I had the privilege of meeting Jenn Gotzon at the Roanoke Arts and Entertainment Workshop and was excited to do my first ever Facebook instant message interview with her. She’s a delightful young woman with a God-loving heart who is truly impacting lives both on screen and in person.
When did you first discover a passion for acting?
I was 15-years-old when I started to get a passion that electrified my heart and soul after watching an inspirational movie in the movie theater. I’d walk out in tears and I’d pray nightly for the Lord to let me do that for other people… inspire them through movies.
Tell us about your first audition.
Naturally, the place to start when desiring to be an actor (living truthfully under imaginary circumstances) would be in your school play. I auditioned and thought I was brilliant (lol). Actually, I felt I did a decent job even though I struggled on line lifting (reading lines off the script while keeping your focus on who you are talking to). I showed up the next morning where they posted the audition notices… and my heart sank into my stomach when I didn’t make the cut. I cried and went home and prayed, “God if you want me to be an actor, please give me a sign.” All of a sudden a vision came on my heart to contact the local murder mystery dinner theater held in Allentown, Pennsylvania at The Ramada Inn. Through my sniffles and tears i asked when they were holding auditions. The sweet lady on the phone said, “We are auditioning right now for another thirty minutes.” I jumped in my car and zoooooomed…
Well, I would say that was certainly a sign. Don’t you love when God works that way?
I learned I was cast underage at age seventeen because they really liked my performance. That began my professional career journey where the Zarneckis, Kilfoils and Strubels took me under their arm and guided me as an actor. I performed in several murder mystery runs back to back from 1996 to 1998.
You then went on to study at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. What was the best advice you learned there as a student?
The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts was one of the best educational experiences EVERRRRR! Living in the Big Apple in an apartment with a balcony overlooking the Trade Center and studying in my blowup vinyl purple chair was amazing!
I learned so much from how to act, emote, work with cameras, edit, improv, character build, business and strategy, voice, and speech which I consistently use daily when I’m on set working.
If I had to pick one jewel of wisdom New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts sent me into the world with, it was the art of continuity (emotional, physical, & vocal) – oh, its hard to pick just one. Let me also add emotional preparation. They showed us when we draw on truthful past memories to create emotion, we lose creative control of the scene because our emotions become ‘affected’ (is what Richard Suthern explained it to be). I remember doing a scene and actually worked from a traumatic experience currently in my life where I was being stalked. When i brought that into the scene work, I lost control emotionally and the ART of the scene’s arc wasn’t clear. It was muddy. We as actors think if we cry, then we are good actors. I was told that by a teacher early in my journey and believed it (which is probably why I have such a heightened focus on emotional vulnerability and transparency in my work). But this is NOT true..
You gave that advice at the Roanoke Arts and Entertainment Conference and I felt that was very valuable because generally, that’s what people tell you to do. I like this approach a lot better.
To be a good actor is to be able to live truthfully the writer’s story, riding on imaginative impulses / creative clear choices which allows the audience to understand how you feel, and having an emotional transparency so they can feel what you feel. Then being able to take direction with deep comprehension from the director because the movie is his vision of telling the story, and we are used as paint to paint the moving picture
What a wonderful illustration!
Thanks, Sharon. Stanford Meisner explained how we can draw upon this formula. Take someone or something very important to us (we have emotional connection to) and CREATE something they say or do that would affect our emotional response. Our imagination (when we surrender to our analytical part of our brain) will believe it as truth and emotional response will be the result. Ideally, it’s then taking the given circumstances of the script and fully playing make believe like when we were kids and you will feel that heated breathing dragon on your neck, just like when we were youngsters ‘saving our friend in the tower from the fire eating dragon.
Fun! So what led to you involvement in faith-based films?
A few years ago I went through a death to self season – dying to my own will to follow whatever God’s will would be type of thing. (The book “The Dream Giver” nails this on the head) After winning best actress for “Julie and Jack”, living the dream, moving to LA, God said loudly in my soul, “What if I called you to be a missionary in Africa? Would you go?” And I said truthfully, “I’d rather die than go to Africa.” And then i realized, wow, God has been BLESSSSSING my career, but obviously i was missing the boat.. lol
I took a several month break off from acting to get my heart and priorities refocused. I started to work for Google before they went public and had 700+ employees. and Charlie was still the cook making insanely amazing desserts – lol. I worked in New Hires and was on a fun team researching what made Google’s culture so the nooglers (new hires) would best get acclimated into the company. I worked with an amazing lady named Rachel Lambert as her coordinator and she taught me a lot — ahh fond memories… Ok, back to the story about how I got into faith-based films…
I moved from Silicon Valley working for Google to Marina del Rey working for Google in Santa Monica. Then a friend said to me, “Why are you not pursuing acting, Jenn?” I remember saying, “I am pursuing. I’m submitting my headshot and building a branding campaign to help stand out against the gazzzilllion trilllion other gals that look identical to me in this town. (seriously, that’s what I said. lol) My husband jokes with me because I worked for two weeks on this film strip and the big decision factor was whether or not there should be a lens flair. So my friend, who was my husband’s best man in our wedding, Mick Wingert (who is the voice of Po in Kung Fu Panda tv series.. he was just cast a few years ago.. yay) said boldly to me, “Jenn, why are you not acting?” and I said that, and he said, “SIT DOWN AND SPEND QUIET TIME TALKING TO GOD AND ASK HIM FOR DIRECTION FOR YOUR ACTING CAREER.”
So I did, and during that time of several hours of tears, journaling and confessing to the Lord, He showed me He NEVER LEFT ME. It was me who turned away. He showed me He was right there next to me through all the challenges I faced. Then He said to my heart, “Why do you think I will leave you now? I want you to bring my light on screen”
When I heard the clarity of bringing God’s light on screen through the protagonist characters – emotionally complex characters who are broken, and in the climax of the story find hope, truth, revelation, then they have a change of heart and transition…
So that began my FOCUS on what films I wanted to pursue and pray to pursue films that: 1) inspire, or 2) impact, or 3) have redemption. I’m interested in excellent cinema that alllll audiences can enjoy, with a Christian world view, and inclusive to everyone’s heart strings. Faith-based movies fall under this category, and being a strong church go’er and follower of Jesus, it’s a nice fit, though my calling is movies like “The Blind Side” and “The Help”, big mainstream Oscar-awarded films because they are deemed excellent and touch/ impact / inspire everyone across the world.
So, how many films do you have coming out this year and next?
Let me count…
“Gods Country”, “Alone Yet Not Alone”, “Doonby”, “Dragon Day”, “Untouched” (festivals), “Right to Believe”, “September Skies” (tentative planned for this year, but keeps getting pushed), “The Screenwriters” (tentatively planned also). Six films definitely being released this year (including “God’s Country” which already released). “September Skies” and “The Screenwriters” may come out this year. If not, it will be next. Oh, and then the realllly super cool music video I just filmed (played the lead) will be out everywhere with potential grammy winning, new on the scene artist, Sean Guerrero. Moody Brother’s record label Lamon Records launches artists and will have Sean doing the big PR tour. Hopefully, he and his band will be on Letterman and evening talk shows. This was my first big music video and the character was right in line with my passion – broken who finds hope. The song is about losing a loved one and wrestling with hopelessness/suicidal thinking. Sean and his band LOVE LOVE LOVE Jesus and are strong Christians. Their music is made for mainstream audiences.
Wow! I know that many people in the Christian world are just now discovering you thanks to “I Am Gabriel” and “God’s Country”. Can’t wait to see how your career explodes once more people see you in action. So, anything I didn’t ask?
People can reach me at my Facebook public page www.facebook.com/jenngotzon.fanpage
and on Twitter www.twitter.com/jenngotzon.
and on my website with my reel www.JennGotzon.com/acting-demo-reel.htm
I love using my Facebook to help mentor people who have questions regarding acting or how to get plugged into Hollywood. My heart wants to pour back and encourage.
Oh, we can mention the program i’ve started called “Inspiring Audiences” where I travel to schools, churches and festivals using my movie star in as a platform to share my testimony of overcoming challenges to pursue my dream as an avenue to inspire the audience they too can think big and live their dreams. There’s a strategy Ishare that has helped me along my journey and have seen others incorporate it which has helped them take huge steps towards their dreams. Then I sign photos personalized to each person and find a way to match them up with a mentor. We’ve brought this program to 15+ schools in the New Orleans area to help build up the student morale especially after Hurricane Katrina devastated so many, and their families are still recovering. I’ve shared this program at churches and colleges in Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, and Washington, and always looking for more areas to use the movies as a ministry.
Oh, can we mention “Gods Country”, masterfully directed by my husband Chris Armstrong (soo proud of him!) is available everywhere across the country in stores? Blockbuster, Walmart, Target, Barnes & Nobles, Christian Family Book Stores, Amazon, and Netflix. This is his first feature film he’s directed.. and he did sooo good that the movie received wide distribution everywhere!!