I’m often approached by parents of children and teens worried because their children are wanting to break into the entertainment industry. The parents wonder if it’s possible to maintain Christian values while working in a very secular industry. I guide them as best as I can, but now I’m excited to be able to share Jeannie Garcia’s first hand account of the struggles she faced as a professional model and actress and how she ultimately dealt with it.
Welcome to Faith Flix, Jeannie. Let’s start by sharing a little about your childhood and how that affected your career later on.
I grew up in a very loving home. My parents thought I was perfect and I felt very secure with them. It was in Elementary school that I became aware of my “flaws”. Although, I was always one of the youngest of the class, I was still one of the tallest. I was also very skinny and not very stylish as we didn’t have the means to follow the latest trends. The names that I heard and began to identify with were Giraffe, Bean Pole, Flamingo, Olive Oil, Gumby, Great Dane, etc. My schoolmates would say things like, “You’re so flat the walls are jealous.”
Entering Middle School, those names and insults had taken root and sprouted into paralyzing self-consciousness. Paralyzing, because as good of a dancer as I had become, I refused to audition for the dance team. I did not want to be seen in a tight leotard in front of my peers, especially since other girls had already developed. So, I walked around in Miami’s hottest school days wearing an over-sized jacket from my brother’s closet to hide my body.
How did you get into modeling and acting?
I’ve never asked my parents what made them sign me up for modeling school at age 14, but surely my height and build qualified me to be a model. I was suddenly accepted for how I looked and my future as a model looked promising. I became more confident and the ugly duckling began transforming into a Swan.
I was scouted by a woman who took me to one of the biggest agencies in Miami Beach. I was now a professional model, desired by many. I walked the runway for top designers such as Chanel, Ferragamo, Escada, Oscar de la Renta, and many more. I graced the covers of a few magazines. I worked on independent and big budget films. I even had the opportunity of being directed by Oliver Stone. My looks provided this career and lifestyle, so I worked hard at maintaining my image portrayed in photoshopped photography and freshly groomed fashion shows. I was a physically beautiful woman and used my looks to get what I wanted. My self-esteem depended on how much attention I could get from others.
What was it like modeling for magazines and top designers?
My brother, who is 2 years older than me, was taking the wrong path at this time and found himself out of work. I suggested that he become a model, being that he too was very good-looking. I placed him with an agency and he joined me in this world of “glamour”. We had access to all that South Beach had to offer. It really is a fantasy world when going out, eating, drinking, traveling, etc. was always someone else’s expense but ours. Some of it was work related, and some of it was just because we were beautiful. That truly was a privileged life.
We spent most of our days at our friend’s apartment, which was next to a pizza parlor. Every time we would go for pizza, the pizza guy would talk to us about Jesus. My brother was not interested, and I thought I knew God, being that I had grown up in the Catholic Church.
A couple of years passed and my brother finally accepted Christ at that very place. I witnessed how God almost instantly took away the drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity, and gave him a new life. I would sit on the sofa as he would listen to worship music and I would fight the tears out of pride. The lyrics would say, in Spanish, “Renew my heart, Jesus I pray. I no longer want to be the same. Renew my heart, Jesus I pray. Will you replace my heart with yours?” I struggled with not wanting to give up my life, but I wanted God SO bad. I would raise my hand in church when they would ask if someone wanted to accept God, but then I wouldn’t confess my surrender because I felt like I had to give up that life to allow God in. I don’t have “that day” that so many people speak of, even though my brother said he saw it happen while I was on the couch. God certainly knows the moment that I let Him in because all of those desires disappeared and I began to love what He loves and despise what He despises. I no longer had that emptiness that for so long lead me into the arms of unfulfilling temporal joys.
What happened when you got saved?
Being a new creation in that industry, I began to encounter some difficulties. I was at the peak of my career, having just shot for Maxim magazine and now I no longer thought it was ok to wear a low-cut or transparent dress. I didn’t want an acting job where I had to kiss a man who is not my husband. I didn’t want to offer my talents to promote ideals that go against God’s word. my change in image was so drastic that I found myself completely disinterested in the uphill battle. I decided to just walk away.
Walking with God, I have discovered the kind of beauty that cannot be created nor destroyed by the physical world. I surrendered my looks to God and continue to ask Him to guard my heart as I continue my journey into true womanhood. I do not want to be defined by how I look, but by who is Lord of my life. He is Jesus, the ONE who accepted me, the ONE in whom I found my true identity and purpose, the ONE who loved me before I loved myself, the ONE who gives me beauty that lasts forever.
Now, all of those years of being a dancer, model, actress, singer, etc. have served to equip me for the greater things that God has planned. Living each day as a child of God, I offer my dreams and God-given talent to draw others nearer to Him.
How did you get back in the industry?
For years, I focused solely on God, serving my husband, and raising my two beautiful girls. Then one day God sent a voice which said, “Follow your dreams.” It was very early one morning while I was in bed and the voice was quite vivid. I had never experienced anything like that, but I thought nothing of it. A day or two later, I was painting a mural in my daughter’s bedroom. I had the radio on and a commercial spoke to me once again when I heard the words “modeling and acting for Christ”. It was the first time that I had heard this commercial. I still shrugged it off until I went to an auto shop for service and spoke with a great man of faith. He saw a book in my car and told me about a book that he was reading. It was about praying over our greatest dreams. He asked me what my dream was. My dream remained on the altar of sacrifice, so I said nothing. However, when he said these words, “When I see you I see lights,” I began to weep as the Holy Spirit confirmed that, indeed, God had better plans for the talents that He blessed me with.
I immediately testified to my friends that God was calling me back to the industry, but I still did not know how, when, where, etc. Within days, I was told about an audition located on the same street as the auto shop. It was for a feature film called Open My Eyes (Available on Amazon Prime) in which I was cast as lead. I remember sobbing out of sheer gratitude to God who is so faithful. I had the pleasure of performing three of my songs for the film, one of which I specifically wrote as the theme song titled Open My Eyes. The other two songs, along with a few others, had only existed on the pages of a journal. God decided to bring my music to life as well.
Tell us about Open My Eyes.
The film is about a photographer who lost his eyesight due to an accident. (My uncle had just lost his eyesight due to an accident. More of God’s confirmation that He had called me back to the industry.) The photographer, Paul Sanders, has a passion for beauty – especially beautiful women. But in his spiritual blindness, he admires only the creation and not the creator. When Paul becomes physically blinded in a freak accident, he is forced to reconsider what true beauty means – and where it comes from. A film of faith and forgiveness, “Open My Eyes” proves that even the hardest hearts can be turned and that broken lives can be healed if only we are willing to believe.
What’s the biggest challenge that Christian actors must face?
The biggest challenge that a Christian has in the secular film industry is finding a role that ultimately does not go against God’s will. Even “family” programming, in my opinion, is often times inappropriate. We must be very wise, listening to God’s promptings on what jobs to accept or decline. For example, after expressing my beliefs to a very successful Hollywood producer, I was told that I would have to cut down the amount of stipulations if I want to get anywhere. Mainly, because there are countless others who are just as/or more attractive and/or just as/or more talented who are willing to do anything for a role. I can’t compete with that, but nothing can stop God’s plan for my life.
What can actors do to stay busy without compromising their faith?
In order for a Christian to stay busy as an actor, I would suggest finding an agent or manager who really understands and is sensitive to our convictions. In my experience, it has proven very difficult to remain solely an actress in a market which is so under funded. It becomes more of a mission rather than a career. Many Christian actors maintain part-time or full-time jobs while pursuing their dreams of acting. I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am nothing but a follower of Christ . I am clay in His hands, and I am available for when He calls. I submit my auditions, give my best at the jobs that I book, work on updating headshots and reel, continue to network, and pray for those films that I’m cast in, which are waiting for funding. Many Christian actors are being pro active in creating the opportunities that they wish to have. They are joining with others in production to keep moving, stay relevant, and to keep sharing good messages.
There are very few productions that have million dollar budgets. All of us believers who hold out on these opportunities wish that we would be the first ones considered for these roles. So many of us are looking for a “Christian” talent manager or a “Christian” agency in hopes that we would be exposed to all of the “Christian” productions. If it were only that simple. Ultimately, our lives and careers are in God’s hands. He has a plan that he set forth before the foundations of the earth. He makes clear our calling, and it is our job to put Him first and give it our best. I am so thankful to have found Treasure Coast Talent, as much of their talent is comprised of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Jean has become the go to person in this growing Christian film industry, and I just pray that God continues to grow Treasure Coast Talent. It is encouraging to know that the public is responding so well to Christian films. It shows that people want good, wholesome, inspiring, godly content. I pray that we grow closer as a community, and that we never make it about anything other than the glory of God.
What advice would you offer to actors who want to pursue a professional career, especially those heading to New York or Los Angeles?
As far as any advice for actors who want to move to New York or LA, I say stand firm. I cannot give any blanket advice. All I know is that our relationship with God is very personal and that we must stay faithful to Him. I say be prepared in your craft, be prepared to have your faith tested, be prepared to lose it all for His sake, and be prepared to follow wherever He leads. As the word says, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Matthew 16:26 “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
What advice would you offer to parents of children or teens wanting to break into the business?
I began my career at age 16, and looking back, it is quite clear how much influence that culture has over any talent, especially the young and vulnerable. The topics of conversation that take place on set are far more liberal and corrupt than most other places. That world is saturated with lust and debauchery. It is celebrated and it just becomes a normal part of life. It is so important for a minor to have a voice and support system. Parents should always be there to supervise and protect their children. Talent will be directed and instructed to do things according to the moral convictions (or lack of) of other people. You need to be there.
Tell us about any upcoming projects you have.
I was cast in a feature film titled A Soldier’s Gift, by Kent Taylor, which won best screen play at the International Christian Film festival. Film dates are TBD. I will also be a part of the cast for Knight’s End series. I believe filming will begin in 2018. I’m waiting to hear back on a couple other auditions, and I may be somewhat involved in a new short film production. I do stay quite busy helping my husband and being present with my daughters as much as possible. Being able to share my experience and testimony with you is as great an opportunity as any. I am most interested in sharing the good news and impacting lives for God’s glory!!
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