When Robert Thomason gave his speech as the Graduation Speaker in Summer of ’67, he had the undivided attention of every individual on set. The chaos and commotion from moments before were forgotten as he launched into his speech. By the time he finished, many of the actors were in tears, even though the camera was only on Robert. It was one of those rare, magical moments you have when you’re filming and everyone forgets that they’re just actors and instead lose themselves in the moment.
I keep running into Robert in other films, and now I can’t wait to see him in Unplanned, releasing to theaters this weekend. He’ll be playing Abby Johnson’s and I know he’ll do an amazing job.
When did you first develop an interest in acting? What was your first acting role?
Well, it certainly was not out of a personal “interest” that I as an elementary student was “encouraged” to be Lamb #3 in a nativity scene in a church production…. Nor, was it for a drama credit as an ensemble member in a middle school song and dance tribute to Motown and other classic tunes!
I would say that my first genuine acting role came unexpectedly during my early college years. My roommate at the time was a theater major and he asked me to come along to a musical audition to read a scene opposite his hopeful role. He also roped me into singing a crazy little tune so that he could demonstrate his own guitar playing skills. As a journalism major at the time, this seemed like a huge sacrifice to make at the expense of my pride for my good friend. I think it was my apparent fish-out-of-water nervous energy that caught the director’s eye who then had me read another scene and sing a few bars. Dazed at what just happened, I actually left the theater that night cast as the lead for the musical “Pippin”, and yet, still good friends with my encouraging roommate who couldn’t believe it either!
What is your acting training/background?
The short story is that I caught the theater bug and became a theater major, transferring to another university to explore the field. Although I primarily studied stage and lighting design, the requirements for the BA in Speech and Theater necessitated that I also participate in many roles including dramas, musicals, and one-act plays. It was during this time as a stage actor that there was a curious transition within myself from stage fright to an owning of the present moment as an extraordinary sense of freedom, excitement, privilege, as well as a sense of responsibility. This is when the power of story upon an audience became so incredibly evident to me in such a powerful, almost palpable manner.
After graduating from college, I did some freelance design work around Atlanta. Through various churches, I was also able to act, direct, and design various ministry-related productions.
Following a hiatus for a period of many years, I was led back into acting. This time, however, it was clear that I was to be retrained from my theatrical background into a film acting direction. The contrast was immediately made apparent to me by participating in the AMTC (Actors, Models, and Talent for Christ) program, exploring disciplines such as film and commercial technique, cold-reads, and scene study within a relatively condensed amount of time. Continuing after that, I was blessed to be mentored under the direction of some of Atlanta’s best educators through on-camera intensives, workshops, and classes.
Having been exposed to a wide variety of approaches to the craft, none made more of a personal impact for me as did my training through the Meisner technique. As with any acting training, Meisner is simply a tool and I do not allow my roles to be defined as a technique on display. Having said that though, I have found it to be an incredibly accessible, honest, and safe preparation process in order to seek an authentic palette from which to work. Basically, it has served me well as a friendly reminder that any real and grounded character is as close as I am willing to be honest with myself as a human being first.
What led to your involvement in film acting?
This is kind of the hard part to talk about….As I mentioned, there was a period of putting the whole “acting” thing on the shelf as I moved through a season of life before becoming involved in film acting. Having lost 2 children through miscarriages, we were to be led through another challenge. While in the womb, a third child was diagnosed with a severe disorder of bone growth that took her life immediately after being delivered at full-term.
The Lord demonstrated a powerful display of long-suffering with me as I became, shall we say, distant and more than willing to let him know my thoughts. As the psalmist puts it, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21-22) Eventually, the grief process with Him led me to a place of what I would describe as a still lake on an otherwise overcast day – a placid peace but a peace that still had awareness that the earth was still turning and people were easily moving about their lives. And somewhere along the way, I surrendered…. The psalmist continues his story (that became mine) in Psalm 73:23-28, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
It was following this point in the journey that the Lord spoke to me leading me to return to acting through the venue of film, but this time I was to focus on telling of all of His works. I eventually capitulated, not trusting anymore in my own understanding, and responded with something like,“OK. But You have to be my manager this time.”
And so began the new journey of faith-based projects.
What films have you been in?
Short film – Harmony, Valiant, Hidden in Plain View, Bump, Invisible, No-Ruins Everything, Post-It
Feature film – Stand Your Ground, Trouble in the Plate, Summer of ’67, Like Arrows, Unplanned
Some of the topics in these films have included sex trafficking, war hero tributes, courtroom drama, gospel-centered parenting, and pro-life protection of the unborn among others.
How do you choose which films and film roles to do?
Prayerfully. I believe in faith that the Lord not only hears my prayers but that He answers in His way and in His timing – often times through something that He has already spoken long before my need to make a choice. I do believe strongly in the sola scriptura high view of His recorded word – NOT in a solo approach. In other words, the body of Christ is referred to as a body for a reason – we aren’t spoken of as individual islands left to come up with our own interpretations of His words, ferreting out “new truths”. In most cases, I take a collaborative approach to seeking trusted counsel before making a decision. If I sense that there is a thematic truth that has a traceable thread back to His heart, then I will begin there. However, just because a film may honor Him in one way or another doesn’t mean that it is right for me. The specific roles I choose must be an extension of some truthful part of who I am already. I simply owe it to audiences who pay hard earned money to see these films to ask myself on the front end, “Can I set down my masks and pride in order to give them honest aspects of who I am so that this role can have human depth that will connect – or not?”
Tell us about your role in Unplanned.
I am so honored to portray the role of Mike who is Abby Johnson’s father. Mike and his wife Kathleen find themselves caught between an obvious deep parental love for their daughter Abby who is climbing the Planned Parenthood ladder as a clinic director and their own unflinching view of the sanctity of the unborn. This, of course, creates a compelling real world example of tension between parents and children who have come to a place of opposing views – in this case between literal life and death. Writer/director Chuck Konzelman described Mike as having a “quiet, supportive, yet highly attentive demeanor towards Kathleen which allows her to ‘shine brightly’ in social settings, because he knows and loves who she is…and they make a great pair.”
How did you get the role?
On a Friday afternoon, I received a call from a mentor of mine who had just had a conversation with a member of the production team of Unplanned who said they were trying to cast a supporting role of a father. Following a brief description of the project, role, and timeline, I was asked to send production my materials immediately as the casting time frame was extremely tight. They quickly reviewed my profile. What I did not know at the time was the prayers that had been going on prior to our contact. I told them that I would have to read the script. Within minutes it was in my inbox along with a sense of urgency regarding their timeline. What followed was a truncated form of my typical process of reviewing projects and roles as I described earlier. Through a flurry of prayer, reading, and more prayer, a sense of peace came over me that this was a step of faith that I had to take. I notified production that I was prepared to move forward in the process should that be of interest to those within the vision/decision making process of the film. Within minutes, I was welcomed on board by the writers/directors. That was Friday late afternoon. I was on a plane within 48 hours and the following day began my first day of filming.
How did I get this role? My Father gave it to me so, “that I may tell of all your works.”
What’s been the response to the movie so far?
For those who have seen pre-screenings of the film, the vast majority have been overwhelmingly positive responses in so far as their assessment of the film’s clarion call for all to see abortion for what it actually is – murder. Many who see the film for the first time are commenting on the need for a time to process all that they just saw. This is a hard film to watch but it is necessary. Some have even seen it as the opportunity to begin talking about truths that have been suppressed for a long, long time.
What excites you the most about this movie?
The timing of this film’s creation and release after years of delay is tremendously exciting to me. The journey of 1 person who had a change of understanding concerning the humanity of all life, beginning at conception, who intrinsically have the right to live is amazing. It excites me to think how in our present culture of death, selfishness, and convenience, this film is released offering a door that is wide open for those who are brave enough to begin walking in a new understanding concerning the personhood of every human life. It excites me to think of people who will humble themselves to say, “I was wrong” in order to begin healing. It excites me that children, yet to be, may literally be allowed to live.
I’m also encouraged to see the church potentially become more engaged in the battle for life than it historically has been as a whole over the past several decades. Proverbs 24:10-12 states, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” It can’t be any more clear what we are called to do and it is exciting to think this film may be used to pull back the curtain yet again to call the church to action in truth and grace.
But what excites me the most about this movie, is actually conversations that I hope follow after leaving the theater. It excites me to hope that it leads us all to a place of seeking the only true forgiveness we all need which can only be found through the confession of Jesus as Lord and the full weight of trusting belief (faith in Him) in His death, burial, and resurrection as the means of our souls being saved for eternity.
Thank you for this opportunity Sharon Wilharm. You are a shining example of looking not only to your own interests but to the interests of others. It is an honor to have worked with you and to call you my friend.