‘I Can Only Imagine’: Star Madeline Carroll Is Having a God Moment

Madeline Carroll turned 22 on Sunday, and she got a great birthday present — a $17M opening weekend for her movie, “I Can Only Imagine.”

Inspired by the life story of Bart Millard of the band MercyMe, who penned its hit Christian-pop song, also called “I Can Only Imagine,” the film — directed by the brother team of Andrew and Jon Erwin (“Mom’s Night Out,” “Woodlawn”) —  exceeded the expectations of the secular movie world.

From IndieWire:

Among contemporary Christian community titles, only “Heaven Is for Real” had a better opening, scoring $22 million when it opened in 2014.

The film even earned a positive review from a critic at Deadline.com:

I can only imagine why distributors Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate made the decision seemingly to hide, from most critics at least, their new faith-based film I Can Only Imagine. It became a surprise hit this weekend, making around $17 million, way over-performing estimates and earning an A+ CinemaScore audience rating. Apparently they had no faith themselves, at least as far as reviews go. Does this sound like a film where you try to keep critics at bay, especially since the precious few who did see it have it in positive territory over at Rotten Tomatoes?

I decided to find out for myself and caught it over the weekend at a commercial theater. I can only add to the good vibes it has been getting since that opening, with a bigger expansion coming later this week. It lifts the genre.

J. Michael Finley plays Bart; Dennis Quaid plays his abusive father, Art; Cloris Leachman plays Bart’s grandmother, Memaw; and country star Trace Adkins plays MercyMe’s manager, Brickell.

Carroll — whose short life contains a lengthy modeling and acting career, beginning in childhood — plays Shannon, Bart’s high-school girlfriend and eventual wife.

As she hit her teenage and early-adult years, though, the devoutly Christian Carroll began to run into issues — being asked to do things she just couldn’t.

At a recent press roundtable with me and other faith-based press, she said:

I had someone say this to me the other day, and I feel like it’s so much Shannon’s perspective. They said sometimes God’s dream for us is a lot bigger than our dreams for ourselves. It really hit me, because I feel like that, especially the past year for my life, it’s definitely been that. God’s dream for my life has been a lot bigger than my dream for my own.

It’s too hard. This industry is too hard to do what I’m trying to do. And it’s rare to say no to something. You’re in the minority if you’re saying no to a project; you’re crazy. And so I definitely face so much opposition.

But I love when someone said that to me the other day. Because I can’t believe that God gave me this part and gave me this opportunity.

There’s always someone more qualified to be an actress, there’s always someone more qualified for the part, there’s always someone who’s prettier, a better actress. And so the fact that I got the opportunity of being this woman is very… I recognize that it’s special and I recognize that it was a blessing from God to get to do it.

Carroll also said that she was on the verge of giving up acting, when the part of Shannon came along.

I was gonna give up acting, yeah. I was like this is it, I’m done, and so heartbroken. But I was like I don’t think this is what I’m meant to do anymore.

Turning down role after role after role, and my agency would get upset with me, angry because I wasn’t going to do nudity and stuff like that. I just stuck to my guns, but it got so hard, because I was like, “God, I’m making these choices for You. I’m stepping out. I’m doing something different. And I’m just not seeing You anymore.”

And I was like, “Okay, if this isn’t what You want, then I’m good to go. I’ll do whatever else that You have, whatever it is. Because I can’t take this anymore. It’s too hard.” …

And so I had this whole meltdown in my bathroom.

The next day, she got a text message from a director who remembered her for something else, and then, a couple of months later, “I Can Only Imagine” came along. She discovered that the Erwins had her in mind for Shannon, but couldn’t get in touch with her.

She said:

How ’bout that? How ’bout that? And so it was definitely a God thing, and completely revived my calling and my career and my dream.

How about that, indeed?

To learn more about “I Can Only Imagine,” click here for the official Website. There are no nude scenes, profanity or sexual situations, but the film does candidly portray Bart’s difficulties with his hard-drinking, sometimes violent father.

Image: Courtesy Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

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