Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley Finds Inspiration in Amish Grace
- 2010 26 Mar
EDITOR'S NOTE: Amish Grace originally aired on March 28, 2010 on Lifetime Movie Network (LMN is Lifetime's sister network and the second highest rated women's channel.) It debuts on DVD on Tuesday, September 14, 2010.
How would you react if one of your children was attacked, perhaps murdered, by a stranger? How easily would forgiveness come?
Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, star of the upcoming Lifetime Movie Network original film Amish Grace, faced those very questions as she inhabited the role of a grieving mother. Based on the true events of October 2, 2006, in Nickel Mines, PA, where five young Amish girls were killed and five others wounded by a lone gunman, the movie follows the community's—particularly one mother's—journey to forgiveness.
Williams-Paisley's character, Ida Graber, loses a daughter in the shooting and is unable to extend forgiveness to the gunman and his widow. While the elders of her community seek out the widow of the gunman and offer their condolences on her loss, Ida cannot bring herself to join them. She contemplates leaving her community of faith, the only life she's ever known.
The actress identified with Ida's predicament. "Ida has real difficulty coming to a place where she could forgive. I think she is an important character to have in the movie because many people watching will not understand how she could forgive something like this, and it was very easy for me to relate with this character right away. I don't know what I'd do in this situation. I know I would struggle with forgiving."
Williams-Paisley recounted one part in the movie as an example of what might teach viewers about the power of forgiveness. "In one scene Ida's husband (Matthew Letscher) sits down with their little girl, who is having trouble forgiving, and asks her ‘Does it feel good, this hatred that you have inside?' She says ‘no,' and he responds that we are prisoners to our anger and hatred, and when we are able to let it go we are empowered, freed, and the horrible things don't have power over us."
The complete forgiveness offered by the Amish to the gunman's widow (played by Tammy Blanchard) reflects what has become a trademark value of that community. Because of their faith in the One who forgave them, they extend the same forgiveness to those who hurt them. The film explores the reaction of the media, who cannot fathom such a generous, selfless response to the tragedy.
Williams-Paisley not only acknowledged unconditional forgiveness as a major theme of the story, she embraced the idea on a personal level as well. "I was inspired by their faith and how they put into practice what they believe. If my faith were challenged like that, it's hard to say that I would be able to put my beliefs into action. So watching the Amish put their money where their mouth was, so to speak, was very inspiring. It made me quicker to forgive, in smaller things I experience every day, and I do remind myself of the Amish and the way they were able to forgive."
Wife of country singer Brad Paisley, with whom she has two young boys, Williams-Paisley is well-known for her roles in Father of the Bride (Parts 1 and 2) and the television sitcom According to Jim. She laughingly admits that, before joining the cast of Amish Grace, her knowledge of all things Amish was limited to the Harrison Ford movie Witness. To prepare for her role as Ida, she read books about the Amish in general, and about their practice of forgiveness. She also visited a Mennonite community in her home state of Tennessee.
"I spent time with them and with their kids, saw their schoolhouse, and was invited into one's kitchen to talk. They were very nice people, considering I just showed up because there was no way to reach them ahead of time," she says, referring to their lack of telephones and electricity. "They were kind and open, and I appreciated that very much. My personal interaction with them was helpful in preparing for this part."
Fittingly it was her real-life role as a young mother that helped attract her to the character of Ida Graber. "Having kids, feeling like my heart is outside of my body walking around in these two little people—the whole story touched me on a different level," she said. "I understood Ida in a gut way like I might not otherwise have. Being a mom has made me feel everything even deeper than I did before; it added a new level of pain to this devastating tragedy the Amish endured."
The film is based on the book, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt and David Weaver-Zercher, which examines the aftermath of the Nickel Mines community. The film adaptation takes dramatic license with certain aspects of the book. Though rooted in true circumstances and people, some events and characters in the movie have been adapted. The Grabers, for instance, are composite characters, created for the movie to represent one family's possible reaction to the tragedy. The TV reporter featured in the movie was similarly born of creativity—she embodies the media as a whole, not one particular person.
Contrary to the Amish themselves, who do not like the attention the film might bring to their community, Williams-Paisley strongly supports revisiting the account of that awful day. "The reason I wanted to be a part of telling this story is that these people in the Amish community came out right away and forgave this crime. That is what was so incredible to me about this, and I think what touched most people who were watching. Bad things are going to happen to all of us —and really, really bad things to some of us—and if we can learn how to practice forgiveness, the world would be a better place.
**This interview first published on March 26, 2010.
Photos courtesy of Lifetime Movie Network.
Amish Grace first broadcast on Sunday, March 28, 2010 on Lifetime Movie Network (LMN is Lifetime's sister network and the second highest rated women's channel.) It debuts on DVD on September 14, 2010. For more information, please visit here.