BYU Actors Maintain LDS Standards

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    By: Jaclyn Anderson

    Actor and BYU alumnus Jon Heder had to draw the line. He was simply uncomfortable with the scene and so he gave the filmmakers an ultimatum.

    “I finally came to the decision and told them, ‘Look, it’s either me or this scene. If you’re going to keep the scene in, then I am going to have to say no,'” Heder said.

    The scene was cut and he kept the job.

    For anyone trying to be successful in film, theater or television, the road is long and hard. Working in an industry that often ignores personal standards and family values can be especially challenging for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Added to the stress of maintaining high moral standards in an acting career is supporting a family in an unstable and ultra-competitive industry.

    Heder has been in a number of films and worked with several celebrities since the success of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Working as an actor in Hollywood, he has faced many moral dilemmas head-on.

    “I have been in situations where I either had to compromise a moral or take the risk of losing a job,” he said. “When you’re in that position telling that to people, [the decision to maintain a value] then it’s very difficult.”

    Heder said he tries to avoid those situations by reading the script and considering all aspects of a film such as the director, producer and writers, before he takes a role.

    BYU graduate Erin Chambers, who has guest-starred in several television shows, including “C.S.I.”, “Stargate: Atlantis”, and “E.R.,” said she has decided what she will and will not do as an actress and a member of the LDS church. However, that fact has not always made the decisions she’s been forced to make any easier.

    “I’ve gotten in situations where I kind of justified stuff and I felt, ‘This is okay because I don’t do anything wrong,'” she said. “[Then] I get to a table-read [of a script] and they’ve changed everything, and all of a sudden I have to make a decision.”

    Chambers said many of her LDS classmates became inactive after they graduated and started their acting careers. She has remained active throughout her career and sees her faith as something that sets her apart from other actors.

    “One of the rewards [of acting] is feeling like I can be a part of it and still be myself,” Chambers said.

    Acting major Kevin Goertzen plans to go to New York and start auditioning for various productions after he graduates.

    He said maintaining high standards can be a challenge for anyone in any career, but said he does have fears about the decisions he will be faced with as an actor.

    “Even in the theatre that I’ve worked in so far, [which has] been outside of the predominant LDS culture and community, situations and opportunities have presented themselves that worry me and scare me,” Goertzen said. “The Broadway world has been turned into a big sexual innuendo, basically… learning to set that boundary and distance yourself from those things that you know are going to put you in harm’s way is going to be a challenge.”

    Supporting a family with a career in which actors often do not know when or if they will land another job can also prove difficult.

    Many members of the church often decide to stop pursuing an acting career because the instability of acting is not conducive to family life, said acting professor Tim Threlfall.

    He said most people stay in acting because they are a celebrity and have the ability to keep obtaining roles or because they have the tenacity to keep auditioning and working to obtain roles.

    Phillip Clayton, a senior majoring in acting, said he thinks his parents are worried that he will not be able to provide for a family if he pursues an acting career.

    “My parents would probably say, ‘Don’t do it,’ or ‘Be careful,'” he said.

    Clayton will graduate next semester and plans to stay in Utah to start his career. He said going straight out to New York or Los Angeles right after graduation would be too much of a risk for him.

    Acting major Samantha Dickens said she has struggled to decide between her passion and being practical. She changed her major to social work because she wants to have the stability of a regular paycheck in her future career.

    “I grew up and I’ve always been like ‘I want to be an actress,'” she said. “I love acting, and the older I get, the more I realize that if I want stability and a secure income the more unlikely that is if I go into acting.”

    Jenny Latimer, a junior majoring in acting, is also struggling to decide if she will pursue an acting career. She said acting is not convenient to a family life partly because actors often have to travel and be away from their families.

    BYU alumnus, Bryan Madsen, who has a part in the Broadway national tour of “Wicked,” knows that acting jobs are few and far between.

    “You get rejected from 99 percent of every job you apply for,” he said. “You can be in a great gig that has great pay, but it’s a contract and contracts are not permanent. You enjoy it while you have it and then you move on to the next thing.”

    Madsen believes taking advantage of opportunities to meet the influential people of the acting industries is a key to obtaining acting jobs.

    “I worked really hard and I took advantage of a really good opportunity, and that’s how I got this job,” Madsen said. “But overall I am going to credit God first because it’s a blessing.”

    Even with all the complicated decisions and uncertainties that accompany acting, there are LDS actors who choose to remain in the industry for love of the art.

    Heder said he has been blessed in his experiences as an actor and hopes to continue acting for the rest of his career.

    “I’ve always wanted to just express my self creatively through acting and filmmaking,” Heder said. “I really do enjoy it,” he said. “I love trying to bring characters to life and telling stories through that.”

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