Fireproof, The Interviews: Leading Lady Erin Bethea
Erin Bethea (seen at right. Picture from Hayley Catt) is realizing every actress’ dream: a starring role in a nationally-released feature film (Fireproof, from the makers of Facing the Giants). Yet when she came to audition for a role, she had no expectation of receiving that role. Her wish was to be part of the ministry of Albany, Georgia’s, ministry effort to reach the world through film.
Erin has a theater degree and is currently working at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. During a busy week of promoting the film and making appearances with her co-star Kirk Cameron, Erin took a few moments to talk about the film and her preparation for the role.
Your dad is the pastor of Sherwood Baptist and one of the executive producers, yet you had to audition for your role like everyone else. How was that for you?
Erin: It was actually a surprise. I didn’t intend to audition for the lead. I had a part in Facing the Giants, and thought maybe I could have a part in this one as well. Maybe a little one. But when I read Catherine’s scenes for the audition, I fell in love with the character, and asked if they wouldn’t mind if I read those scenes for the audition, and they said yes. The rest is history.
There were some very intense scenes that are kind of hard to sit through. How did you get ready for that?
Erin: It was difficult to shoot some of those fight scenes. It was really like a boxing match. They had Kirk and I kind of sequestered so we could work ourselves up for the fight scenes, then when we came together, it was easier to get to that place and not be joking around. They were difficult, but I think they came out pretty well.
What do you draw on to come up with that intensity?
Erin: Well, first of all, Kirk (Cameron) is a great actor, and he makes my job so much easier. Really it was a lot of thinking about where Catherine is right now, and all that she’s been through up to this po
int. We don’t really see it in the movie, but she’s been through a lot and put up with a lot, and she is fed up!
Did you create your own backstory for her?
Erin: I created some of it, and I had heard some from Steven. Kirk had worked with an acting coach named Warner Laughlin before, and she had come up to the set and par tof what she does is help you create an emotional backstory for your characters.
How long was the process for you to get ready to play the part of Catherine? You had a lot of lines to learn, and a lot of emotion to prepare for. So from the time you were cast until the first shooting day, how long was it?
Erin: It wasn’t very long. I was the first person cast in the film, and I found out the first or second weekend of September. We started filming on October 15th, so I had about a month. It wasn’t long, but I spent a lot of time in prayer asking the Lord to do through me what I was not able to do.
I thought one of the strengths of your character was not capitulating easily. How did you prepare for that?
Erin: It was difficult for me, not having been hurt like Catherine was really hurt. But you have to think that when a woman has been through 6 or 7 years of her husband never treating her right. All of a sudden he’s starting to – any woman would be suspicious of that behavior.
What parts of the role came more easily to you?
Erin: One of my favorite scenes was what we call “His and Hers.” It’s a back and forth, and Catherine is out to dinner with her friends, and Caleb is at the firehouse with Michael. That was just fun to film. We got to do a couple of shots that were just silly and we were having fun, so they weren’t too emotional. We got to relax a little bit.
It was a great scene, and brilliantly written.
What was the hardest scene for you?
Erin: I think one of the hardest for both Kirk and I was the scene where Caleb apologizes to Catherine. Difficult because it’s an incredibly emotional scene, but it was also the first scene Kirk and I shot together. We had just met. It was very intense.
The very first scene I had to shoot in the entire movie was the ring scene, where I was crying and bawling. It was pretty hysterical, and I thought, “thank you, Alex, for starting me off so easily and letting me getting my feet wet.” I like to think he just wanted to torture me.
How do you make the decision as an actress at what level to play things so you don’t go over the top?
Erin: I tried overall to keep Catherine pretty subtle. I think she’s the type of person who keeps a lot of feelings to herself and tries to maintain that professionalism. So it was a challenge for me over all across the board. Then when she has a really emotional breakthrough at the end, it really stands out.
The first time you saw the finished product, what did you see in yourself that surprised you?
Erin: Well, of course you pick yourself apart, but I thought, “Hey, I kind of look like I know what I’m doing!” Who knew? I really didn’t, but I’m glad I could fake it.
Now that you have a movie under your belt, in addition to other acting experience. What do you see ahead for yourself?
Erin: Well, I think it’s a great challenge, because with great privilege comes great responsibility. So to get to be in a movie that hopefully is going to majorly impact marriages in America, I’m really excited about what that could do just as far as my ability to minister to people.
And as far as my career, I’m really hoping to do more with film. We’ll see what the Lord has.
How old were you when you first started thinking about acting?
Erin: I think every little girl pretty much performs on their fireplace and halfway dreams about becoming an actress. I think I was about halfway through high school when I was in my first play.
I thought if I could do this for the rest of my life, they wouldn’t have to pay me, I’d do it for free! Ever since then I’ve had a real passion for it.
I went to the University of Mobile in Alabama. It’s a Christian college, with a tiny little theater, and it was a great experience.
Where do you see growth in yourself since that time?
Erin: I see the greatest growth since college. In college, I was focused on wanting to do the lead, and do the plays I wanted. There was a little bit of immaturity there, I think. But now as a more seasoned actress, I’m more interested in the character I play. I think if Catherine had been a smaller character, I would have loved her just as much because of the journey she goes on. There’s been a lot of growth in what I look for, and the material I like to do.
You’re working at Disney World now, aren’t you?
Erin: I am. I do a show in the Magic Kingdom, and it’s great fun. I get to hang out with kids all day and have a blast! It’s a little storytelling show over near Fantasy Land. We get the kids involved and just have a good old time!