How Alan Powell’s Faith Helped Him Make
Earlier this year, on a warm June evening in Los Angeles, I sat in a packed movie theater filled with a crowd of Christians — a good mix of ethnic groups, church backgrounds, and professions — and we watched a preview screening of The Song.
The film seriously wowed us — caught us off guard even. Just about everyone had a glowing remark about the quality of the story and the production value.
But one of the comments I kept hearing was something along the lines of, “Who the heck is this Alan Powell guy? He was amazing! I’ve never seen him in anything before! Where did he come from? And, wow, he could be Joaquin Phoenix’s twin brother!”
Music fans will know Alan as a member of the Christian band Anthem Lights. In fact, if you’d like to hear them merge the song “Let It Go” from Frozen with Journey’s classic “Don’t Stop Believin'” then click here. (And they have a new album coming out in October.)
But movie fans have never seen Alan before — not even in a commercial. Yes, Alan does have a physical resemblance to the veteran actor Joaquin Phoenix, but what really blew me away was that his acting is as good as Joaquin Phoenix, the man who played the legendary role of Commodus opposite Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I shared that opinion with the director of The Song Richard Ramsey in a recent interview, and he said this in reply: “It’s wild. I have an acting background, and I’ve told people I’ve known actors who’ve been acting for years who cannot do stuff he does in this movie.”
If you ever talk to Alan, however, you will find that he has a much higher opinion of God’s hand over his life than he does of his own abilities. I suspect that the high praise above might even sound a little odd to him. After all, we only see the finished product on-screen. He lived through every minute of the film shoot, and he knows whatever weaknesses he had as a first-time actor (some of which he explains in detail below).
Yet, despite any weaknesses or nerves, he believed God was in control, and that’s what got him through. I believe God honored Alan’s child-like trust in Him by blessing his performance in a unique way, which you will certainly notice if you go see the film when it opens this Friday. (And you can check the film’s theater/showtime schedule here if you’d like to get tickets.)
Alan’s calm trust in God, a calmness I could hear in his voice when I spoke with him on the phone for this interview, made a lasting impression on me as we discussed the film:
Can you tell us a little about the film THE SONG and why you wanted to be a part of it?
We’re excited about what God’s going to do through it. It’s a modern day telling of the life of Solomon [who was also called Jedidiah in the Bible]. In the modern day, he [Jed King] is a musician, singer/songwriter, kind of living in his father’s shadow at first, who is also a very famous musician, and he meets and falls in love with his wife. He writes a song for her that propels him to stardom, and the film deals with the struggles of prioritizing your family and your faith when the world tries to distract you. That’s certainly something we all deal with in our own way.
People know you as the lead singer of Anthem Lights, but you seem very comfortable in front of the camera. How did you discover your calling as an actor?
I’ve always had a passion for film. To this day it’s still the medium that moves me the most, that impacts me the most, so I was always incredibly interested in it, and always hoping and praying that there’d be an opportunity to participate in something that could potentially impact other people. So I was really excited when the opportunity came along.
Well, just to give you some encouraging feedback, at the preview screening I attended your performance really hit the audience in the heart and it made some tough looking guys cry. [laughs] How did you prepare for the role of Jed King? It just seems like you’ve been acting for years, but this is your debut, and I’m just curious how you got ready for it?
Well, first of all thank you very much, that means a lot, and I’m glad it was responded to well. As far as preparation goes, he’s a musician, singer/songwriter, and was on the road a lot, and me being in a band there are some similarities there, things that I’ve dealt with as well — conversations that he has with his wife, I’ve had with mine. And I have my father [who is a pastor] as well, so there’s definitely a similarity there. So there are some things I could resonate with personally. And then it was one of those things where I never thought and still don’t think that I have talent to do what they wanted me to do, but I knew — and I’m not a superstitious Christian and whatnot — but I just knew that God wanted me to be a part of this project. And I knew that it was a part that He wanted me to play, and so I had confidence in that. I didn’t show up thinking that I was awesome and that my ability was gonna be what took this thing over the top. For whatever reason I had confidence in the fact that I was supposed to be there, and so there’s a lot of freedom in that and [in having] a great team, working with a great team that did an incredible job in picking up all of my slack when I didn’t know what it meant to hit a mark or how to find your light or any of those things. All I knew was that these are the lines I’m supposed to say and here’s what I’m feeling when I say them and all these kinds of things. They did a great job of helping me with the things I didn’t understand, and so it was just a great experience all the way around.
And, you know, speaking of your team, Ali Faulkner and Caitlin Nicole-Thomas were also phenomenal in this movie, as good as anyone I’ve seen in any big Hollywood secular movie. What was it like working with those two actors?
Oh, awesome. As you mentioned they were great in those roles. Ali plays Rose who ends up being Jed’s wife and Caitlin plays Shelby who ends up being the other woman. And so I think that they both had very very difficult tasks to do in the film, and I think they did them incredible well, so it was a great pleasure to work with them.
I really appreciate the film’s powerful, melancholy tone. It gets under your skin and really makes you feel some heavy emotions. It stays away from some of the overtly happy clappy Christianeze that I’ve seen in other movies, and I liked that. But was it difficult diving into those darker moments or emotions as an actor?
Yeah it was, I mean, you kind of put yourself through that because you know it’s good for the film as a whole and you believe in the message of the film, and you want to do whatever’s necessary to make that genuine and real. But those are tough days when you wake up and you’re filming a scene that’s like you said is a dark scene and Jed’s in a tough place, and I’m not a good enough of an actor to just show up and be all cheery and they say “action” and be in that place. So I would basically spend the day in that place emotionally, so that when they did say action I was already there. So you know those are tough days. Those are long days and you kind of apologize to the crew and you show up super early in the morning to start getting ready and say, “So I got a tough day and I’m not trying to be a jerk but I won’t be talking a lot and cracking jokes and whatever.” But it’s what you have to do, at least what I have to do to do what’s necessary for the scene that day and ultimately for the project as a whole.
And it sounds like an exhausting process, honestly. I once met the actor Jeff Bridges and he said that every time he finishes a movie he just never wants to do another one again because it’s just so exhausting.
A lot of long hours, and emotionally exhausting, more so than anything, which to me is the highest form of exhaustion. Something I’ve never really experienced before, before shooting this film. But you know at the end of the day what a privilege to be making a movie, specifically one that you hope has an eternal impact and really does some good in people’s lives.
Absolutely. And that’s a perfect segue to my next question: some of the men at the preview screening said afterward that the movie was very convicting and it made them want to improve their relationships with their wives. And I could really see it in their faces like God just spoke directly to them through the film and pierced them in the heart. What do you think this movie adds to our culture’s conversation about love and relationships?
Well, obviously you hope that it adds a lot, but specifically that it adds the importance of family above all else on this earth. I think that, ultimately, that’s what Jed learns as he partakes in anything that he wants to partake in. He comes to the realization that, man, the only thing that’s worth anything is my family that God has given me. And so it’s very encouraging when I hear that men walk out of the theater and want to text their wives or call their wives or if they’re with their wives they want to tell them how much they love them and appreciate them and treasure them, and, essentially, I think that’s what this film is about. So to me that’s mission accomplished, which is obviously very encouraging.
And the other huge theme in the movie, I thought, was what I’d call the Abraham test: are we willing to protect the most important priorities in our lives, like God, family, etc., even if that means doing something radical like walking away from huge success? Did that theme resonate with you — the question, “Can I really walk away from big success if that was the right thing to do?”
Yeah, I think it’s not just success professionally, or just in regards to ministry or music or film or whatever, but I think that we all deal with that question: what’s the most important thing to you? And how are you showing it in your daily life? And are you sacrificing the most important thing to you for something that isn’t the most important thing or shouldn’t be the most important thing, whether that’s your job or finances or popularity, you know, the list goes on and on and on. And for Jed, at the time, it was music and it was quote unquote career and these kinds of things. He came to the realization of what was really important, and the goal [of the movie] is just to help others come to the same realization.
This summer you’ve been performing at festivals around the country, playing the music from the film – have you enjoyed this process?
Yeah, as a matter of fact I just flew back in today from CreationFest in Washington State. It’s been really cool to see people respond to the music and the film itself, and you get to meet people — again just a pleasure to be promoting this film that I wholeheartedly, genuinely believe in.
I agree. I think this is what the Christian movie industry needs, a movie of this caliber, and it’s on par with any great secular movie I’ve seen. The film releases September 26 – what’s next for you after THE SONG?
There’s always Anthem Lights stuff. We’re doing music and always making content and music for the fans and whoever wants to listen, so we’ll continue to do that. And we’ll just kind of see what happens on the film side because, as I mentioned, it’s a huge passion of mine, and I would love to continue doing it. So we’ll just see if the phone rings.
Have you signed on to any new projects or are there any new movies in development?
Well, you know, they’ve got me pretty busy getting ready for this one to come out.
[laughs] Good point, I guess it’s just one thing at a time.
[laughs] Yeah, one thing at a time.