Acting out
Christian actress lands roles, uses them to inspire values discussions

Christian Examiner staff report

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Fresh out of high school, Jenn Gotzon was floating in a pool wondering what to do with her life. She prayed for direction and at once was reminded of an advertisement for dancers at Florida’s Disney World.

She called the amusement park to get more specifics and asked the switchboard operator if she knew of anyone there needing a roommate.

“We don’t provide roommate service,” the woman said kindly chuckling, but took her number just in case.

Ten minutes later Gotzon’s phone rang with the Disney operator on the other end of the line.

“Would you like to live with the Little Mermaid and the Jungle Book Monkey and Hercules?” she asked Gotzon, explaining that she had just gone on break and found a posting in the employee lounge.

“I took that as my first affirmation of God’s faith,” said Gotzon, who had earlier competed in the local Miss America pageants.

So she left Pennsylvania with the $200 she had in her bank account to try out for one of the dancing acts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in Orlando. She landed a part as an opening dancer in the March of the ARTimals parade.

Since coming to faith late in high school, Gotzon said God’s hand has clearly been on her career. Leaning on her first love, the Lord, has led her to success in her second love—acting.

“Every season God has revealed new opportunities,” she said. “I’ve been so overwhelmingly blessed that after pursuing this since I was 15 and finally, my dream is starting to come. I’m starting to be able to see the fruit of it.”

Now 33, Gotzon just released “I Am Gabriel” on DVD, the first of nine films in the pipeline in which she is billed as a lead actress.

“It’s such an endearing, inspirational drama about talking to God and the angels in our life,” she said.

The sequence of films emerged after a successful role as Tricia Nixon in the 2008 “Frost/Nixon” and leading roles in this year’s “Doonby” and “God’s Country,” which was directed by her husband of six years, Chris Armstrong.

“That little role (Trish Nixon) is what God used to launch my career,” she said. “Most actors get jobs from an agent sending them on an audition. For me, God has been my agent. I have gotten jobs from God-ordained arrangements.”

In one instance she was offered a role by way of Facebook, while another time a producer found Gotzon by doing a Google image search for Jenn, saying the name just popped into her head while they were discussing casting for an upcoming film.

Gotzon said she embraces not only the long journey that led her to this point but also the Lord’s handprints she’s seen at every turn.

“Maybe now it’s coming to fruition because maybe I’ve experienced more growth in my life personally, and maybe I have more that I can offer now for others,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone is ever ready; it’s really by God’s grace, but maybe God’s timing is because of that.”

She is also cognizant that the wait could have been much longer, if at all.

“Talk about the guys in the Bible, 40 years—40 years,” she said. “Can you imagine?”

A teen’s dreams
Gotzon’s love of film emerged during her teens when she fell in love with the big screen stories.

“When I walk out I am electrified with passion from my head to my toes,” she said. “I want so much to do that for other people. I get so moved by movies sometimes that I just want to be able to give that gift to others.

“I wanted to be a part of movies that have storylines that can entertain people but really can inspire someone’s life or can impact someone’s life to want to be a better person.”

Raised a Catholic, Gotzon said that as young teen she had strayed from her faith and her parents as she began to run with the wrong crowd in high school. She could have benefited from her own inspirational movie, but instead went to a Catholic retreat.

“At that time in that retreat, I just saw Jesus forgiving me. and I felt like I had shackles on,” she said. “I guess it would be spiritual shackles. I felt I (had)gotten into bondage, but I didn’t really know until those shackles were released. That was after I experienced Jesus really forgiving me. At that moment, I was for the first time really understanding Jesus as my personal Savior. He died. He died for my sins, for your sins, for all of our sins.”

In keeping with her relationship with Christ, Gotzon, who now attends non-denominational churches, said she accepts movie roles that express themes of redemption, faith or are family friendly.

“It’s a really good, positive worldview that can teach people about love, grace, forgiveness and all the values that we believe in in our faith,” she said.

Changing Hollywood
In addition to being blessed by the rise of her own star, Gotzon said she’s pleased that faith-based films are also coming into their own.

“We’ve seen a dramatic change, which is so exciting,” she said, adding that a production company that produces horror films has now broadened its scope into the faith-based genre.

In June, Variety magazine co-hosted the Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit in association with Rogers & Cowan.

“They basically made a stamp in the industry saying faith-based films are real,” Gotzon said. “They are accepted, and we don’t understand it, so let’s understand it. Let’s have a conference. Let’s bring everybody together and really understand what’s happening here, which was a revolutionary mark for Hollywood.”

During the summit Gotzon said she talked with several Christian industry insiders who were near tears when they asked, “Could you imagine this happening 20 years ago?”

God’s presence
While landing roles is obviously the center of her career, Gotzon said she’s adamant about using her high-profile profession as a beacon for her faith.

“For me, as a Christian, I love the Lord. I go to Bible study,” she said. “I’m a work in progress. I am in no way or any shape close to being perfect, I am so far from it, but I just feel God’s love and His presence.

 “When I go on a movie set, whether it’s in Hollywood or on an indie film, I feel God’s presence and his love. It’s just so wonderful to become friends and love one another unconditionally, being on sets with all walks of life, different belief systems, and just love people.”

Because the industry is built on relationships, the actress said she’s always carefully considering the appropriate time to share her light with an often dark industry.

“I will pray, and if God puts it on my heart, I will share a little bit about where that light is coming from,” she said. “I try to be very wise and discerning on when to share because we are not on a movie set to be at church.”

Paying it forward
Now that she is established in Hollywood, Gotzon is looking to use what she has learned to help others spiritually. She has established Inspiring Audiences, in which she uses her own testimony to encourage others to overcome life’s barriers.

“There are so many obstacles when you are trying to pursue a call that God has given,” she said.

The actress also uses the movies that she’s been in to lead seminars and work one-on-one with people to establish their own strategies using character traits of the roles she has played.

“I feel like the call that the Lord has on my life, when I pray and when I discern, is to be able to use the movies that I’m in, screen them for churches, film festivals or high schools or even colleges, and then afterwards talk with the group and talk about what the principles of the movie teaches,” she said. “What can we learn? What can grow from?”

For instance, in talks about “I am Gabriel,” she pursues discussions on how we talk to God, how to and how to listen. In “God’s Country” she explores idolatry and such topics as how easily we worship our career, worship cars or “get caught up in the rat race instead of taking time for family and friends and being out in God’s creation?”

“It’s totally God,” she said. “Each film I’m in has that type of story. Who gets cast on Facebook?”

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Published, October 2012

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