By Marilette Sanchez
Photo by Bekah Pillmore
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 also 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.
If you missed Part 1 of their interview, be sure to read that here. This is Part 2, where they share with me how they practically minister to their cast and crew on set, how God is moving in Hollywood, and their advice to aspiring Christian actors.
Part 1 >> Read Interview Here.
Part 3 >> Read Interview Here.
MS: Have you kept up with the career of rapper Lecrae at all?
CJ; Lecrae actually just did a film with one of our friends.
KM: Have you heard of the film “Believe Me”?
MS: I watched it.
KM: We know all the guys who made it.
CJ: They do such a great job–their desire was to create a good film. One of the things I talked to them about afterwards was “What’s the next project? Do you think you’ll make another film about faith?”
They said, “We realized on set that our ministry is more the people who are on set that we are working with, the people who are holding the boom mic.”
We talk about that. What you create is important and there is a standard in that, but most of our actual ministry is the people that we are working with in the shows.
KM: Our heart is for our cast. And not necessarily for our audience. And Christian theater is more for the audience and you are trying to get a message across. We went to the premiere [of “Believe Me”] and all the actors came to the New York premiere. It’s probably the smallest project they have ever worked on. One of them is in Glee, one of them plays the older brother in Unbroken. And they said, “This is the most life-changing, best project I’ve ever worked on.” It was 17 days long.
CJ: You know it was low budget?
MS: It didn’t look low budget at all.
CJ: It was well done and it was work. They were working long hours and long shoots.
MS: I had a small viewing at my house. I was excited because I thought people are going to think this is like Saved, the Mandy Moore movie. I said, “No, it looks different.” It was good.
KM: When those actors said that, I was like “That is what I want to do.”
CJ: The main actor said, “This is the best film experience that I’ve ever been a part of.” And it was after he had worked with Angelina Jolie.
MS: That’s crazy.
KM: How incredible is that? There’s so much power in that because that is where the change in Hollywood is going to happen. It’s going to happen through believers being on set and just loving people.
Like the whole thing with Shia Labeouf. That producer [David Ayer] is a well-known believer in the industry and he obviously has a heart for the people are in his films.
CJ: People see “Fury” and all I hear about Fury is [the use of] the ‘F’ Word.
KM: We think that’s the way that change is going to happen in the entertainment community. And it is. That is happening. People are coming to know Christ. You just have to be very careful about how you publicize it. We have to be careful, even with stuff like this.
For instance, Clayton has written a blog, a director saw it and didn’t want to cast him in something because he is a Christian. And so, I’ve had to tell people, ‘Please don’t use my whole name in things because people look me up.” It’s just so interesting with being a Christian. You have to be wise about how you do it.
CJ: There are a lot of Christians in the industry. There are a lot of Christians in theater in New York and in Hollywood. But you have to be wise about how you express that because, like anything, you can get pigeonholed into a certain thing. Christian or not–especially for actors–certain actors get pigeonholed, like Sandra Bullock doing RomComs for years until she forced her way out of that into more substantial roles. Or Matthew McConaughey. It’s hard to not get labeled. As an actor, you have to do as much as you can to keep your options open.
MS: I just think of Bieber and the Jonas Brothers. People overemphasize that they are Christians and then they have all this unnecessary pressure. Beside the fact that they were just kids; they didn’t know who they were yet. They weren’t established in their values. I always pray for them. It’s hard they have all this pressure. You are going to want to break out of that.
KM: It’s scary for an actor because when you [are vocal about your faith], the Christian community want to make you their superstar and spokesperson. That’s not what I came here to do, to be the world’s spokesperson on this.
CJ: Certain actors, like Kirk Cameron has done that and he does Christian films that only Christians watch.
KM: But other people would not cast him.
CJ: You have other people that are not “subversive.”
KM: Like Liam Neeson, if you pay close attention, he’s a believer. Once you know that and you see the roles that he picks, you can realize it. He’s a part of a lot of redemptive films.
CJ: There are Christians in Hollywood that are actors that have a desire to be subversive, in a good way, who say, “We want to bring good to the things that we do and to do that, you can’t be overt.”
KM: And I think that’s how Jesus came. Jesus did not come in this overt way where he was lording it, he did not come like a king. He came and he traveled from town to town and he got to know people and he told them stories and told them who he was. If Jesus wanted to, he could have just descended from heaven and said something from a cloud to everyone. But he chose to come as a servant. I think that’s the best way to change something or to see renewal in something, is to have the mentality of “I’m a servant.” I’m not going to come in with bells ringing and whistles blowing and announce to the world that “I’m here to do this, to save this industry.” I think it scares them.
CJ: You see that in anyone who is trying to good and most people who are trying to do good. We were just watching the TV show Friday Night Lights and the whole episode was about these white people trying to come in to like help the black neighborhood, and how they had this agenda. The African-American community was like, “You can’t come in here with an agenda–people see right through that. If you want to come, you need to actually help.” They had a football game and they they had the team play this team. I think racially that comes up a lot where it’s “we’re going to help this race.”
MS: It comes across as superior.
KM: Even if your heart isn’t that way, that’s how it comes across. As believers, sometimes we have a hard time understanding that because we know that what we believe is true but to other people it comes across as an agenda.
CJ: Everyone has an agenda.
KM: Everyone in Hollywood has an agenda. Every movie has an agenda.
CJ: Every movie has an agenda, it’s just if your agenda is in vogue or not in vogue. I think there’s a negative connotation with having an agenda.
KM: Look at the Oscar nominations from this year, a lot of them have to do with social rights issues, whether it’s gay rights or civil rights–everything is pretty much about the underdogs of society right now. That’s just a theme. And Christians are not seen as the underdogs still, even though in a lot of ways, we really are. We are really persecuted.
MS: What would you say to an aspiring actor who does not have as supportive a community as you do? What would you do to encourage them to keep going with their craft?
KM: That makes me really sad because I’ve met a lot of actors who have said “The church I grew up in or the family or the school, they just think I’m doing the worst thing.” Everyone in my life is always so supportive of what I did: my church, my Christian school and they still are.
A big thing I like to talk about is that God has created us with purpose, and the passions that he has placed in us are with purpose. If you feel deeply that this is something that you love to do then there’s a reason that God put that in you. He wants to use you. Everything is redemptive. Nothing is secular, everything is sacred. I think a big lie that the enemy lets the Christian community believe is that there are no Christians in New York, there are no Christians in the entertainment industry, there are no Christian actors, and that is just not true. I came here to New York–I’ve never known so many Christians in the industry as I have here. And I grew up in Texas, which has a thriving community. God is doing really cool things there.
A lot of people don’t pursue their career out of fear of what their parents or community will say. But I remember when all the Miley Cyrus stuff was happening how the Christian community was like, “This is what’s wrong with entertainment and the world” and all this kind of stuff.
I said my prayer is that parents in the Christian community who have little girls who love to sing would see that and go, “I hope that my daughter goes into that industry because Miley Cyrus needs friends. She needs community and she needs accountability. I’m going to raise my daughter in the right way and I’m going to pray over her life and her faith that the Lord will raise her up and that she will have success in that arena.” That’s the thing with a lot of those child stars that just don’t know. And they don’t have this community around them that has true wisdom.
We should see those things and not want to run away from it but run towards it. Those people are hurting and they are in pain. That is why people do stupid things. It’s because of sin and pain and hurt. The reason that the Lord has not just called us to be Christian but to be followers of him and be his disciples is to go into those dark places. We need more workers in the field. It’s a growing industry. And Clayton and I really think that God is doing something really cool.
CJ: I would also tell [aspiring actors] to be excellent, to seek excellence because that will, like we talked about with service, earn you respect and options. A lot of acting is being in the right place at the right time. We can trust that the Lord’s hand is in that. Acting is not something where you can work hard and you are excellent, the reward is guaranteed. It’s not something that you can work really hard and put in extra hours and automatically get a promotion. It requires a lot of faith. But regardless of success, which shouldn’t be your desire anyway, if you are excellent and if you are serving the industry, you will have respect from Christians and non-Christians.
KM: Christians–we should be the best at what we do. I mean we have the power of the Creator inside of us. Back a couple hundred years ago, Christians were the best at everything–the best painters, the best sculptors–everyone who was the best was a Christian. And I think sometimes we take advantage of grace: “Well, you know, God will just take care of it, so I’ll just kind of float,” which I’m guilty of time and time again. As believers, we should be making the most excellent work to where you do something in the industry and people find out you are a Christian, they’re like, “Okay, that changed my perspective on everything.”
Want more of Clayton and Keeley? Stay tuned in the coming days for the last part of their interview. In the meantime, check out photos from their proposal / surprise engagement featured on “Inspired By This.”
Part 1 >> Read Interview Here.
Part 3 >> Read Interview Here.