(Photo courtesy of Glenn Nutley)
An Interview with Madeline Carroll on Faith, Film, and Life in the Trenches
By Sarah Komisky
If I could pick a modern-day warrior princess, it would totally be Madeline Carroll. Not only does her tenacity, spunk, ambition, courage, and boldness qualify her, but also her humility. Although her resume consists of acting alongside A-listers, like Gerard Butler, Jim Carrey, Jackie Chan, and Kevin Costner while also being cast as the beloved Juli Baker in the popular film Flipped, Madeline has remained grounded. Starting her acting career early on at age three and a half, she also committed her life to God at a young age. All together this starlet has experienced her share of highs and lows. In this season of extreme challenges, Madeline almost quit acting altogether until an act of total surrender changed everything landing a major role in “I Can Only Imagine.” But first, let’s take a look how it all happened, shall we?
After a huge opportunity that promised fame and fortune came her way, Madeline made the decision to decline because it didn’t “line up with who she was in God.” At 15, she was confronted with the proposal of going nude on camera, as well as offered new “mature” roles that made her uncomfortable. Again, Madeline said no. As she began to turn down more opportunities than receive them, depression set in at the peak of her acting career. In this season of rejection, bewilderment, fatigue and discouragement, Madeline cried out to God.
“[Before ‘I Can Only Imagine’] I was like, ‘Lord I just can’t take this anymore. I can’t take the depression and the sadness and the heartache.’ I said, ‘God I give up all things for you and I’m just not seeing your faithfulness with it.’ And I was like, ‘God am I just not hearing you? Have you moved on and I’m just trying to do something that you’re just no longer apart of? God if that’s the case and even though this is my dream and I love acting, I’m willing to just lay it down and I’m willing to give it back to you, here it is.’”
She continued praying, “‘Lord I’m done. God if you still would have me here, though, then please send me something [an acting role] and send me something that would edify you and that’s how I’ll know. That’ll be my sign.’”
The first answer to prayer came through a film entitled, “God Bless the Broken Road.” Madeline got a call from a director who said, “I just wanted to let you know, I’m doing another movie and I want you to star in it.” Next, came the film “I Can Only Imagine.”
After a series of events that led to a meet and greet with the film crew where Madeline shared about God without reading the movie script, she left with a peace regardless of the outcome. Soon, she got word that she got the part and the rest was history. For Madeline, the movie not only represents a film that she believes holds a special spiritual significance for others, but also one that is a special marker to her relationship with God.
As an actress who always sees her own films she said, “I literally thought this is never going to happen again for me. One of the last times I went [to see the film], I just felt like, ‘Lord I’ll always remember this movie as our time.’”
Looking back on an extremely hard season, where she was and now where she is at, Madeline reflects on the amazing fact that the God of the universe attends to our prayers and takes them into consideration. It’s the truth that continues to bring her to her knees.
“It’s just amazing to know how He’s uniquely acquainted with us,” she marvels. “I think of those few years and my goodness they were so hard. And If I haven’t went through that, I wouldn’t have a story to tell now. What I went through actually benefited my call because, though ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ it’s opened up all these doors for speaking.”
She adds, “It’s literally like God, the whole time, was cementing these building blocks together; now I’m standing on top of them. It’s so stinking crazy but God is so good and so faithful.”
Through the hard times, Madeline is a firm believer in God having a purpose in our pain. While she doesn’t believe God sends hard seasons since He is the “author of good, not evil,” she does accredit God as the One who uses for His glory and our benefit, as seen in her own life.
With the theme of our new issue being, “In the trenches,” in terms of walking in sexual integrity, Madeline is no stranger to this opposition in the film industry. Yet, it was this opposition that buffeted her character.
She confesses some of the thoughts that came up in her mind, “I’m going to be a movie star if I do this film. I know I’ll be famous and I won’t have to work all the time, and I’m going to get things handed to me and I won’t have to audition. So, it’s very seductive looking. Then I had to watch the girl who did it get [referring to role offered] get so big and get all that parts that I did want. I was devastated.”
But in that time, God had a different plan where he would honor her choices to take a stand for him by landing roles in the films, “Flipped,” “Spy Next Door” and “Mr. Poppers Penguins.” She accredits this success to God who gave “supernatural favor.”
“God honors your faithfulness. God honors your integrity with your sexuality. God honors who you are in Him,” she notes. “God does not punish you and want to see you give up as much as possible, just because. No, God wants to bless you.”
She adds, “I think of the New Testament when Jesus was doing all these miracles and there was a blind man that wanted to be healed and He said, ‘Please Jesus, if you’re willing, will you heal me?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am willing.’ God is a willing God. God wants to do things and bestow things upon us. And He really has been a rewarder of me seeking him.”
Madeline credits Jesus as her anchor through it all training herself to seek God’s guidance on everything. She shares, “For me and for what I do, there’s times where a script comes my way and it can really be confusing. There are times when it’s like, ‘no, I don’t want to be a part of this.’ But there’s times when the enemy will kind of slip things in there. You just get played so many mind games with it. The reason I’ve turned down so many things is this: It’s better to err on the ways of righteousness.”
Madeline explains, “I just think of that verse all the time, and if I’m unsure, I’ll just do nothing at all. I just pray, ‘God just cover me and if I made a wrong choice then please God forgive me. But I’m making a choice based on you and what you’re asking of me, and God just cover me.’ God will always honor that.”
For those going through the trenches currently, her other weapons of spiritual warfare she advises others to pick up include prayer, staying in the Word of God, and being surrounded by like-minded people, being obedient to hear God’s voice above all else.
“It is so hard to be surrounded by people who just don’t get it. Inside you just have to know, I can’t listen to those voices because God didn’t reveal that vision to them, he revealed it to me. And maybe there are some things that they are doing in their lives that I don’t understand, but God revealed it to them and not me.”
Standing on scriptures like Matthew 6:33 and Isaiah 43 in her dark season, Madeline now sees them fulfilled! Today she desires to encourage others to find their own root verses to pray and mediate on when life gets tough. Confident of God’s promises and faithfulness, she also encourages others to wait on God to exalt you in due season and bring your harvest of blessings.
As “I Can Only Imagine” is now is released on Blu-ray and DVD, Madeline is both proud and excited to continue to share it with others.
“For people to be able to watch it in their own house, people who maybe didn’t get out to the theatre or who don’t really like that atmosphere, they can be blessed by it. At the end of the day, it’s a personal movement in your heart,” she says. “We’ve had so many people come up with themes that we didn’t even think of. God is just all over it and this is just another level for the Lord to move.”