Melissa Joan Hart started acting as a toddler. It was a profession she is never sure she picked, but was very talented and the roles kept coming. From the early 90s starring in the Nickelodeon show, Clarissa Explains It All as a smart, sarcastic teenage girl that addressed the audience directly, to spending the majority of her twenties as the Archie comic book character Sabrina, in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Most recently she starred opposite Joey Lawrence in the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey. Now this wife and mother of three boys not only started a fashion line with her husband, but talked with Risen about her latest movie role in God’s Not Dead 2 and how prayer has shaped both her life and career.
Risen Magazine: Along with television you have done a number of movies and the latest film you star in is God’s Not Dead 2. You play a high school teacher named Grace and your character has a discussion with a student where she talks about how, at some point, every person asks the question or wonders, “Is there more to life?” When did you seek to know more about faith?
MJH: I always have. I took my [studies] very seriously as a young Catholic. It never really got deeper than the lesson and I didn’t really get the answers I needed. I bought the Pope’s book and never read it, I carried my Bible, I was always a praying person and seeking more, but never really finding it or figuring out how to do it. Once I had kids and became a real church member, I became a Presbyterian, my husband is a Baptist, and I wanted to learn more. I look at each experience I have and try to further my relationship with God. I try to educate myself on the Bible and it’s so funny because I memorize lines for a living, but my Bible study ladies make fun of me because I can never remember a Bible verse. It’s so weird, but I think it’s because the language isn’t really language we use today so it doesn’t stay in my brain – it’s the hardest thing for me.
I’ve been doing CBS [Community Bible Study] for a long time, six years now, and once I had kids and moved to Connecticut, I had time to spend three hours on a Wednesday morning and be more part of a church community. Now I’ve studied, Luke and Deuteronomy, and Romans so I’m really understanding and doing cross-referencing and such. Also being on the set of the film was really amazing, because there were all these apologetics’ professors. I think we did nine days in the courtroom and while we were sitting backstage waiting to shoot different testimonies and other camera angles, we were asking every question we could. I feel like I got a Ph.D. in apologetics all of a sudden.
It was amazing and we talked about everything from the shroud, to gay marriage because that had passed when we were there in the courthouse and there were marriages going on downstairs while we were filming. We covered the division of inter-religion like Judaism and Muslim and where the branches go off in different directions. Things I never learned about, or asked, or even had the guts to ask. I found myself asking every question and trying to remember it all too! It was an incredible experience and I feel like I learned a lot.
RM: How does your faith influence your personal life and career?
MJH: Prayer is always a big part of my life and I use it to guide my everyday life and my career. I don’t necessarily choose a role because of my religion, but I do pray on it. I want to make sure it is the right project for me, and my family. Whether it has a Christian message or not isn’t really a part of that. It’s more about me relating with the material and determining if I can do something great with the movie. I think flawed characters are really interesting, I mean somebody has to play Judas in the movie. I think anyone in any career that is a believing Christian uses prayer whether it is regarding a new job, a change in boss, unemployment, or whatever it is.
RM: In God’s Not Dead 2, Grace would rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God. When have you seen consequences for speaking truth?
MJH: Oh just taking this movie. I had persecution immediately, even from the inside. I expected persecution when I took this film, but I expected it from strangers and social media; I didn’t expect it from within my core group. I struggled with the decision to even take this movie for a long time. I had some people pray with me on it and I even went to our preschool director, who is a wonderful Christian woman and she prays with me on everything. Whether I have to leave town and be away from my kids, or I’m having trouble with friends, she is a big spiritual leader in my life. I went to her with this movie and said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like I should do it, but I’m getting pullback from people.” But, I did decide to do it and I think it was a great decision. However, I do think I am going to get a lot more persecution coming up. I think doing this movie isn’t exactly a popular thing, but that doesn’t bother me because I think this was the right thing for me and I think it was the right thing to do.
Check out our full interview with Melissa Joan Hart as she is the cover story for our spring issue. She shares more with Risen regarding her time on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, to transitioning into Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even her fashion line she started with her husband.
God’s Not Dead 2 opens nationwide on April 1: GodsNotDeadTheMovie.com