By Marilette Sanchez
Clayton and Keeley are my good friends and a married couple whom I admire greatly. Both are working models and actors based in New York City, who happen to be Christians. It is an incredible privilege to know such strong followers of Christ who take seriously their mission to be God’s salt and light in the entertainment industry. In Part 1 of their interview, they share with me how they met, how they choose roles, and how they deal with critics, especially in the Christian community.
Part 2 >> Read Interview Here.
Part 3 >> Read Interview Here.
MS - Marilette Sanchez
KM - Keeley
CJ - Clayton
MS: How did you get started with ‘Transform Arts’ (A community of artists who seek to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith and culture)?
KM: I went to a seminar at a Winter Conference (a Cru-sponsored annual conference for college students), which we still do, we put on these seminars. But my prayer through college had been that I would find some way of going into ministry and being an actor at the same time, without having to do Christian theater. Christian theater is great, but I felt really called to the lost. The lost are not in Christian theater, there are very few non-believers. I got my BFA in acting in college, but I’d also done some project with Cru, so I was really pulled in both directions. At this winter conference, I got connected with Leigh Ann (Director of Transform Arts) and she told me she was going to start this residency in New York City for those who want to pursue their art professionally.
MS: How did you and Clayton meet?
CJ: We met…
KM: At a party…
CJ: At a party.
KM: At like a party that my friend from church was throwing.
CJ: I came with my best friend–
KM: No one at the party knew them–
CJ: We didn’t know anyone at the party
KM: They were invited just by someone.
CJ: And everyone thought that we were heavily intoxicated because of our sick dance moves that we were laying down.
MS: Was that your thought, Keeley?
KM: Yes. I was like those guys are either really weird or had one too many–
CJ: Or intoxicated. We were not intoxicated, we were just dancing like we were. Drunk on the Spirit, I don’t know. So yeah, we met that night. The next day we did an improv thing that Trinity Grace Church put on and then we were friends for about 6 months. So there wasn’t like instant chemistry or–
KM: I said, “Of all my friends, the only one I will not date is Clayton Jones.”
MS: Oh my goodness, that’s awesome.
KM: And now we’re married. Never say never.
MS: Moses and I kind of started out like that. We met at an after-school discussion group with the high school ministry as college students. And I was like he’s too welcoming. [Clayton laughs.] I just wanted to blend in, I was a new person. And he was like, “Oh are you okay? Do you have everything you need?”
CJ: “Leave me alone.”
MS: Yeah, yeah. It definitely grew from friendship. I like those love stories way better.
KM: I think they make for really good marriages.
MS: Like foundational.
MS: When it starts off fiery and intense, it dies out.
CJ: Yeah, we have a lot of friends who have met at like parties and have had these like passionate…
CJ: …flings. One of the things I notice is that once they get into a relationship and start trying to do the day-to-day stuff, they are not friends. They wouldn’t be friends in real life.
MS: Exactly. On the blog The Blaze, Matt Walsh, he’s a Christian blogger, wrote about Nicholas Sparks separating from his wife.
KM: I saw that blog.
MS: He wrote that it’s not a shocker because the romance books and movies he puts out, they’re not real love, they’re just fake, chick flick love. It’s crazy how many people buy into that lie and then they get married and then they get divorced.
CJ: We talk about how single girls that get together in the church and watch the Bachelor and then you hear them talk about that.
KM: Have you ever been around girls who have watched that? I have friends that will watch it and afterward they will talk about what they want in their guy. It’s like they feel like they can hand pick these things. I’ve watched it one time and it made me have anxiety, thinking, “This is so unhealthy.”
MS: Besides the fact that he’s dating all of these women at the same time. How realistic is that?
CJ: What girl would put up with that? Why would you allow yourself to be treated like that? I feel like it’s just a glamorized version of being mistreated. It’s like a show about women being disrespected by a guy. Disrespecting 50 women at one time.
MS: When you act, how do you pick your roles, being a Christian, but also wanting to interact with nonbelievers?
KM: With actors, a lot of time, we don’t pick our roles. A big prayer in the Christian acting community is for good writers to come along that write really great characters and have good material. Something that is important for me, not necessarily in a character but in a show, is seeing redemption in it because I tell people all the time that in order to see good and to see truth and to see beauty, you have to see evil. I think where a lot of Christian films–why they don’t feel the best quality is because they don’t honestly portray life. And life is messy. In life sometimes people cuss. And sometimes people have sex before they should. And all these different things. Something that is really important to me is that at the end, there is a picture of redemption, that there is this reflection of Christ. A lot of people think in order for people to understand God, you have to like blatantly put it in a film or in a play. But I think that God’s bigger than that. I think that when something is beautiful and when there’s redemption in something, it reflects him. It’s kind of role by role. I don’t have, “these are the things, well, I have a few things, that I am not going to do this.”
CJ: But all actors have that.
CJ: Christian or not, there are certain things that people are comfortable with and there are some things that i’m comfortable with that some non-Christians are not comfortable with. You know, there are things I’m comfortable with that most girls aren’t comfortable with.
KM: Like, he doesn’t have a problem being in his underwear onstage. But I have a problem being in my underwear onstage.
CJ: I remember when I moved here [to New York], my dad was like you need to figure out what you will and won’t do because otherwise you are going to get this offer and it’s going to be for the money and the fame, and you are going to compromise what you believe. And I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out what I will and won’t do. And I had a friend here in the city and I was kind of talking about it. There were two things he told me that were really freeing. He said, “Clayton, your spiritual demise is not going to occur on stage. You getting into sin and trouble, it might have something to do with the people you are in a show with, but that’s not where your spiritual demise is. Your spiritual demise is going to come in stepping out of community, and stepping out of the Word, and stepping out of your time with the Lord.” That just gave me a lot of freedom in like I don’t have to decide, this is what I will and won’t do. I just have to seek the Lord continually.
I’ve turned down roles before based on where I was in a season of life and there was a lack of redemptive quality. There was a show that I felt glorified prostitution romance, [and I turned it down].
KM: They were going to offer him his Actor’s Equity card, which is a big deal in the industry.
MS: What is that?
CJ: It’s like the union, the actor’s union, so you get a lot of benefits.
KM: They kept coming back to him over and over again.
CJ: Part of it was where I was at that stage of life.
KM: Just like if one of us was offered a role and we were struggling in our marriage at that time and that role required us to make out with another actor on stage…
CJ: We’ve been asked about kissing a lot. And I was in shows in college where I remember I kissed a girl 6 or 7 years younger than me in a show and I kissed a woman that was 20 years older than me and married with kids in a show. I always tell people that I could see my grandmother in the front row–it’s not like a romantic experience. But a lot of actors you see in television, who play romantic interests develop romantic interests and that’s partly because of the way God designed things. In marriage, you don’t have to actually feel love. But if you act in love, the feelings will come. C. S. Lewis has a quote about fake it until you make it. If you pretend, and I think he talks about it with the Lord, if you don’t feel like being a Christian, if you act like a Christian, feelings will follow. And that’s a great thing in marriage. Even if I don’t want to love Keeley, I can do things that are loving and the feeling will come. The danger in acting is that you’re doing loving things in a non-real environment, so sometimes those feelings come. I don’t think a lot of people realize that–what they are getting into.
Right now, we are honeymooners, we are so in love, and [it feels like] nothing could ever end our love. If I got cast in a show and had to kiss some other girl, it would be something that we talked about and we would check in about. If it became a problem, we would deal with it. 10 years down the road, when we have two kids and we’re struggling and things are off, and we’re going through counseling, then that might be a different decision at that point.
MS: Have you ever done a role in the past where your Christian friends have said “you shouldn’t have done that, that’s not ‘Christian’ enough?”
KM: So, I grew up in a Christian school, and a lot of the shows I did growing up were very clean. Then I went to college, I went to Texas State University, which is a pretty liberal school–it’s really close to Austin and most of their theatre pushes boundaries. So I pretty much played a prostitute in everything I did, but God really protected me. I never had to do anything on stage that I wasn’t comfortable with. I was really involved with Cru in college–they were super supportive community. [It was a blessing] because I had Christian friends who were in theater and their community was not supportive of them at all. I would talk through my process with people. In college, I approached directors about certain things in a script that I wasn’t comfortable with and some of them worked with me, which was great. I would tell our Cru director, “You should come to this show, but don’t bring your children. This is not appropriate for a kid to come see, but I would love for you to come.” And they did. I never really received any flack.
CJ: When she was [raising money from individual donors to take up residency in New York], she had someone say, “Why would you want to be around those people?” Kind of like actors and New Yorkers are these dirty, vile–it’s kind of seen as this vile city.
KM: My parents have gotten a lot of flack for letting me study acting or go to that school or move to New York. My parents have always been really good at trusting the Lord, trusting that they have raised me right. They are confident in that.
CJ: A lot of that [criticism from Christians] comes from fear.
KM: It’s really important to me that my [donors] really know what it’s like–I’m not in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”–that’s not the kind of stuff that I will probably be in.
MS: What about you, Clayton?
CJ: Similar experience. I’ve always had really supportive community and the theater that I did shows in college had a lot of believers in it. The married woman that I kissed in one of the shows was a worship leader at one of the churches in town. I talked to her husband about it a little bit.
KM: We both started in really safe, nurturing environments when it comes to acting, which is important.
CJ: The woman’s husband, who is not involved in theater at all, he gave me some advice. He said Clayton, “I love my wife every day and I am never scared when she walks out the door or when I walk out the door.” They trust each other. They know where their relationship stands. I think that’s just stuck with me. That was a situation where I think Christians could have been like, “You’re kissing a married woman. Kirk Cameron will only kiss his wife in a movie.” And that’s great. You’re Kirk Cameron, you have the ability to set those terms with the royalties from your 80s T.V. show. I thought that was really cool because that was a situation where people could say something. That was something that happened 6 years ago before I was married, before I was dating Keeley. And he was able to mentor me in a small way, say something that stuck with me. I’ve had guys from our church approach me about their girlfriends or wives that are actresses and they have a real problem with it. It’s been a great opportunity to walk through them with that, and [to help them] realize what’s going on and not make more of it than it is, and not make less of it than it is.
We both have really supportive communities. I don’t think our generation is in the “boycott Disney” group. I think our parents’ generation of believers had more a separatist mindset. I don’t think that’s what our generation of believers is like.
Want more of Clayton and Keeley? Be sure to read Part 2 here. Stay tuned in the coming days for the last of their interview. In the meantime, enjoy them being featured on the TODAY Show earlier this year.
Part 2 >> Read Interview Here.
Part 3 >> Read Interview Here.