I recently got the chance to talk to Judy Stepanian about her role in ‘Machine Gun Preacher’. Here, Judy talks about what it was like working with Gerard Butler and Marc Forster and how she got into acting in the first place…
Hey Judy. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘Machine Gun Preacher‘.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I understand it’s based on a true story?
The story is based on the life of Sam Childers. Sam is extremely selfish, drug addicted and violent until he hits rock bottom. He turns his life over to God and feels the call to go on a mission trip to Africa. He becomes obsessed with rescuing the children who are being abducted by the LRA. He builds an orphanage and saves thousands and thousands of kids but has to use violence to retrieve them. His own family and friends who remain in Pennsylvania suffer from his increasing neglect to their needs and his increasing anger. Although the film is about faith, it’s much more than that. It’s a film about how one human being can change the world. Sam Childers had rescued over 40,000 children by the film’s release. It was very powerful and all the cast put their hearts and soul into their roles. Gerard Butler and Michael Shannon were believable and gut-wrenching. Mark Forster has taken a lot of heat for the film but I think it is top quality and everyone should see it.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
At the beginning of the film Sam Childers is an ex-con and has trouble finding a job. I’m the employment worker who has to tell him that he doesn’t have enough education for the jobs available in Pittsburgh.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I’ve been attending acting classes for three years at Michigan Actors Studio. I’ve worked hard to develop my craft and after filming in many independent and student films I was signed to Charlie’s Talent Agency. My agent – Curt Howe submitted me for the role and I had two small SAG roles within two weeks of each other.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
I’ve seen the film six times which was difficult because it was a limited release here in the U.S. It was violent, graphic but a true portrayal of a living person who made saving children from torture and death his life mission. It’s definitely not a fluff movie, it pulls on your emotions and makes the viewer examine what difference he or she is making in this world.
The film stars Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Kathy Baker, Michael Shannon and Madeline Carroll – with Marc Forster onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
My scene was directly with Gerard Butler with Marc Forster two inches away. They were both so professional and warm that I soon lost my first time SAG film nerves. The crew was outstanding and it was a wonderful experience. Mark Forster is a gifted director and I truly believe that this was Gerard Butler’s best performance yet.
Let’s talk a bit about you Judy. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I was in plays in high school and then spent many years as a teacher and counselor. I also worked in sales for a radio station, sold real estate and travel, did photography, bartended, and many more sidelines. When the film industry hit Michigan hard in 2008 I started working as an extra. I got the bug immediately and started going to acting school. I’ve had many classes in acting for film, improvisation, method acting, commercial acting, voice overs, etc. I have a very outgoing personality yet sensitive feelings and feel that acting is the perfect venue for my creativity and the expression of my emotions.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Be your own best cheerleader! Don’t let your age, race, size, disabilities, fears, etc. hold you back! Go for it!! Take as many classes and workshops as you can. Work as an extra to get “on set” experience. Be willing to hone your skills by working for free in local college student films and independent films. Get theatre experience. Network with everyone in the film industry but refuse to waste time with negative thinkers. Get a thick skin and know that it’s a numbers game and not every role is right for you or you for it. When you’re ready get an agent that will work hard for you. Persevere and always be professional. Be someone with a good reputation as an actor and a person. Keep smiling even when you don’t feel like it.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
Classic rock and roll. I graduated from high school in 1975 and jammed to Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin and Bob Seger.
If you could have dinner with three guests (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- My Dad who passed away in 1996. He loved me unconditionally and I admired him so much. He was in the Army in WWII and was liberating a concentration camp and didn’t even know the war had ended. I miss him so much.
- Kathy Bates, the American actress. She hasn’t let her age hold her back and has brought some amazing characters to life. I’d love to learn from her. I actually use her monologues from ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and ‘Misery’ when I audition.
- My husband Chuck. We’ve been married for 20 years and he’s my best friend. He has always encouraged me to follow my dreams and was pretty proud seeing me in ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ and my name in the credits.
If you were stranded on a desert island – what three things could you not live without?
My family, my close friends and my pets – Brownie the chocolate lab, Snickers the cat and Reeces the cat.
What’s coming up for you in 2011/12?
Hopefully a new film incentive bill will be passed very soon and our Michigan film industry will get back on track. I recently filmed a commercial and was a dying heart attack victim in ‘Impulse’, an independent film by Victor Pytko. I had a small speaking role in ‘A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas’ as a homeless woman. It was so much fun but unfortunately my scene was cut. I’m hoping I’ll still be on the DVD on the Director’s Cut. I just auditioned for a role in James Franco’s ‘Tar’ project but didn’t get it. This business is full of ups and downs but I know that more good things are coming my way. Until then I film as much as possible and keep learning and improving. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about myself and hopefully be a role model for others who are pursuing their dreams at 50 and beyond.
Thanks for the interview!