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Madeline Carroll Talks Faith and Music in I Can Only Imagine

Madeline Carroll Talks Faith and Music in <i>I Can Only Imagine</i>

Believers everywhere know “I Can Only Imagine” as the inspiring song which brought hope to millions, and now the amazing true story behind the music is ready to be told. Coming to theaters this week, I Can Only Imagine details how faith and forgiveness motivated MercyMe’s Bart Millard to pen this chart-topping anthem. was able to sit down with actress Madeline Carroll, who plays Bart’s wife Shannon in the upcoming movie, and got an inside look at what Christian viewers can expect from this encouraging new film!

Why don’t you begin by telling us the basic premise of I Can Only Imagine and how you became involved with this project?

The basic premise of I Can Only Imagine is the story of how it got written. Bart Millard who's the lead singer in the band MercyMe wrote the song 18 years ago, and it just exploded. It completely exploded and went into mainstream and everything. It's the story of how it got written. He grew up with a really abusive father, mentally and physically. His mom left when he was young, dropped him off at summer camp and then left. Just a horribly sad story. Then his father came to the Lord, and changed, and became a completely different person, way too late in life. They ended up having this beautiful experience together, a beautiful relationship right at the last two months of his life. So his father ended up passing away with cancer right when he turned into the father that he had always desired.

It's a really beautiful story of transformation, forgiveness, and hope. I play Shannon Millard, who is his wife in real life, but in the film, I play her in high school, and then as a young woman. She just kind of always was there for him through all of this heartache and sadness he was going through. She always saw God's call on his life, and what he was meant to be. I personally came into the role really crazy randomly. I was actually at an audition for something totally separate, and the woman who got paired up with me to be my mom, just so happened to know who I was, and was like, "Hey, you need to go for I Can Only Imagine." And I was like, "Like the song?" And she said, "Yes, like the song. You have to get in for it."

So I called my manager and asked, "Please, get me in for this." As soon as I heard the title, I was like, "This is going to be very impactful." I got in, just so happened to get there really last minute. They'd already been reading girls, and I just went in, and didn't read lines, didn't read a script, just went in and talked with them, and got to share my heart, and got to see their hearts.

I was just so glad to know that there were people in Hollywood trying to make the same types of things as me. I left the audition, and I said to my mom, "Mom, it’s okay if I don't get this, because I'm just happy to know that there's someone out there like me." I ended up getting the part. It was just awesome, and just a really random experience, but really, really awesome, and beautiful, and I'm so proud of it.

How familiar were you with the band MercyMe before this project?

I was very familiar, because I listened to their songs all the time. I knew I Can Only Imagine obviously growing up. I heard it for the first time when I was nine years old. I remember the feeling it gave me. I remember feeling ... I remember crying my eyes out, which I still do when I hear the song. Funnily enough every time I see the film, I have seen it like four times, and I keep crying every time I see it. But yeah, I was very familiar with it, very familiar with the band. But that's why when I heard about it at that audition that day, I was like, "I have to get in for this." I knew it was going to be amazing.

Without giving away too much of the film, was their anything about this story which particularly moved you?

Yes. I really was moved by Amy Grant giving the song back to Bart. They initially offered the song to her, or were selling the song to her, and even though he wrote it, she was going to be the one to release it and sing it. She just knew that it wasn't her song. She knew that it wasn't her story to tell. They portray it so beautifully in the movie, you really see in her face that she felt conflicted because she needed another hit, she needed a breakout hit.

For her, it meant a lot, but she just knew that it wasn't hers, and her willingness to give it back to him, and allow him to be the one to get this hit, be the one to sing it, when she knew it was going to bless so many people, I thought that spoke so much to be willing to give someone else your blessing. Like that's got to be the hardest thing in the world. I just loved that. I loved that she did that.

Could you maybe describe how your own personal faith was affected by this project?

At the time that I got this part, two months prior I was going to quit acting. I didn't think that God had called me there anymore. I didn't think God wanted me to be in the industry. I literally said a prayer and I was like, "God, I don't understand, nothing's happening, there's nothing going on, do you not want me here anymore? What is going on?" And I said, "God if you still want me here, then please send me something that would edify you." I'm not kidding you, the next day I get a text message from Harold Cronk who did the God's Not Dead films, and he remembered me from a year prior coming in and auditioning for him in like the midst of my depression, and he texted me to say, "Hey, I want you to be in my next faith-based movie."

God literally answered my prayer the next day. Then, two months later, that's how Imagine came along. I was at a separate audition, and the woman said, "You need to go in for that." And then it all just fell into place. For me, this movie, it means so much because I see it now, and I see it on the big screen, and I just keep crying, because I can't believe what God did. God completely revived my dream. God completely revived my career. God just are let me know, "No, this is where I have you," and just the people that I've gotten a chance to meet and talk with, it just really has affirmed to me ... he's been with me all along.

He's with us in the storm. He's with us in the fire. He brings us out the other side. It's just beautiful what God can do with our lives, and our talent when we surrender it back to him. That's what I did. I said, "God, if you don't want this of me, here it is, I love you more than I love this," and then God responded, "No, here, I do, I do still have you here." For me, I'll always remember this movie as God answering my prayer, and keeping me on this path.

Finally, what do you hope audiences, specifically Christian audiences, will take away from I Can Only Imagine.

I believe that this film is going to be like the song, and I think it's going to transcend, I really do. I think that faith-based audiences are going to love it, but I really think that it has the potential to reach people who are not Christian, and still hit them in their heart. I mean, who can't get something out of a message of forgiveness? Who can't get their emotions moved with something hopeful? I really believe that people are going to see it and get their own thing out of it, just like the song does. Sometimes I hear the song, and I just cry, because I'm broken, and sometimes I hear the song, and I cry because I have hope. So it really just kind of hits you wherever you are in life.

*Be sure to catch Madeline Carroll when I Can Only Imagine opens in theaters March 16, 2018. To view the film’s trailer, simply follow this link!

**Published 3/12/2018