A Conversation with actress AJ Michalka about GRACE UNPLUGGED

Grace Unplugged posterOne of the best reviewed Christian films ever and the #1 rated movie for two weeks straight on Fandango fan-rated movies during its theatrical run, the uplifting and entertaining drama Grace Unplugged debuts on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD February 11th from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Written and directed by Brad Silverman (No Greater Love), A.J. Michalka (Secretariat) stars as Grace, a talented young singer, whose aspiring songwriter’s Christian faith and family ties are tested when she defies her worship-pastor father and pursues pop-music stardom. A.J. recently spoke with Paula K. Parker about the film and its impact on both audiences as well as her own life.

Paula K. Parker: Now that the film has released, what impact have you seen it have on audience members?

A.J. Michalka: I’ve heard some really incredible things since this movie has come out—and I hope that continues with the DVD release—but it’s inspired parents to communicate with their children about their passions and what they want to do. It’s really spoken to young girls about not compromising who they are. Before the movie released, we were screening it in Franklin, TN. I went to the different screenings and I had a chance to meet all these girls. So many of them said, “I can really relate to Grace.” “I feel like this is going to help me with my relationship with my dad.” “Now I feel like I can communicate with my parents and not compromise who I am.”

All of this is the most positive thing you can hear after doing a film that actually did something for the person watching it—not just entertainment—but on a character level; it really did something for their heart. At the end of the day, that is why we made this film.

PKP: What impact did the film have on you?

A.J. Michalka: This film has really impacted my life. I don’t necessarily know what it is doing for my career—whether it is getting me more opportunities or getting me to my next step—but that for me doesn’t even matter right now. It made me a happier person doing that film.

The people I met really enriched my life. I’ve never done a project that was blatantly loud about the Lord. It was kind of, ‘Alright, this is what our movie’s about and, hopefully you guys love it, but we made this for God and it has His name written all over it.’ I’m just happy to do something that is for Him. That’s the coolest part. I’ve met great people on set before but, when you enter a Christian set and people are worshipping and praying before takes, that is a really cool experience.

PKP: How did you get involved in the film?

A.J. Michalka: I was leaving a church service one Sunday and a good friend of mine who was working for my agent at the time came up to me and said, “Hey AJ, there’s a script going around the office called Grace Unplugged—this faith-based film—and I don’t think it’s gone to you yet.”

I said, “No. I don’t know anything about it.”

He asked, “Can we send it over?”

I said, “Yes, of course.”

He sent the script over on Monday and I read it and immediately fell in love with it. I told my team, “I want to do this. How do we go about the next step?”

That was Brad Silverman and Russ Rice and Mark Burg; I think we met twice. From then on, there was this incredible connection between Brad and me. I think they saw that I was a young woman in the industry who loved the Lord. Which is not why they cast me, but I think they saw something about me that was very much true to this girl; and I felt really connected to her as soon as I read the script.

I told them, “Look, you can count on me. This is what I want to do. I want to tell people about the Lord. I want to witness to people. I want to do a movie that is loud about Him.”

I think they saw that and got excited and that’s when the snowball effect came into play. We didn’t go into production for a while, but Brad and I stayed in touch. When they told me they wanted me to be a part of the film, I couldn’t believe it; I was so happy.

We started the casting process, with me reading with Michael Welch (Quentin) and we knew immediately that he was a perfect addition to the film. He’s such a wonderful guy; such a good heart.

It was a long process, getting into casting—which obviously Brad had full charge of—but they made me part of the process. That was so cool. I was a part of choosing songs, helping out with cast. I was the first one cast, so Brad involved me in a really cool way, but the film didn’t get going until much later after I booked it.

Finally it was real and, once I was on set, that was when I knew. I thought, “Thank you, God. This is so cool! We’re doing a movie about You. You’ve made it happen. Now just help us to serve You in a really cool way.”

PKP: As a young actor in Hollywood, have you seen other actors who are like Grace, who are walking away or struggling with being in the industry and being a Christian?

A.J. Michalka: Yes. I have definitely seen people who go through those moments where they think, “I really want to take this next step so I’m going to put this moral aside, put this compromise here.” In the meantime, they are withering inside as a person; they don’t feel as good or as happy or content.

I hope this film has been a witness for people, but I also want to be a witness on a personal level—without the movie attached—that you don’t have to change who you are to do anything. You should be able to absolutely soar as a person and, from there, everything else will be enhanced.

I hope that people don’t compromise who they are for something they love. I think to have goals and dreams and aspirations is great—I think that God instilled those in us—but we shouldn’t have to change who we are to further anything along.

PKP: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A.J. Michalka: I hope people are inspired by Grace Unplugged. If they didn’t see it in the theater, I hope they can see it on DVD with their family. I feel like it’s a movie worth watching.

I would ask that people pray for my sister Aly and me and our guidance in this industry. [A.J and Aly are the singing duo 78violet.] That we can shine our light and that we can work for the Lord and not for anyone else. That we can introduce people to His message.