Grace Unplugged: Finding God When We Least Expect It
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - At the tender age of 22, singer/actress AJ Michalka has already spent nearly a decade in the entertainment business. As one of half of the musical sister duo Aly & AJ (recently renamed 78violet), she has toured across America, acquiring many fans along the way. As an actress, she has acted in a Stephen Spielberg movie and even starred on the Disney stage and screen. Now, she is starring in Grace Unplugged.
As a Christian, Michalka is no stranger to the pressure and pitfalls that a teenager in the limelight must face on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. She has certainly been there and done that. That is why it is so fascinating that she portrays a Christian teenager who aspires to be a famous singer against the Godly advice of her parents in Grace Unplugged. Despite their best intentions, Michalka’s character, Grace, would rather forego the relative ease and comfort of being an ordinary teenager for the bright lights, big city of fame and notoriety. The result is potentially disastrous.
I recently sat down with Michalka to discuss how Grace Unplugged affected her own personal faith, her advice for teenagers who are running away from God, and her hope that the movie opens the door to better relationships between parent and child.
I have seen a lot of Christian movies come and go over the years but this movie has really left an impression on me. I guess it is due to the themes of grace and redemption at the heart of the movie. Is that what attracted you to this script?
I really connected with this script on a lot of levels. Usually as an actor, you kind of connect just because it’s a great piece for an actor. But for me, this is more personal, which I love; and I’m not able to do things all the time that really have personal meaning to me. This is the first film I’ve ever done that really served the Lord. I was ready for it. I’m 22, I love the Lord, and I want to be loud about it, and this is the movie I wanted to do. I’m honored to be a part of it. I feel like my character Grace is really relatable for any young girl growing up, whether she’s growing up in the church, in Hollywood, anywhere. I love her as a person, as a girl, and as a character. As an actor, it was definitely appealing knowing that I was going to be doing a lot in the film, whether it was music or working on the sound track, but for me I just felt it was so cool. I get to bring both of my talents to this movie. I get to play guitar. I get to play piano. I get to sing in it. And that was really a blessing for me, too. All in all, I really just wanted to do this movie, because for once God is the star.
In the movie, your character (Grace) is constantly being forced to compromise her faith for the sake of her music and career. Is this something you have had to face in your own musical career and secondly, what advice do you have for people who are being forced to into similar situations in their lives?
That’s definitely been a struggle. There are a lot of decisions that Aly (her sister and musical partner) and I are asked to make when it comes to film, when it comes to TV, when it comes to our next song; and musically, it really hasn’t been an issue, which I think is really cool, because we’ve always written our own material. It always comes from a place of being believers. But I feel like when it comes to acting, there are a lot of decisions that you can make that will really affect your career and affect you as a person when it comes to script material. Aly and I, and I always include her because we’re such a little pair, but I really feel like we’ve been given a gift of discernment and wisdom. I feel like a lot of that comes from our mom and our dad and just how we were raised, and a lot of it comes from our relationship with the Lord. There are a lot of choices you can make that will further your career or get you to a place quicker than other decisions will get you to. But I feel like if you’re not content and happy and feel good as a person, those things don’t matter. Status doesn’t matter; fame doesn’t matter. You have to be really, really grounded in who you are and feel good as a person inside. I feel like we’ve made really good decisions when it comes to not feeling comfortable with the material or not feeling comfortable with the script. I have found that you can make decisions that will really mold who you are as a person that are so important. You don’t have to compromise who you are as a young woman or as a young guy growing up in this industry or any industry for that matter. If God is first and you kind of center everything else around Him being the main focal point, you really can make decisions that will not only mold you, but God will see exactly how you’re making your decisions and then will bless you for it.
What role has Grace Unplugged played in your own personal faith?
I feel like it’s made me a stronger believer. You go and do these movies, you have a wonderful time, and you hope to be a light on set. But then when you’re in a movie where you‘re with likeminded people who love the Lord, who want to make a movie about the Lord, it really gives you this bump. Being with Brad Silverman (director) and Russ Rice (producer) every day and seeing how they treat their family, seeing how they treat their wives, seeing how they treat their kids, their friends, their fellow co-workers, it was really just a major, major example for me. I just feel even more locked in, centered. I really think it’s about the people you surround yourself with. Taking the time to do a movie like this with fellow believers really kind of gave me this growth spurt in the Lord, which was really cool.
Obviously, there are going to be a lot of young people, especially teenage girls, who are really going to identify with your character on a variety of levels. What advice do you have for these kids who are running away from God for whatever reason?
Don’t compromise. Don’t ever, ever compromise who you are, what you believe in, what has been instilled in you. I’m so excited that these young girls are going to relate to this, because I think we’re in need of a movie that really can inspire young women, and I feel like this film does that. For me, I feel it’s so great when we have these passions, goals and dreams, but we forget that those passions and dreams were instilled in us, because the Lord instilled them in us -- not just because we woke up one day and had this passion for something. If we put Him first and realize, “I can’t just consider this my dream. This is His dream through me.” If we realize that, and we don’t selfishly make these dreams our own and realize it’s because the Lord brought them to us, that’s when I feel we’ll be on a better path. Sometimes, people get so excited about, “I want to be a rock star. I want to be an athlete or I want to be this,” and really, it’s not really about “I, I, I,” it’s, “God, do you want me to do this? I feel like there’s a passion you’ve put inside me for this. How can I affect other people in this industry in a really positive way and shine a lot for you?” If we’re not shining a light and we’re just doing it for our purposes, or just because it’s fun, it’s not really enough. I just hope that young kids everywhere feel like they don’t have to compromise who they are to reach a certain level and that they don’t’ feel like they have to abandon who they are or where they come from just to get to a certain spot. I feel like you get to a certain spot on an even better term when you have your parents around you, when you have siblings around you, when you have your friends. That to me is when you’re really succeeding, because they are succeeding with you, and they want to cheer you on. When Grace starts experiencing fame and the accolades, she looks around and realizes, “I’m sharing this with no one. This is no fun.” When you have a dream or passion, you should feel comfortable to tell your parents, “This is something I really feel I want to do. Let’s pray on it. Let’s take this to church. Let’s start developing something.”
Final question, what is your greatest hope for Grace Unplugged?
I hope it really brings together families so that communication can really start rumbling. I always leave movies feeling entertained and maybe sad, depending on how the film wants me to feel, or I’ll feel really great coming out of the movie. But I don’t always feel like it opens up conversation, and for me I hope this movie opens up conversation between father and daughter or a mother and daughter or a son and dad. My hope is that this film opens up doors for relationships.
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