Even if you are not a Christian, there is a good chance that you are familiar with MercyMe’s song “I Can Only Imagine”.
“I Can Only Imagine” has been featured on the Christian, Mainstream, and Country charts and has over a million downloads. It is probably the most popular Christian song of all time.
But, as with any great job, there is a story. And the backstory of that song was turned into a movie starring Dennis Quaid.
The film, which is named after the song, is based on MercyMe frontman and Greenville native Bart Millard, played by J. Michael Finley, and his relationship with his father, Arthur Millard, played by Dennis Quaid. This relationship and Arthur Millard’s journey with his faith were the inspiration for the song.
This is not Quaid’s first confessional film, however. In 2011, Quaid played Bethany Hamilton’s father in Soul surfer. It told the true story of a young woman who had been attacked by a shark, and the film had a very Christian tone.
“The expression ‘Christian film’ or the expression ‘faith-based film’ is the same as saying, ‘Every Arnold Schwarzenegger film was a 13-year-old teen film,'” says Quaid . “If it’s a good story, everyone will go see it. I think it’s great that it’s called faith-based. Alright with me.”
Bart Millard did not want to follow in the footsteps of other denominational films. He says he was moved watching the movie, but it was important for him not to water down anything.
“If you don’t show how [my dad] was, then the story of redemption was kind of watered down, ”says Bart Millard. “And the directors were really cool about it and said they were on the same page. At one point there was a discussion about “We have to be careful that this isn’t an R-rated movie,” and I was like, “OK, we’re on the right track”, just because I didn’t want them to back down.
“There was just a pain that I felt in some scenes. But it was what I wanted. I wanted people to understand how hard it was.” – Bart Millard
“I wanted people to know this guy was no good, and so the first time I saw him I was like, I think we got it because there’s just a pain that I felt in certain scenes. But that was what I wanted. I wanted people to understand how difficult it was. ”
Arthur Millard was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive towards his son. To put it lightly, Quaid played a villain, but not the kind you root for in any way.
“It’s fun playing the villain in a comic book movie,” Quaid says. “It’s a true story, and… I don’t see Arthur as a villain. I see him as a person who was the product of his own circumstances growing up. Playing an abusive father, a monster, as he was described by – rightly so – by his son Bart, that was who he was for most of their relationship, that made it very difficult. ”
Quaid says that although he was a Christian who grew up in the Baptist church, he had never heard the song. He waited until he had finished reading the script to listen.
“I put the CD aside and read the story,” he says. “When I read a script, that’s how I choose the movies I’m going to make. When I read the script for the first time – because that’s the only time I’m going to be an audience member with the first time experience – I lived the story, and that’s why I applied. It was such a powerful story, as real as it was, and a very difficult role. ”
Nonetheless, says Quaid, after filming scenes, he was able to leave the character on set. “Believe it, this is not my life,” he said. “I leave it there on the set, and I go out and have a good time.”
But Quaid played the role of Arthur Millard, says Bart Millard. While Bart Millard was on set on the first day of filming, he says, it was difficult to stay the course watching Quaid play his father.
“The first scene they filmed was when my dad found out he had cancer,” says Bart Millard. “It was weird because I think it’s pretend or whatever, but when he walked out with the work shirt with my dad’s name on the shirt, and they just kept on Calling Mr. Millard, man, that hit me in the stomach.
“The next scene they’re filming is when he breaks a plate on my head, and so we really beat a thousand here, and I’m sitting there and we’re watching this scene, and literally when they’re done with it. , I was like “I’m going for a drive” and decided that I would come back when there was a lot of hugs and nice things. But I never saw it coming. ”
I can only imagine is in theaters March 16.