"Love is real and love is abundant."
That's the message of a brand new film "Sunrise in Heaven," according to actress Jenn Gotzon Chandler. The film, released on DVD on April 9, is based on the true story of Steven and Jan Hurst, who met and married against every obstacle when they were teens.
Gotzon Chandler, who is known for her roles in "Nixon/Frost" and "God's Not Dead 2," plays Steve and Jan's daughter, Terri. The film flashes back and forth between the current day where Steve struggles for his life in a hospital bed and their past when they struggled against her father to get married.
Faith Family America spoke to Gotzon Chandler about why she decided to get into acting, what drew her to "Sunrise in Heaven," and what she loves about the movie.
How did you get into acting?
When I was fifteen, I went to see a movie called "Straight Talk" with Dolly Parton, and at the end of that film, there was an electricity of passion. It felt like God kissed my heart and put a vision in me. Saying, "This is what I want you to do." That was to go out and entertain and inspire and impact people's lives through movies. That's what began my journey.
I auditioned for my high school play, and I was not cast. I was told I was a terrible, terrible, terrible actress, and I would never make a career of it. So I went home and cried and prayed like my mom taught me to. And I said, "God, if this is your will, show me the way."
And He did. I studied in New York City at a beautiful conservatory for TV and film acting. Then I was a character actress at Disney World, and then that moved me out west to the San Francisco area where I got cast in my first major studio film, "The Hulk," and my first independent feature as a lead actress, "Julie & Jack." That led me then to Los Angeles where I had my breakout role as Tricia Nixon in Ron Howard's film "Frost/Nixon."
In 2010, God breathed life into the vision he gave me when I was fifteen, and I was cast as the lead in the movie "Doonby" with John Schneider. That just launched my career telling stories that can impact and inspire people lives like "Sunrise in Heaven."
What motivates you to act in movies that talk about God?
When you're in a movie theater or at home and you're watching a story and you're engaged, there's a moment when you're laughing and then crying maybe. In between that space, there are pearls of wisdom that drop into your eye gate and to your soul. That is what inspires me—being a part of those stories that give people hope to be able to live a better life or purpose. For people to know why God loves them or give them faith to be able to get up and begin a new day. When we have movies that have God's wisdom in it, it really breathes life into people's souls, and I believe that's why God has called me into the path that he has.
What drew you to your role in "Sunrise in Heaven"?
That it is a true story. It's Jan Hurst's story, and when I got to meet Jan and learn about her family, I just fell in love with the passion that she has a woman for life and for faith. I wanted to be able to depict and honor her family's heritage. Playing her daughter Terrie was just such a true blessing and a gift.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
There's too many because it's so good. I think one of my favorite scenes is when the character Michele, at the end of this film, decides to pray. It shows that when we're together, we can have an influence on people by the way we live in and act. My storyline in the film really helps bring that faith message—the message of perseverance and endurance in pain and hardship. And towards the end of the movie, Michele has a change of heart where all of a sudden her faith is renewed in God and she asks to be able to pray. For her to have that restoration of belief and hope in God, blows hope into all of our lives that we are iron sharpening iron in each person's journey just by the way we pray for one another and the way we live out our lives as examples.
Could relate to the film?
My character, Terri, is very similar to who I am as a person. In the midst of trial and tribulation, I turn to God; I don't turn away. I turned to Him, and I pray and I asked Jesus to be able to lead and guide me. How Terri was that for her family is truly how I was able to connect and relate because that's how I strive to live my life. That's my prayer and my hope—to constantly trust in God in the midst of trial.
What do you see as the central message of the film?
Sunrise in Heaven puts a focus on the power of faith, love, and perseverance. It helps audiences relate to this honest story and how these characters deal with the challenges life brings their way and the significance of the people who are on the journey with them.
Who should see the film?
Everybody should see this film! Anyone who wants to be able to have good entertainment at home, have a bowl of popcorn, and kick their feet up with their family. Laugh, be touched, go on a journey, and have a good fun time. It's also particularly good for people who are truly struggling in life with their faith and questioning God. A lot of times when we're in that space, we tend not to push to God, but if somebody is in that space and they end up stumbling upon this movie, I think it will renew their faith and hope that God truly is an unconditional, loving God. He walks with us hand in hand through the thick and the thin.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
I hope that they realized that love is real and love is abundant. Love sneaks up on you just like it did to Jan and Steve when they were kids. That love is long-lasting, and it's in til death do you part. That commitment of love was a covenant before God that was beautiful. She stood by her husband until the last—even in the midst of tragedy that love will never fail.
Watch the trailer for the "Sunrise in Heaven" out on April 9.