LDS actors, actresses: sharing the gospel message

"I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it."

This popular saying, stitched in cloth and hanging on a wall beside Bill Hansen's desk in the Church Office Building, aptly describes the challenges of sharing the message of the restored gospel through the medium of film.To LDS actors and actresses involved in Church-produced films, the rewards are worth the challenges. To them, relying on the Spirit to help them portray a scriptural figure or gospel principle, or to participate in a priesthood training film only enhances and enriches their talents. (Please see related article on page 10.)

Brother Hansen, director of Human Resources and Casting for the Church's Audiovisual Department, explained: "Filming and acting are emotional experiences. We may not convert everybody by a film, but if somebody's touched, he or she has had an emotional experience, and that's closely akin to a spiritual experience. So when they do hear general conference or hear the prophet speaking, they can then identify, I've felt this before. I know what that is,' or,I don't know what that is, but I want to know more.' "

Continuing, Brother Hansen, who has been with the Audiovisual Department since its inception in 1991 and has a background in theater and radio, added, "I think that acting correctly done, with proper talent and with the Spirit can be very, very powerful in the conversion process."

For this reason, the Church Service Talent Committee, which operates under the auspices of the Audiovisual Department, continues to seek temple-worthy LDS actors and actresses for parts in Church films. Although the committee, on which members serve up to 30 months as Church Service Missionaries, was organized only three years ago, it continues to use the same standards in choosing actors and actresses as used in the past for Church films.

To be entered into the "on-call" file, as Brother Hansen called it, actors and actresses must be cleared ecclesiastically, preferably by their bishops, Brother Hansen explained. Every two years, this clearance is renewed if they are to remain in the file.

"We've been given a directive from the First Presidency to see if we can find where the LDS talent is, not only in the valley here, but elsewhere," Brother Hansen said. "So we've got the committee seeking out the talent through auditions and workshops.

"We've got about 2,200 good names in the file right now. We've separated out those who are capable of playing principal roles. There are about 150. The rest of them are those who can play featured extras, who have expressed interest in theater and film."

Brother Hansen explained that the committee, which includes a BYU theater professor and a theater department head from the University of Southern California, sifts through film candidates through auditions that occur almost weekly at the Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City. He also emphasized that the committee will continue to use agencies and casting directors to find suitable actors and actresses.

In addition, Brother Hansen noted that workshops will be conducted in such areas as Southern California and other locations, especially if a film is to be produced in the area.

"We do everything we can to find an active LDS actor to play a particular role," Brother Hansen emphasized. "But sometimes we can't. So at that point our next alternative is to go find somebody who has the right personal standards and is a quality actor."

It is the hope of the committee, however, to find as many active LDS actors and actresses as possible. Potential roles include "blockbuster" films such as "Legacy," shown in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, short Church Educational System films, short clips for symposia, and training films. The ages for these roles range from infant to elderly.

Brother Hansen related that participating in such roles can result in profound experiences. For example, during the filming of the seminary film, "The Lamb of God," extras were asked to chant, "Crucify him, crucify him!" during the scene of Christ before Pontius Pilate.

"These extras would come up to us between takes with tears streaming down their faces saying, `I can't say that, I just can't say that.' I know of several who in bearing testimonies the following Sunday indicated that this was a very profound experience. It strengthened their testimonies as they began to understand more about the Savior."

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