At twenty-one, Madeline Carroll has seen the highs of success, with starring roles in Flipped, The Spy Next Door, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Machine Gun Preacher. Acting since she was three, when a talent agency discovered her as a precocious child in a salon in Los Angeles, Carroll thought she’d peaked at the age of fifteen, and found herself crying hysterically, asking God if He still had a plan for her in Hollywood.
The next day, a director suggested that she audition for a faith-based movie formed around MercyMe and Bart Millard’s story, I Can Only Imagine. Carroll discovered that the production team had been looking for, at the same time she was longing for God to open doors that would allow her to act again, leading to an hour-long discussion with Jon and Andy Erwin (Woodlawn, October Baby, Mom’s Night Out). Carroll walked out of the meeting and told her mother, “even if I don’t get the part, I’m grateful for the way they saw me.”
“They pulled me aside and told me that I’d made the right decisions, to not compromise my beliefs, that had led me here. I’d never heard that before.”
Knowing that the reputation of faith-based films she’d heard of, Carroll was excited to find a script that wasn’t “fluffy, cookie cutter.” Even more exciting was the platform that she knew she’d have when they cast her in the role of Millard’s longtime girlfriend-turned-wife, Shannon. “I’ve been so excited to share my testimony with this movie,” gushed Carroll by phone last week. “You don’t have to be an actress or a musician – but whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. I love acting but was ready to give it up to do what God wanted me to do. Acting was His gift in the first place; singing is his gift, writing is his gift. Sharing with young girls, I’m trying to set a good example, showing them that I don’t have to compromise my morals or do things I don’t want to do.”
Carroll’s other roles had given her a depth of characters to play, but in Shannon Millard, Carroll found a real-life person that she was going to portray. But with the advice of the Erwin Brothers, instead of mimicking the singer’s wife, Carroll found a different path to the role.
“My first instinct was to reach out to the real life Shannon and they said no, because we were similar,” Carroll explained. I didn’t talk to her until the premiere in Nashville and I was nervous but she loved it! Playing the transition from young to old was a challenge, too; it was hard and different to bridge the spirit the younger actress [who played Shannon as a child] brought.”
Watching the completed project, Carroll says the hardest scene she personally acted in was that of the bubbly cheerleader! But the scene where Amy Grant calls Bart up on stage and gives him the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” back? That’s the scene that’s her favorite in the whole film.
“I can’t imagine giving up my blessing for someone else,” the actress shared. “Her willingness to hand it back to him was so hard. She’s a beautiful person.”
With a few screenings under her belt, Carroll knows the impact the film has on other people. She’s excited to see what happens when it goes into wide release on March 16, as more people are able to see the way God worked through the Millards’ life. Somehow, at the edge of her career and prepared to quit, Carroll saw how her acting dream could end. With this opportunity from the Erwins, she’s seen the purpose of that time of testing, and the way that God’s plan was preparing her for each next moment, each opportunity. Now she’s here, and the future is even better than she could have imagined.