An Interview with Rachel Spencer Hewitt: Rising Christian Actress

{By Ellery Sadler}

 

I do a quick Google search of Rachel Spencer Hewitt. She’s a beautiful brunette, she went to Yale School of Drama, she’s from Texas, and she stars in Return to the Hiding Place [which ranks as one of the most powerful, breathtaking movies I have ever seen].

But Google can’t tell you what an hour on the phone with her can. She has a rich, vulnerable voice and a beautiful laugh. I can almost see her smiling as I listen to her talk over the distant sound of the cars passing outside her window.

She has an amazing perspective on life and film and what it means to be a strong woman in today’s world.

It was so much fun to get to talk with her!!  So here is my interview with Rachel Spencer Hewitt.

 rachel spencer hewitt

Me: What is your favorite part of being an actress? What do you love about the business?

Rachel: I love what I do. It’s a lot of work – it’s active passion. And it requires a deep capacity for empathy. But it really increases your compassion for other people, learning to walk in their shoes, and being able to find and understand the heartbeat of the person you are playing, changes the way you view them.

It’s amazing to have people changed just by watching you, by watching your actions on the screen. It’s like the woman weeping at Jesus’s feet – everyone else saw the outside, the sinful life she lived, what she looked like – but He saw her from the inside. The other people were disconnected. He was connected.

And that’s what you have to be as an actor – you have to be able to see the inside of the person you are playing and then show that to the audience.

 

Me: What was it like playing Aty in Return to the Hiding Place?

Rachel: Aty is one of my favorite roles because she’s so strong and intelligent. She has such strong convictions and is completely unapologetic, and yet she is completely warm. It was really a dream come true to play her. And it was really informative – I changed. She influenced me.

 

Me: What is your favorite scene?

Rachel: When Aty protects the children and stands up to the Nazi. So many other people would have been intimidated, but she loves these children, and doesn’t hesitate to stand up to him on their behalf.

rachel spencer hewitt

 

Me: I know you played Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which is one of my favorite plays), do you think that she is similar to Aty?

Rachel: Oh yes, I love Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite playwrights! Well, I think there are actually a lot of parallels between Maggie & Aty. Maggie is a woman with a deep sense of conviction. She’s unable to be anyone but herself. And I love that she’s not a victim. She doesn’t have the victim mentality at all. And for me, fighting those battles for her every night on the stage was thrilling. Being so transparent and showing such raw emotion is both terrifying and empowering.

 

Me: Return to the Hiding Place is so powerful. Was it hard to play in such an intense movie?

Rachel: It’s very different than the stage, where the lights dim on the audience and you’re in your own world for two hours. In film you have to get to know the stakes and the situation so well that in that moment it’s all about what voice you are listening to. In the scene when the Nazis are coming to the orphanage – at that moment – it is real. When I got the call [and it wasn’t even Piet on the phone, it was the assistant director] my heart just dropped. It is about being present.

 

Me: Who is your favorite  Disney princess?

Rachel: Belle. Because she’s a brunette and her fist love was books. (I love books.) And  I also love Mulan because she got to be a soldier. She put herself in different shoes and that brings out your different strengths.

 

Me: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in/support independent Christian films?

Rachel: Get involved. However you can, wherever you can. Make your own films [try using just your iPod/iPhone] and practice your craft, so you get familiar with the process. I mean, when I was little, I made home movies with my siblings.

My brother would take a 8mm camcorder and his toy cars and tie dental floss to one and then pull it just off the camera to make it look like they were moving or crashing on their own.

 The point is: use what you have. It makes you creative.

And then get involved and get experience. Watch great movies so you know the difference between a great film and a good one.

 

Me: What do you think is the most important thing to remember when making a film?

Rachel: You need to have a standard of excellence. You have a message that matters, but the audience won’t realize that if you are throwing it in their faces. And tell your stories honestly. Tell the truth. Take your craft seriously. Excellence is a testimony: who are you working for?

 

rachel spencer hewitt return to the hiding place

Me: How does your faith impact your work? 

Rachel: It’s an every day kind of commitment for me. I think it’s meant to be that way. My convictions are so much clearer when I am walking humbly with my God, you know? And I don’t really think arbitrary rules work, without prayer they are just rules. If a film doesn’t satisfy your faith, how is that being honest about what life is really like? It is then just telling a surface story. And that won’t satisfy.

I have turned down auditions and parts because of my beliefs. I always ask what way are women and children treated in the film? I won’t play a part where women are just sexual accessories. I believe that is simply justified social abuse – it is the reduction of a person. And I don’t participate in it.

So, I always want to be part of a film or project that is excellent in quality and respects people – their grief, their joy, their pain – a film that tells the truth.

 

Me: What’s your latest project? What have you been doing recently?

Rachel: Well, I can’t say much about it yet, but my brother and I are working on a short film. And my part in the off-Broadway show Seagull just ended in November. So I’ve been focused on auditions now, since it’s pilot season.

 

Me: Your dad made Return to the Hiding Place, tell me about that?

Rachel: Yes! My dad met the real Hans a long time ago, and Hans became sort of a spiritual mentor to him. So my dad heard his stories and read his book and asked if he could have the rights to the movie. Hans said yes, and for almost two decades my dad has been working on this film. There is so much blood, sweat, and tears in this movie – it is really a passion project.

 

Me: What would you like to be remembered for?

Rachel: For having a legacy of great work, for being someone completely true to their faith in a way that makes my work real, to love Jesus so dearly that everything I do exudes excellence and truth. To love with everything that I am.

 

Me: What is your favorite movie??

Rachel: Oh my goodness, that is such a hard question! I love World War Two movies. And my favorite movies are ones that you remember after the credits role, a film that makes you listen. Some of my favorites are Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, Roman Holiday, Rope, the Pianist – I could go on forever!

 

Me: Who do you like better, Marlon Brando or Paul Newman?

Rachel: That’s really hard … artistically, Marlon Brando. I think he was a genius. And I love his quotes about Marilyn Monroe, and how he hated the way Hollywood turned her into a sex symbol. And I love his quotes about being unafraid. As a person, I admire Paul Newman.

“Marilyn was a sensitive, misunderstood person, much more perceptive than was generally assumed. She had been beaten down, but had a strong emotional intelligence — a keen intuition for the feelings of others, the most refined type of intelligence.” Marlon Brando

  

Me: Do you think film reflects or directs the culture?

Rachel: I think it’s a circular effect. The art of film is such an important medium – I think it is the modern day parable. It reflects the culture because it is an outpouring of the heart. But the outpouring of one heart is the inpouring of another. So what you create reflects, once your work is out there, it directs.

That is why you really need a high standard for yourself and your craft, because people are listening. A sermon can be powerful, but it is often more powerful as a parable.

And be honest. The war of good and evil happens in the hearts of men and women. Without the honesty, redemption isn’t necessary. Perfect lives aren’t real, so Christian film needs to portray what is real. And who was more in touch with human hurt that Jesus Christ?

At the same time, my brother once said that he didn’t believe in sub-genre categories of film. I asked him what he meant, and he said “Christian Film” – the distinction – it should just be a great film. As we talked further, I agreed with him. Make a great film. Choose a great story. Pursue excellence.

The status of Christian or not is determined by the heart of the artist crafting it.

Again, it’s the outpouring of the heart.

 

Me: What advice would you give about living life to the fullest?

Rachel: Embrace everything. And realize that He is fulfilling His promise; He didn’t promise us the happiest or easiest life but the fullest and most abundant life. Grab the hands of sorrow and pain as trusting as you grab joy and blessings.

Sometimes I think we are so busy writing our story that we miss the people around us who should be part of it. Slow down and enjoy life.

rachel spencer hewitt

 

Me: Return to the Hiding Place seemed so real, was it hard to act?

Rachel: When I first heard the story, I just wanted to know who are these kids that refused to lie down low and went to the frontline? When I cry at the end of the movie, it is because it is real. It is true. It’s at Piet’s words; he’s saying “Don’t be sad for me. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve been saved.”

I was talking to my dad the other day, frustrated by a story I’m trying to write. And he sent me a half page treatment – a half page – and it made me cry. And I asked him, how do you find such great stories? Sometimes writers stumble on genius, of course, but I think what he said is true.

“The truth is that I’ve lived long enough to find them.”

 

Be brave enough to go out and live and find great stories.

Click here to see Return to the Hiding Place on Facebook. Click here to visit their website. 

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