him and help him pull it out of his mind and put it on paper.
HiT: What impact do you want the movie to have on audiences?
Bethea: Most of all, I want them to enjoy a great love story. “New Life” is a truly moving story about two people who love so deeply and I hope for many people it will become one of their new favorite classic romances.
But on a deeper level, the film is about remembering that life is a gift, in joy or in sadness, it’s all a journey that is meant to be lived and felt to the fullest. So my ultimate desire is to see people leave with a renewed sense of hope and purpose for living life.