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Actress Erin Bethea Finds ‘New Life’ in Suffering

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Actress Erin Bethea burst onto the Christian movie landscape in 2008 when she played opposite Kirk Cameron as his long-suffering wife in the breakthrough hit Fireproof.

She has worked steadily in the movie industry ever since with several notable roles in films like The Redemption of Henry Myers, This is Our Time, and the recent Laughing at the Moon. 

Not content to play it safe, Bethea has taken on a new project that she calls the toughest but most rewarding role she has ever had.  A romance, New Life (opening Friday in select theaters) explores caring for another at its deepest level – loving someone through suffering and ultimately death.

I recently sat down with Bethea to discuss why she chose to tackle such a serious subject with New Life (a movie she also co-wrote), finding beauty in the face of challenge and loss, and why there is hope in every circumstance.

New Life is an iconic romance on par with Nicholas Sparks-type movies like The Notebook.  Why do romances never seem to go out of style? 

I think the desire of love is a universal concept. As human beings, we are born with a desire to love and to be loved. That’s how God created us in His image and that’s one of the strongest character traits of God, and so it’s instilled in us, and relationship with other human beings.  There’s no greater satisfaction in human relationship than a romantic relationship.  Seeing that portrayed onscreen in a way that is inspiring, that’s the kind of love that I want, or that I’m looking for.  It helps me appreciate it.  That resonates with people.

In your words, what is the story of the movie New Life about? 

New Life is about two people, Ben and Ava, who meet each other as children when they move in next door to each other. They’re childhood sweethearts, and they grow up together, so it’s basically a journey of watching them choose to continue to love each other no matter what circumstances are thrown their way. And when they’re faced with perhaps life’s most terrifying question, which is the question of our own mortality, they choose each other again and walk hand-in-hand into the storm to see what comes next.

As you have mentioned, a major theme in New Life is that all of our moments in life, the good, the bad, even the in between, they all hold some sort of beauty within them. Is there beauty in the face of challenge and loss?

I think it’s important to show tragedy, challenge, and loss, because ultimately that’s what makes hope all the more powerful. And that’s really the message of New Life.  The message is that life is not this glossy fairytale, even if you did fall in love with your childhood best friend; it’s not a glossy fairytale. But those moments, those dark moments are who make you who you are, so that in the beautiful moments, in the celebratory moments, you have such greater appreciation. And so they sort of become a reflection of one another, that one would not be as beautiful without the other.

Adding to what you just said, there’s a line in the movie that really stuck out to me for its profound nature. When Jonathan Patrick Moore’s (The L.A. Complex) character Ben says, “Even still in the storm, I know that somehow we would find joy.” Do you believe a person can go through such an ordeal, like your character and Jonathan’s go through, and still live life without regret?

I really believe that. I don’t understand how people go through life without having faith in something. I think that’s the only way to be able to have that kind of perspective is to know that no matter what our journey, our time here on this earth is temporary and therefore it’s to be lived to the fullest and treasured, and for us to love one another as best we can while we’re here.  It’s just knowing that things will happen to you along the way, you’ll make decisions, and you’ll slip up along the way. But ultimately, if you look back on your life, you can see this pattern of how the Lord sort of guided you through those situations. And even in those storms you know that there’s purpose, and there’s joy to be found.

I’m sure a lot of this role came very naturally to you, but I also understand that you have said that it was probably your most challenging role to date. With that in mind, do you feel like you really had to stretch yourself as an actress for this role?

Definitely, because on one hand the person that Ava is, is similar to my personality. And so from that angle she felt very natural to me. But she goes through things that, as an actor you’re supposed to try to tap into some things in your own emotions that can help you relate to what your character is going through, and I can’t even wrap my head around the feeling that your own body has turned against you.  It’s really terrifying, sad, and hard, and that so often those people, their families fall apart and they end up having to comfort their families. They have to become so strong, and I don’t know what to pull from in life remotely to identify with that.

Through all the hardships and trials this couple goes through, in the end of this movie we are left with the thought that in any circumstance there is hope.  From your perspective, how does this movie convey hope?

I think that actually the circumstances that they go through are what make hope so powerful, and I think the thing that people forget very often is that hope is a choice. It’s not something that happens upon you. You wake up in the morning and you say, “Today I’m going to choose to be hopeful.” And that’s what we see with Ben in the scene after Bill Cobbs’ character has a conversation with him.  Ben considers just going back into his hole, and turns around and makes a deliberate choice that even though it’s hard, even in the face of heartache and grief, and not wanting to face a tomorrow without the person that he loves, he has to move forward, and it’s in making that very difficult but very brave choice that suddenly this opportunity comes across his path that he could never have expected and would not have been prepared for, had he not been choosing hope all that time.

At the end of the day, after people see New Life, from your perspective as an actor and a co-writer on this, what do you want people to get out of this film?

Ultimately, I would love for people to leave the theatre having really gone on an authentic emotional journey, at the end of which leaves them wanting to go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow and love better, live harder, and not take anything for granted. Because no matter how long we’re on this earth, whether it’s only 30 something years or 80 or 90 years, it’s not long enough. And so every single day should be lived with an appreciation that it’s a new life, it’s a chance to start over, and whatever happened the day before you can work from it and move on or be appreciative of it because it happened.

New Life opens in select theaters this weekend.  Find a theater near you by clicking here.

Watch a trailer for New Life:

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