a feature film by T. C. Christensen following a pioneer handcart company across the plains.
I had done some film work growing up, but it had been years. A bachelor’s degree, a marriage, and two kids later, the last thing I expected to do was to turn back to a film career. One day, my husband calls me from work to tell me he saw an ad on KSL classifieds for a new talent agency and to encourage me to get back to work in the film industry if I had any interest. My daughter was not even a year old; I hadn’t really gone back to anything yet. The agency, which only lasted briefly, was focused primarily on commercial and private work geared towards members of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is a large employer in Utah’s film market.
It seemed like a good fit. I didn’t want to get heavily involved in filmmaking while my kids were young, and I didn’t want to have to expend a lot of time and effort checking potential gigs for how they fit with my standards for work. This particular agency, while offering work outside the culture and institution of my religion, was built on the premise of vetting scripts and roles with a detailed eye towards what content would be required of the actor before even submitting an actor for an audition. I figured I’d give it a shot.
Within a month I auditioned for, and booked 17 Miracles. It was a dream come true. I was cast as Louisa Mellor, a woman I had heard about from a primary story. A meaningful role in a beautiful feature film with a theatrical release. I had prepared hard for the audition and callback. I was pleased with how I had done. I was ecstatic about the result. And nervous. I hadn’t done a film for over a decade, and my previous role was far more mundane. I did a lot of prep work for this film.
Nine years since its release, I still get recognized in public more for my work in this film than any other singular feature I’ve been in. I am so happy with the impact that the film had on the people who love it, and the niche market that it opened up in my area’s indie film scene. When I watch myself in this film, I see all the things that happened on set that day. I was a total noob again. Director T. C. Christensen (no relation) was patient with me and helpful. I re-learned things about hitting marks, staying in frame, consistency from take to take, that I hadn’t had to think about in my intervening years in theatre. I look at this performance and love it for what it was and what it taught me, even though I can still see where I wish I had done better or differently. This imperfect performance was a piece of perfect experience and a pivotal moment in my adult life.
I had two days on set, one in the summer unit and one in the winter unit. My summer day was hot and dusty. Makeup had applied multiple layers of “dirt” to my wardrobe and every exposed part of me, even scraping my fingernails across the thing I called “the dirt deodorant stick.” I drank incessantly, not just to avoid dehydration, but also to make sure I could cry take after take. My scenes were just before and after lunch so at the most emotional part of the scene, the entire day’s worth of cast, crew and extras were standing in the middle of nowhere in the sun, watching me from behind camera. I was nervous even though I could tell I was doing some good work. When the set up was over and we broke for lunch, the lead of the film, Jasen Wade, came over to compliment me on my performance. We didn’t have any scenes together, we’d never met, and he didn’t need to do that. But he did do it, and he was sincere. All my nerves just melted away, and I ate lunch without feeling nauseous, which was really nice.
For as dirty and hot as my summer day was, my winter day on set was the opposite. My apron froze around my knees when we filmed in the snow. My character started that scene seated and stood at the end. My apron held the crunchy formation of my lap even when I stood. You can’t see it in the film. It’s a tight shot. But I’ll never forget sliding on icy paths in period footwear, warm packs safety-pinned to my thermals under my wardrobe, beating my apron back into submission with my hands. I loved every minute of it.