Why you should know her: The Liberty University grad stars in the film "Secrets in the Snow," which was released on DVD last week.
Katie, 26, moved from Waynesboro to Lynchburg during her senior year of high school, after her father got a job at Liberty University. She graduated from Liberty in 2010 with a degree in theater and government and has been pursuing stage and screen work ever since.
After spending the summer in Wilmington, N.C., where a lot of film and television projects are filmed, she recently relocated to Washington, D.C.
Katie shot her part in "Secrets in the Snow," which she describes as a Christian, family-friendly take of the 1980s classic "The Breakfast Club," in 2011 and returned for its sequel, which was filmed this fall.
How did you get into acting?
"My mother was a theater major at Liberty back in the ‘80s. … [Growing up] she had me in the theater when she was stage managing and acting, so it was just natural."
What made you want to follow in her footsteps?
"Partially that I was there so much. But she used to sit me down in front of the TV [to] watch old movies. When I watched ‘White Christmas,’ I wanted to do exactly what the girls … in the big dance numbers did.
"[Liberty] was the school I always wanted to go to, because that was what my mom did. When my dad got the job teaching at Liberty and we moved to Lynchburg, it all just kind of fell into place."
What community theater groups did you work with while you were in college?
"I didn’t get the opportunities to perform at Liberty as much as I liked. … Because of that, I sought opportunities in the community, and I did ‘Cinderella’ at Little Town Players. I did ‘Steel Magnolias’ at the Academy of Fine Arts with Kathy Clay, and that changed everything. … If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have given up. … After graduating, I did a show at Renaissance, and I’ve worked with Wolfbane for two shows. And I did the Virginia Christmas Spectacular at Thomas Road. My mom writes that, so it’s a family affair."
How did you get involved in ‘Secrets in the Snow’?
"I had been told by a friend about a website called the Southern Casting Call. It’s kind of like a blog/ message board for people in the south who are trying to find auditions. Shortly after I heard about it, somebody posted the audition for ‘Secrets in the Snow.’ … I completely bombed the audition. I had come from another audition, and it was a dance audition, so I was wearing a dress with little dance shorts under it. … They had me read for the part I was called in for, but they decided to have me read for another part, which is the part I ended up getting. All they said was she’s tougher and she’s a little emo, and I was wearing this pretty dress. So I turned around a chair and sat backwards on it. That’s why I got called back. They thought, ‘What kind of girl would sit backwards on a chair in a dress?’ They still, to this day, talk about it."
When did filming start?
"We filmed the month of November of 2011. We filmed in Raleigh as well, the first film. We filmed a sequel this fall in the mountains of North Carolina. There was a kids’ Disney movie from the ‘90s called ‘Heavyweights,’ and we filmed on the same set as that."
Tell me a little bit more about the first film and your part in it.
"It’s kind of a Christian, family-friendly version of ‘The Breakfast Club.’ It’s the last day of school before Christmas, and there’s a freak snowstorm in Raleigh. And so they have to let everybody go home from school. For one reason or another, these six students either can’t get in touch with their parents or they can get in touch with their parents but their parents can’t come get them. So they’re stuck in the school overnight. And they all kind of know who each other are … but none of them are friends. [And] even though they think they know who each other are, they don’t know what makes each other tick. So tensions arise, and there’s a couple tense moments where it’s just like ‘The Breakfast Club,’ where they kind of fight. But in the end, they all become friends. The snowstorm kind of changes everything for them."
Who is your character?
"I play the angry … one you think nobody ever talks to. She never talks to anybody. She probably sits at home and reads dark novels. She’s very dark, very rarely smiles. But when she does open her mouth to speak, she’s very sassy."
What’s the sequel about?
"Five of the six characters from the first film go on this youth retreat. So they’re the youth leaders on this youth retreat. … They end up in the woods, kind of in the middle of nowhere, and not as many secrets come out as in the first film, but you get to learn a little bit more about each of them and how they change."
The first film went direct to DVD, right? Where can people find it?
"It’s available in pretty much every Christian bookstore. It is online. The soundtrack is on Amazon, and we just got news this week that they’ll be putting it in Redbox. We don’t have a date for that yet."
What about the sequel? When will that come out?
"Probably by fall, we’re hoping."
Before these films, what kind of work were you doing?
"There was a pitch film that was filmed in Lynchburg in 2009 called ‘The Bam Theory,’ and I played the lead female. I had done radio spots when I was a kid. I had mostly done stuff in Lynchburg, and I’d auditioned for other things, but the right thing hadn’t come about yet. The last thing I had done before this was, I think, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ at Endstation [Theatre in Amherst], and after that … I started to think, ‘Maybe I’m not going to get any professional roles.’ And this came along, and it kind of came at the perfect time."
What are you working on now?
"Since finishing the second film, I haven’t been working on a lot because I helped produce that. I’ve been helping with little things that have to happen, and that’s taken up so much of my time. [Before filming] I got to do a web series in Wilmington that was really fun, and I’ve done radio plays. I grew up on books on tape and radio plays, so I totally geeked out when I got that. … My mother and I got to write something together, which was really fun because I get to see her doing it all the time, so to join her in doing something like that was a wonderful opportunity."
How did you get into producing?
"The director … wanted to know if anybody could help with little tasks she needed help with. I said I would do it. I started by finding the location for the film, and then when I’d done that, I said, ‘What else do you need?’ By the end of it, it was the director, her husband and myself, and we were just doing anything and everything that needed to be done."
Have you enjoyed that side of the business?
"I have. It’s given me a big insight into what goes on. I’m so used to showing up on set and just doing my thing. Now I see how much hard work has to go in before I show up on set, and how much hard work has to go in after I leave. I really, really enjoyed that."
Christian films seem to be finding a broader audience these days. Why do you think that is?
"I grew up in the church … with my parents trying to find family-friendly films for us to watch. When I was a kid, the options were ‘Good Burger’ and whatever you happened to find on the Disney Channel. There just wasn’t much that was available, especially things that taught the morals my family wanted to instill in my brother and I. Then that church in Atlanta started doing ‘Fireproof’ and those movies, and … [it sent the message that] it can exist for us. There’s a possibility that we can find stuff we can show our kids, and we can not have to worry, ‘Oh, are they going to say the F word? Are they going to talk about things we don’t want our kids to hear about?’
"I feel like there still hasn’t been that many that are geared toward teenagers and kids. ‘Fireproof’ deals with family issues. ‘Letters to God’ deals with pretty heavy issues. … I’m really excited to see, now that ‘Secrets in the Snow’ has been released, to see how it’s received, because it is specifically targeted for that age group that I feel like has been kind of neglected."
Was your goal always to do on-screen work?
"Theater has always been my first love because it’s what I grew up on. It’s something I never want to stop doing. [There’s] just this adrenaline rush that you get when you do theater that you don’t when you’re in front of a camera. But that said, there’s this challenge of being in front of the camera and not knowing what the end product is. Then a year later, you get to see the hard work you put in. … There’s a magical moment about that."
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.