By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
ORLANDO, Fl.—Erin Bethea, the actress who portrayed Catherine Holt, the wife of Kirk Cameron’s character Capt. Caleb Holt, in the nationally acclaimed movie, “Fireproof,” is a pastor’s daughter.
In fact, she is the daughter of Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Church in Albany, Ga..—and one of the executive producers of the 2008 film, which garnered national attention as the No. 1 independent film in theaters last year.
Viewed by more than four million moviegoers this past autumn, “Fireproof” is now available on DVD and with its Special Collector’s Edition, earned the best first-week results in the history of Christian retail.
The movie is the story of a firefighter who lives by the old firefighter’s adage: “Never leave your partner behind.” But, after seven years of marriage, the firefighter’s relationship with his wife is failing. As they prepare to file for divorce, Caleb’s father challenges his son to commit to a 40-day test called The Love Dare, which ultimately introduces selflessness and faith.
“Fireproof” is the third feature film from the creators of “Facing the Giants” and “Flywheel”—Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Church.
Though Bethea played a small role in “Facing the Giants,” she had to audition for the role of the leading lady in “Fireproof.” A professional actress currently based in Orlando, Fla., Bethea received her bachelor of arts degree in theatre from the University of Mobile where she was able to put her love of live theatrical performance to use in over a dozen shows.
Even with the training, Bethea admits she was nervous to play opposite Cameron, a veteran actor most known for his role as Mike Seaver in the television series, Growing Pains. Her first scene to be filmed was when Cameron (Caleb) kneeled at the bed to ask for forgiveness while she wept in response.
“It was heavy stuff right off the bat,” Bethel recounted in an interview with BaptistLIFE. “It was hard to be emotionally vulnerable before someone I didn’t know.”
Even so, Bethea credited Cameron with being a great actor with strong convictions. His experience on the set helped the supporting cast, which was made up of volunteers from Sherwood Church.
“Kirk had a heart for the storyline,” Bethea said, pointing to Cameron’s dedication to his marriage of 17 years to his wife Chelsea Noble. Noble appears in a scene towards the end of Fireproof when Cameron’s character kisses his wife. Noble was disguised to look like Bethea in a scene that was shot in shadow because of Cameron’s conviction that he should not kiss any woman other than his wife.
On days she was not scheduled to be on set, Bethea served as a member of the makeup team, which is indicative of the way the entire church banded together to do whatever it took to make the movie happen.
“Sherwood is a really unique church. So many churches are focused on committees and meetings and looking inward, but my church is so outward focused,” she said, noting that Pastor Catt does a great job of unifying the church under one vision: to touch the whole world, with the whole Word, motivated by a passion for Christ and compassion for all people… from Albany, Ga.
“Through the movie ministry, the church is doing just that,” she said. “I am proud of them.”
As with their earlier movies, proceeds from the movie will help build Sherwood’s 82-acre public sports park in Albany, complete with walking trails, a fishing pond, horse stables and riding trails, tennis courts, baseball fields, and soccer fields.
Bethea shared how humble the Sherwood Church members are. “There’s no attitude, such as, ‘We’re the church that makes movies.’”
Rather, Bethea said that the entire church unites in prayer, acknowledging that God is in control. There is much prayer even before the story writing takes place. When the screenplay writers Alex and Stephen Kendrick announced the story line for “Fireproof,” the entire church rallied together to pray.
“We knew it would be a difficult story to tell because it hits so close to home,” shared Bethea, acknowledging that the divorce rate in the church is the same as across the country. “We knew that the success and attention to healing marriages would help our own church.”
Bethea, now 26, was seven years old when her father began as pastor at Sherwood. Previously, her parents had served at churches where people were resistant to change, but Sherwood was a different.
The church was intentional about not being “locked inside our box” but to look outward to the hurting world and the hurting community. At Sherwood, there is a real sense of community and unity, she said.
“It’s fun to feel like you are a part of something that is so much bigger than yourselves,” she said.
Bethea noted that it’s not easy being in the ministry and being in a minister’s family, “but I’ve got to see the Lord reward my parent’s hard work. And now, I get to be a part of it. It’s incredible!” she said.
Now a member of First Church, Orlando, Bethea works as an entertainer at the Walt Disney World Resort where she performs in various parades and shows in the Magic Kingdom and beyond.
Bethea also serves as co-host for a new television series sponsored by the North American Mission Board called OMX: On Mission Xtra, which airs on FamilyNet. The show features missionaries who are reaching North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through creative means.
“I am particularly proud of this show because it is centered around individuals, missionaries, and church groups in North America who are doing some really incredible things to reach their communities for Christ,” she said. “I think the style of OMX reflects the message of the show, which is to get Christians to be relevant and think outside the box.”