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Joel Smallbone Goes From for King & Country to the Big Screen
Joel Smallbone Goes From for King & Country to the Big Screen

Joel Smallbone Goes From for King & Country to the Big Screen

By Jacob Sahms

Joel Smallbone, half of the duo of the pop rock band for King & Country, is about to break out as a cinematic action hero. In Priceless, Smallbone plays James, a widower who has lost custody of his daughter and finds himself transporting shady shipments no questions asked. When he accidentally discovers he is part of a human trafficking ring, his soul begins a long ascent from the hole which he dug for himself.

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Smallbone has always been musical; you might say that it’s in his blood. His older sister, Rebecca St. James, is a well-known performer and worship leader; his younger brother, Luke, is the other half of for King & Country. But Smallbone remembers making films with his older brother, Ben, from an early age, so with a flair for the dramatic, the world of film was calling him, too.

“I’ve always loved theatrics,” Joel said from Nashville. “With six siblings, I guess it came naturally. We did short films, entering them in festivals.”

“I love the musical stage because you need big, boisterous moves to help people in the back see and feel what’s going on. But in film, there’s more nuance, more subtlety.”

Musically, Smallbone and his brother have been in the contemporary Christian music scene for five years, but they wrote pop music for five years prior to that. After a conversation with his pastor and mentor Jamie George in 2011, Smallbone walked away clear on two things: first, God would not plant him in an environment without a reason, and second, he had never considered the impact he could have on his environment.

“Throughout history, the Church has been a frontrunner in making art. Just look at the Sistine Chapel!” Smallbone exclaimed. “The heart of the mission of the band was to reclaim that space.”

Now, having conquered the musical world, the band is turning toward a ministry that the Smallbones have been noticing since they began touring: the need to share about what a healthy relationship looks like. “We’ve been standing on stage telling women that they deserve to be treated with love and respect,” he shared. “And telling men that there’s a chivalrous way to show love. That lead us to Priceless.

Two years ago, the musicians approached Ben with a desire to tell a story about the overarching theme of men fighting for women. The elder Smallbone remembered editing a documentary about a story involving human trafficking, and the family slowly worked on developing a story that would be an action thriller, not just an anti-trafficking slogan. As production on the story concluded, they ultimately tabbed Ben to direct and Joel to act as the lead.

“I think it was easier because we’ve always worked together. Maybe we got out all of the kinks as kids?” mused Smallbone.

Watching the film, it’s clear that the Smallbones knew what they were doing on camera, and behind the scenes. David Koechner, Jim Parrack, Bianca Santos, and others were brought together to deliver this story. Smallbone admitted that he thought his co-leads would make or break the film in his first lead role, that how they responded would either belittle or strengthen his acting.

“They choose to help and not harm, to give their best. We were set up to win,” Smallbone said.

Smallbone’s role was one which required him to train, especially when it came to disguising his Australian accent. Like Gerard Butler and Helen Mirren before him, he hired Steve Corona to travel with him for a week as a dialect coach. But the work Smallbone put into sounding authentically American is something he’s given much thought.

“I think the rest of the world is bombarded with American media, which seems to have solidified the ‘American dialect’ as West Coast American,” he shared. “People like me are more prone to pick it up and mimic it because our favorite lines are in American dialect from movies we have seen.”

While Smallbone’s acting might begin with the adoption of an American accent, it goes deeper into the way that this purehearted musician could become a deeply fallen human being like James. Diving into his character, Smallbone tackled the physical side, and the theological as well. While Smallbone’s James is the catalyst for the physical action story, Santos’ Antonia provides its heart, as a savior of sorts as well.

“James is certainly a physical hero,” Smallbone said, “but Antonia shows her strength in compromising her own self for those she loves. I think that’s one of the things the story in the film and in the book highlight.”

“We want men to walk away and see that yes, they’re to be the hunter, the person who sees a woman across the room and wants to pursue her because that’s beautiful in it’s time,” he continued. “But we want them to see that we’ve put the hunter on the pedestal, and there’s a balance with being the protector, too. We want men to love see it and want to love extravagantly, to protect and fight for others.”

Smallbone shared that while truly terrible things are referenced in the film, the story reminds women that they are not the sum of what has happened to them. “Antonia experiences terrible things, but she’s not defined by her circumstances. She’s who she is because of her relationship with God.”

To be clear, Priceless is not a movie just for Christians. It’s a movie by Christians, highlighting Christian ideals through the way toward salvation. Through trials and danger, James pursues that pilgrim’s progress, and in the end, it’s work of the Smallbones to share their faith, and love, that proves to be priceless.

The Furnace
5 of 5 Stars!
The Furnace
This is a very inspiring film! I highly recommend watching it!... [read more]
Quote For The Day
"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before."
- Philippians 3:13 (KJV)

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