Where Hope Grows uses an incredible cast to tell an dynamic, unique story.
McKaley Miller and Billy Zabka are co-stars and powerhouses of acting talent. Having starred in many of today’s most popular TV shows, including The Hart of Dixie and Wizards of Waverly Place, Miller is a young actress with emotional depth beyond her years. Meanwhile, Billy Zabka – of Karate Kid, Back to School, and European Vacation fame – is an Academy Award winner that brings a quality of strength and courage to his role.
Written and directed by Chris Dowling, Where Hope Grows tackles difficult thematic elements authentically and with grace. This family film which delves into gritty areas will challenge and inspire audiences. Sonoma Christian Home had the opportunity recently to sit down with both Billy Zabka and McKaley Miller. SCH Editor at Large Dawn Gregg reports.
SCH: Billy, how did get involved with this film?
BZ: Chris is a good buddy of mine. I’ve known him for a long time. He was already in Kentucky casting when I got a call out of the blue. He said, “Hey, I’ve got a part for you” and he sent me the script. It’s refreshing to get a screenplay that you’re completely invested in and your heart pounds when you’re turning the pages. It’s rare when that happens. Generally, you’re lucky just to get a job. But, if you can read something that you’re connected to, something that’s moving you…at the end of the script I said, “Wow! I have to be in this film.” I called Chris and said, “I’d love to do it. “
SCH: What was it about the screenplay that touched you?
BZ: It was Chris’s writing, the story, the themes, the tone, and the idea that it was a family film. It isn’t “on the nose.” It isn’t “preachy.” It’s truthful. It deals with real issues.
SCH: McKaley, you have a great scene where you tell your dad, who is going though a very difficult time, how disappointed you are in him. In it, roles are reversed. You are playing “the adult” in the home.
MM: I think it’s a very important story to tell. After a screening, a young girl came up to me and told me she is living through the same experience that my character, Katie lives through. It’s a very relatable scenario, the child taking on the role of parent. I loved getting to play this character. It was challenging for me as an actress. And fun.
SCH: Sometimes when we work on projects we learn lessons that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Is there anything that you carry with you, a life lesson, from the Where Hope Grows set?
MM: I definitely learned not to have preconceived ideas about individuals. My eyes were opened to the fact that we should never pre-judge anyone.
BZ: I agree. Down syndrome does not define David who plays the character of Produce. David set the bar. His energy is great. He was always prepared and fun and ready to go. He was focused on set. Nobody was sitting around waiting for David. If anything, it was the other way around.
MM: He had all his stuff prepared and memorized. He’s such an entertainer and is always telling jokes. Acting comes so naturally to him. This is his first acting job ever!
BZ: David developed an arc for his character. He wasn’t just saying his lines and going though the motions. He had a vision for Produce.
SCH: I think there are a lot of scenarios in the film that will cause viewers to think. The overuse of alcohol is addressed. Bullying is addressed. McKaley, your character is a teen-aged girl with an abusive boyfriend.
MM: Yes. It’s such an important film with so many important messages. Everyone will be able to take something away from this film.
SCH: Billy, your character, Milt isn’t really a good guy but he isn’t really a bad guy either. He’s very complex.
BZ: I’m glad you noticed his complexity. My character appears to have it all. He’s got a beautiful wife and kids but he’s in trouble at work. He’s in the bottle. He’s neglecting his wife. His wife is having an emotional affair. As an actor you want to be liked, or at least relatable. When my character uses the “r” word (which was banned on set btw) it put me in a very vulnerable position. My character is misinformed. Hanging onto that truth was the key which allowed me to experience some of the character’s darker places.
SCH: Although flawed, Milt is a good truth-telling friend to Calvin. It’s as if once he knows better, he does better.
BZ: Yes. I agree.
SCH: Have you had a moment of faith that changed your life? Maybe a moment where you found yourself without hope and then were moved into a place of hope?
BZ: That’s my life story. I’m not ashamed. I am a Christian. God’s brought me though many, many, many things. Without Him, I wouldn’t be here right now.
SCH: This faith-based film seems like it has the possibility to cross over to secular audiences.
BZ: It’s a real people, real life story. It’s a film that tells the truth.
SCH: What do you say to Christians who might take issue with some of the film’s themes? Or maybe even reject it? Is a reality check in order?
BZ: Well, Christian films have been served up on a certain platter for so long. There’s a certain formula and it works the choir. It’s going to appeal to them and they are going to watch those films all day long. And then, there’s the people of the world who are never going to step inside a church. With this film, those people can watch a movie and not feel as if they have to have their defenses up. Where Hope Grows is a tool. It’s art and it has the power to influence. I think we do a disservice by candy coating faith. God gets into the dirty places.
SCH: I applaud you both for the characters you brought to life so authentically. Well done!
BZ/MM: Thank you! Spread the word.
SCH: We sure will.
Where Hope Grows opens in theaters May 15th. The film will plant seeds, nurture seeds already planted, or produce a harvest as the Lord sees fit.