It used to be that faith-based films were low-budget productions, cheaply made with cheesy storytelling and wooden acting — more about propagandizing than worthy narrative. Nowadays, they’re labelled as contemporary Christian and as much as they may still push their proselytizing agenda, they do it in a far more engaging way so that viewers can enjoy the film whether they take to the message or not.
Such is the case with “Breakthrough,” which enjoyed a Mid-year 2019 release and was helmed by experienced television director Roxann Dawson (a former Star Trek Klingon as well). Based on “Impossible,” Joyce Smith’s account of true events written with Ginger Kolbaba, stars Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Chrissy Metz with a cast that includes veteran actors such as Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Sam Trammel, and Dennis Haysbert. Produced by established moviemaker Devon Franklin, basketball star played Stephen Curry joined in as an executive producer.
Underlying this film is the true story of St. Louis teenager John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) who cracked through thin ice into a near-frozen lake in January 2015; he was underwater for 15 minutes before resuscitation efforts started. Although still alive, he is in a coma, and his family relies on their faith and prayers in the hope that he awakens — which he eventually does, seemingly untrammeled. All believe that God had something to do with it.
As the first film from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Walt Disney Studios (following the company’s acquisition), it received mixed reviews for its predictable plot but performances were solid and Metz made an impressive cinematic debut. Born September 29, 1980, Christine Michelle Metz plays Kate Pearson in “This Is Us,” the NBC drama for which she has earned Best Supporting Actress nominations at 2017’s Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards (in 2017 and 2018).Breakthrough also brought Metz and the film an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song — “I’m Standing With You” — which she performed at the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards.
In the Spring, Metz came to NYC to promote the film and hosted a special “Moms” screening where she spoke afterwards to the audience and this writer as well.
Q: Based on this true story, how did you got involved with this project?
CM: I was personally inspired for this to happen. I had a general meeting with our producer DeVon Franklin, and started talking about my mother’s stroke and how difficult it was because we didn’t know what the outcome was. I said to her physician, “You’re a doctor in a new practice. You don’t know my mother and how powerful she is and what she has to do here.” Almost verbatim, Joyce said those things to John’s doctors and I thought, “This is not a coincidence. There’s obviously a reason that I’m here in this meeting with DeVon and the executives.” They sent me the script and the rest is history.
Q: The film is based on an ongoing feeling of hope. There’s such a lack of it in the world right now…
CM: Anybody can take a job that’s presented to you, but what can be imparted to an audience who sees this movie? To be a part of a project like this was a no-brainer. It’s how I want to live my life, and why would I not want to have that in my career. That’s the legacy I want to leave. I want to do something that I wholeheartedly believe in.
Q: You’re such a natural — where do you find that spirit and make it authentic?
CM: Get out of my own way and make sure that I’m present and authentic in telling the story. We all understand what potentially it’s like to lose a loved one or have someone who’s sick and go through such trials and tribulations. I just get out of my own way and not care about what I look like, what I sound like, if my clothes are rumpled or whatever. That’s not what it’s about. I’m here to tell a story that’s a piece of the puzzle. I’ve gone through a lot in my life, as we all have, but I truly believe that your tragedies become your triumphs and if I’m able to impart what I’ve gone through, and through that empathy, share that we’re not alone in what we go through.
Q: What do you tell kids about feeling good about themselves and not to dwell on their problems are because everyone has one or two or 10.
CM: We all have something. if we can be a little more gentle and kind to ourselves, then of course we can be that way for others. It starts with yourself. We always want to compare and despair, “Oh, my friend has this.” Or, “She has that and I’ll never measure up.” You’re not supposed to compare because you’re two different people and that’s what’s incredible. We all have our own beautiful strokes of color — and that wouldn’t be as beautiful if they weren’t so different. That’s what you focus on. That we’re all very special in our own way and there’s no need to compare and despair.
Q: Who did you learned from or who pumps you up to feel that way?
CM: My grandmother was that way for me. She was my biggest cheerleader before I did anything. I could say like, “Ah,” and she’s like, “That’s amazing!” She believed in me before I believed in myself. But there is also my connection with God. If we’re here, there’s a reason why we’re here. So that’s just good enough as is. If I happen to do something great, that’s great. And if I don’t, that’s great too.
Q: Has your Grandma got to see what you’ve done?
CM: She did not –- she passed away seven years ago. But when things were kicking off, she saw that for sure.
Q: Have you always been religious? a lot of people are spiritual. Some people are more religious. When did that become important to you in your life?
CM: Really early on. it was always sort of there. My grandmother instilled it in me. When I was a kid and my mom remarried, I became the middle child. I was really lost and it was like, “I don’t know where else to go.” I remember I would go to church on my own. All my friends were having fun and I’m like, “I need help. I can’t figure this out.” I found a lot of solace in music as well which is super important to me. A lot of healing is in the music. From an early age, for sure, I always had it as a baseline. As you get older, your life becomes bigger and fuller and more exciting, but then that’s the point where you really lean in even more because you need it. At least I do personally.
Q: When did you want to become an actress?
CM: Around maybe nine or 10. I would be really silly whether I wanted attention or I thought I was funny and would do silly voices and record myself on an old-school boombox. I would pretend like my friends my sisters that I was a newscaster and would make fun of the voice and the news. I realized that, “Oh, I really love making people happy and love telling stories.” It’s kind of weird, right?
Q: How did you have the perseverance to knock on so many doors and never give up?
CM: I come from a really small town in Florida. Gainesville, which is a college town but it’s a small town. I was the youngest and then became a middle child, and was just searching. I went to an open call with my sister who wanted to be a print model. I met this woman who says she knows me. She’s like, “I should be there for a reason.” I’m like, “Okay, what? She’s crazy.” After she says that, I think I’ll never see her again. I turn around, I’m like, “Where’s the lady in the hat?” Everyone’s like, “What are you talking about?”
My then manager comes out and she’s like, “What are you doing here? Who are you?” And I’m like, “I’m my sister’s guardian.” And she’s like, “Do you sing, act or anything?” I’m like, “Nope.” I was afraid of my own shadow. But in my heart I was like, “Please pick me. Get me out of here.” if I’m an actress, what does that mean in this small town? It was so scary. You either do the New York or L.A. thing and I can’t do New York. I’m so intimidated still as an adult. But anyhow, she asks me to sing for her. I’m like, “I don’t sing.” My sister says, “Yes, you do.”
Q: What do you mean you’re so intimidated?
CM: Are you kidding me? Where are we right now?
Q: In Time’s Square.
CM: That’s all I know. I know there’s a park. I know it’s a Grand. I can smell pizza. I’m really trying to figure it out. I had denied that I was a singer. And she’s like, “What are you doing in Gainesville?” “I don’t know.” She’s like, “Okay, let me help you.” We went out and did a showcase. I got an agent right away and a lot of other actors didn’t. I was like, “Oh, great. This is like my moment,” I’m 20 years old at this point and I’m like, “I’m moving to L.A.”
Q: You’re not scared of L.A.?
CM: Oh, I’m scared. I was afraid to drive on the interstate. Yes, I’m scared. I’m petrified. I just keep pushing through the fear. I was like, “No, I really want this and I want an adventure and I feel like it’s meant to be, like this opportunity’s presented itself,” and I went off to L.A. There were six of us girls living in a two-bedroom apartment on air mattresses. We had literally a printer for a headshot and resume on a picnic table and some plastic chairs. It was like camp. It was really fun. We played Uno a lot and then we helped each other with our scenes.
Q: Where are they today?
CM: They’re back in Florida. One of them is Jessica Garcia and she’s on a Netflix show called “On My Block” which is really exciting. We have the same manager. So, anyways there’s so much to tell; I’m giving [you] the Cliff Notes version.
Q: You’re 20 years old in Los Angeles; how did you not give up?
CM: I’m poor, so my manager says to me, “Your agent needs an assistant.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” She’s like, “No, I think you should be the assistant.” So, the universe telling me I don’t need to be an actress? Maybe I should be an assistant. I didn’t understand, but I become an assistant, a junior agent and then an agent for nine years. I took a detour. I learned everything that I needed to learn to be in this moment now, for sure, but it’s like watching your boyfriend take another woman out every week: “Have the greatest time. Good luck.” Yeah but I learned so much, everything that I needed to, and was able to be of service because it’s not all about me, my ego and what I want when I want it — when I should be successful. But all of these lessons I got to learn, that’s what so important.
Q: When did you switch, do the 180º?
CM: it wasn’t until the fourth season of “American Horror Story,” which I think was 2004. I went on an audition that my co-worker recommended. I said, “If you get me the audition, I’ll go.” I would get an audition maybe once or twice a year, not often. But, I went, booked the job and was like, “What? Okay” — which was great. I had a five-episode arc on an incredible series created and directed by Ryan Murphy. But then a year went by, and I went back to work. I had a taste of what I really wanted and was like, “How do I do this?” I’ll just have to take a leap of faith and step out. I said,”There’s a reason why this is happening. Trust in myself and believe in myself.” I was going to acting classes at night whenever I could, trying to put the work in and just sort of held on. That’s the true story, I had 81 cents in my bank account, when I booked “This is Us.” I had to borrow money to get to the audition.
Q: How emotional was it for you to film this?
CM: So emotional. This is a family’s real story and I really wanted to make sure that it was important and we honored their story because it’s so incredible.