Being A Christian In The Acting Game - Pt 1

One of the things I am known for is my film ZENITH. It is a spiritual documentary about a group of Presbyterian Christian Farmers in Kansas, who stage an outdoor passion play. I won the Christian Oscar at the 2003 Movieguide Awards for my film, and the event was televised on PAX! My film was up against Spellbound so that was pretty incredible!

As a result, I’ve become fairly well known in the Christian Film Industry. I also have a very strong Christian faith myself, and like to hold my classes in churches, like my last LA class, which was held at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.

This also means I’ve spent lots of time working with young Christian actors and filmmakers, and with famed Christian Film authority, Ted Baer, of The Christian Film and Television Commission, as well as various Interfaith Broadcasting Commission heads.

In trying to help young Christians think how to break into the traditional Hollywood Industry, while still maintaining their values, dignity, pride, and dedication to their faith, I'd like to share some insights with you.

I think the following e-mails I recently received from a past LA student/friend, and her mom, might help other young Christian actors know that 1: they are not alone, and 2: there are ways to approach the whole issue of choice in your career without sacrificing your values.

These e-mail excerpts are from a young Christian model/actress named Bethany and her incredibly supportive mother, Dee. And just so you know, they’ve given me permission to include parts of our correspondence here as a post. And I want to say thanks so much to both of them for allowing us into their lives.

First off, I asked Bethany how she was doing. The mom and daughter said they’d been very discouraged, as Bethany had turned down some work and had some struggles with agents in Hollywood. My initial reply to them went like this:

Dear Bethany and Dee:

I'm so sorry that the acting world has presented you with work that's against your strong faith. That's terrible! I find that so many parts for women, in general, are against what I believe show good, strong, role models for females of all ages -- and usually -- go against my feelings and faith as well. I'm so tired of that, and hope that my site might encourage more young women to get out there and make their own spiritual or faith based films, plays, novels, etc.! Hang in there, and might I suggest as well, your both writing some of your own scenes, or maybe even a short film script? We need more faith based writing!...

Dear Kirsten:

I think it's a good suggestion to write scenes, and Bethany is just now going to work on a short Christian film here in Bakersfield. Bethany had a chance to be the lead in a Good Charlotte video and turned it down. That kind of leads to no one wanting to see her. Her manager is a Christian, but...(the manager wasn’t too happy)...Oh well, I believe if God has called her then He will open the doors...

Dear Dee and Bethany:

I know you've thought long and hard about all of this but my feeling is this:
The more good Christian young women can get seen, or become famous, the more they can speak out and people will listen. There will probably be many tough choices about what she feels comfortable doing, or being, in terms of "sexist" or explicit shots.

If Bethany is kind of a model type, then she may get cast in things like that project (the sexy rock video). And yet, some of those videos (especially from groups like Good Charlotte) may actually be saying more than you initially realize. Many Good Charlotte videos are actually making fun of sexist stereo types in Hollywood. One video of theirs in particular makes fun of tabloid articles and the likes of Paris Hilton. What you may not realize is that many of these rock bands are actually more in favor of exposing Hollywood, ie, may be more "Pro Christian values" than you may imagine.

I only say this after looking just now at several of their past videos, where they kind of make fun of Hollywood. That being said, if they are asking Bethany to do things or wear things that go against her faith, you should look at this -- but also -- sometimes it's really a parody of something she herself may also disagree with, and doing that for a larger message would be a good thing. I'm sure you agree.

For you both, her whole career will just have to be one judgment at a time, and if your agent or manager doesn't understand this, then that's not the agent for you. I'm really glad that she's going to work on a short film.

Remember -- God is ALREADY opening doors. Even just her saying "no" to something that's not within her boundaries is changing the world. It's telling producers and writers and directors (and agents) that young women can and do have values.

Keep the faith and keep believing! I'm really proud of you both!...

Dear Kirsten:

Thank you so much for your insights, I agree with you 100%.

The funny thing is after she turned down Good Charlotte, she regretted it. But at the time it was what she felt best. She did do a video for Cosmo Girl, and it was about self esteem and fitness, it was a very positive experience, and everything about it was for the building up of teen to young 20's, regarding body image, self esteem, and what's right with not being a size 0! We (her dad and I) got to be there, and everyone was so nice. I was really excited that Cosmo Girl would take the money, and effort to make this video to help girls, since they were wanting to counteract the message the media gives on what is fit, and acceptable.

Bethany is a 6 not a 0, and she is often told to lose weight, one agent even told her to lose 35 pounds so she could be in the league with the other top young actresses. She can't and won't do it, so it's great when people appreciate a real person with a real body, not some distorted image of what is acceptable. You can put that on the blog too! She left (a famous agent) after 3 years, and right now she is on LA Casting and Actor's Access, which is a great way to have your resume, pictures, etc. online where most of the casting occurs.

In conclusion - I am so proud of this young actress and also, of her mother! They have all the same struggles of any young actress with a supportive parent, but they are seriously considering each and every role she gets offered and they don't give up. Everyone will have regrets and think they should have done this or that, at some point in their careers. But staying true to who you are, how you feel about your self, your body, and your morals, is the most important thing an young actor or actress can do! No one can take that away from you. And in the end it's your self esteem that you have to live with for the rest of your life. The LA acting world is crazy. I'd love to know when a size 6 became too big? Please girls, don't lose weight. Love your body! I was always a skinny size 10 - 12, but I was very tall. And I was always told I was too fat. It's one of the reasons I stopped acting. Let's change the business from the inside out! Let's start showing other young women what healthy and fit really looks like! And thank you so much, Dee and Bethany, for letting me share your story with everyone here.

You are an inspiration to us all!

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City