When Rachel set out to earn a degree in photography, she had a plan for her life. But everything changed when she happened to meet a director who cast her in his short film. One project led to another until Rachel found herself teaming with directors John and Andy Erwin to create the inspiring feature film, October Baby:
“As the curtain rises, Hannah hesitantly steps onto the stage for her theatrical debut in college. Yet before she can utter her first lines, Hannah—unscripted—collapses in front of the stunned audience.
After countless medical tests, all signs point to one underlying factor: Hannah’s difficult birth. This revelation is nothing compared to what she then learns from her parents: she was actually adopted . . . after a failed abortion attempt.
Bewildered, angered, and confused, Hannah turns for support to Jason, her oldest friend. Encouraged by his adventurous spirit, Hannah joins his group of friends on a Spring Break road trip, embarking on a journey to discover her hidden past . . . and find hope for her unknown future.
In the midst of her incredible journey, Hannah finds that life can be so much more than what you have planned.”
Though you’ve been involved in numerous film projects, October Baby is your first feature film. What led you to acting, and how did you get connected with the Erwin brothers?
I went to the University of Montevallo in Alabama and got my degree in Photography. While I was studying, a close friend of mine who was also in the photography department was set up on a blind date with a director. He had this glamorous job where he got to work cameras for ESPN and travel all the time… Finally she introduced me to him, and he was a great guy. We all went out for dinner one night, and at dinner he invited one of his friends who is also a filmmaker.
[His friend] sat down at the table with us and said to me, “I want to put you in my short film.”
I said “Yes” because I really, really love trying out things and experimenting with what I can and cannot do. But I was pretty laid back about it. I said, “I don’t think I’m going to be good, so you probably need to find somebody else.”
But he put me in his short film. It was a nine-minute drama, a black and white ghost story and very interesting. I loved the script and thought it was so great. When I looked at the final product, I was blown away by the director’s ability to bring this out in me. I believed myself when I watched it. I didn’t feel like I had acting all over my sleeve. I thought, “Ok, this whole acting thing isn’t so hard.”
That little short film got me five jobs with the Erwin brothers throughout the last years of school. They saw it and thought, “We want her to be in this, and we want to put her in that.” They kept using me. They trusted me and liked my work. And that eventually led to them writing the script of October Baby for me.
What about October Baby appealed to you when you first read the script?
There were a lot of things I read that I was really moved by. It’s an incredible story of redemption. You read from beginning to end, and you feel like you’re going on this journey with Hannah. I wanted to be a part of that. John and Andy Erwin sent me the script with me in mind to play the role… It was definitely a role that they had intended for me, so I just had to say, “Yes.” I read the script and, of course, I was on board.
Your character, Hannah is an emotionally charged role. How did you get into her character and personalize her struggles?
I just stepped on set with a prepared mindset to feel what was happening naturally. I didn’t do a lot of preparing. I don’t know how to prepare for roles. I didn’t study acting. I’ve never been in a feature film before. This is my first time in that world. I was open to suggestions. I talked with some other actors who had a sense of learning the back-story and really researching and creating character and the personality of the character.
I thought John [Erwin] and Theresa Preston, the co-writers of the script, did a great job of communicating emotion and feeling in the dialogue in the scenes where [Hannah] is expressing herself. All I needed to do was believe her – believe her words and believe what she was feeling.
Every day I stepped on set with a fresh perspective of what Hannah was going to need and how she was going to express herself. I felt the scenes naturally. I tried to portray her as honestly as I could. My preparation, though, was pretty limited. I wasn’t prepared, but I think in a lot of ways that helped Hannah be even more vulnerable and naïve.
What did you enjoy most about working with the Erwin brothers?
I’m really learning about how talented they are. I got to see so much behind the scenes, how much hard work is involved, how much graphic campaigning, word of mouth, endless days, and sleepless nights these guys are experiencing because they’re really pushing through to the release date…
This experience also prepared me for disappointment with other directors. And I don’t say that lightly. I know I can’t always work with John and Andy. They can’t put me in every film. And they don’t need to. They need to be giving other actors opportunities and doing what they’ve done for me for other people. But at the same time, I wish I could work on every film with them. I wish that could be the rest of my career.
But I have some other great directors I’d love to work with, and I’m just wondering what it’s going to be like to step into that world without much experience at all in feature film, or television for that matter… I’ve been in LA making meetings with agencies. I’ve got a few meetings with directors and casting directors. The ball is rolling forward, but I am still really new and am constantly learning. I feel like I could never know all there is to know about this by any means.
How do you hope October Baby will affect viewers’ perspectives on abortion?
I think, in order to change your mind about something, it has to start in the heart of the issue. John and Andy did not want to make a film about abortion. They wanted to tell a story and incorporate that part of Hannah’s life into her story and ultimately her path to forgiveness and figuring out where she comes from and letting her pain go…
Any good filmmaking has its own message. But if the film is beating you over the head with something, you’re more likely not going to receive it because that’s not how, in our humanity, we respond to issues. They need to be brought to us in a gentle light so that we can look at them and evaluate them and see the humanity issue…
Whatever perspective you’re coming from, the film gives you a little bit of a different approach to something I had never heard of, which is an abortion survivor. It shows you the perspective of a victim, and that’s really undeniable.
What is different about working on a faith-oriented film like October Baby than a regular secular project?
There’s a whole different thing that happens when you’re onset with Christians who are truly people who have faith in their lives. I feel like I’m spoiled because how many other Christian directors are there? How many other directors are out there making films that you can take your family to see?
I don’t have to be afraid of exploitation or being taken advantage of or being manipulated in any way with these guys. They’re just like brothers to me. That whole reality was a true gift… It was a great experience for all of the actors to have been a team with the same agenda to tell a great story – not the agenda to push the issue of abortion over your head, but to tell a great story. I think we did a great job of telling a great story. That was the most exciting thing about working with John and Andy – getting to be a part of their storytelling process.
What do you hope viewers will ultimately take away from October Baby?
My hope is that women who have felt pressure or guilt or shame and see the film would feel release and life. I want them to feel light when they walk out of the theatre. A lot of women who have gone into the theatre feeling heavy have felt like a weight has been lifted off of them. I’ve even heard some women say, “I feel like this movie is healing me.” I know that’s not something we did, so it’s pretty amazing. I hope that continues…
I hope people tell other people to go see it and experience it because it’s not just a story that you walk away from and think, “That’s a great story. Moving on now.” You kind of do experience it and interact with it. You go on a journey with Hannah. It’s hard to separate yourself from that immediately after. I think it sticks with you for a little while.