It’s the multi-platinum song that brought hope to millions. I Can Only Imagine tells the The inspiring true story behind MercyMe’s beloved song and will hit the big screen in theatres everywhere on March 16.
I recently got the opportunity to interview Bart Millard, MercyMe’s lead singer and inspiration behind the film, Jon Erwin (Co-Writer, Co-Director) and Kevin Downes (Producer). Read Dennis Quaid interview here.
An Interview with I Can Only Imagine movie inspiration Bart Millard
Bart, your life story is about to be shown in front of millions of people, are you nervous about that?
“Nervous, not sure what to expect,” said Millard. “I’ve been in a band for 24 years and I have told parts of the story. That’s really how this all came about. Someone heard me tell the story years ago. It’s not like the movie The Blind Side where the family is kind of thrown out there and that can be weird.”
Millard adds, “I have gone through therapy to unpack who I am now and how it’s connected to my childhood.”
Years ago Millard and his wife went to grief counseling when her younger brother passed.
“If I hadn’t gone through this separate journey of unpacking all that. I don’t think I would have been in a healthy place where this would have been a good idea. But, now I am like, “Let’s see what happens!” Millard said.
About meeting J. Michael Finley
J. Michael Finley plays Bart in the film. Millard describes their first encounter.
“We first flew up to see him on broadway. It was pretty intimidating. I was thinking he was overqualified because he was killing the part.” Millard laughs.
“We went to dinner and I felt like we were separated at birth. I thought he was the person.”
Co-Director Erwin added, “I knew immediately he was the right actor for the role.”
The requirements to play Bart were long. The actor needed to be able to sing, look like Bart and have a ‘voice of an angel’.
Erwin confesses he knew immediately Finley was right for the role.
“We found out his dad is a pastor and he saw MercyMe three times in high school. He is a one-in-a million person and has the best film instincts. I can’t wait to introduce him to the world.” Erwin said.
Producer Downes adds, “This is his first film to audition. He is a talent we are lucky to have”
Bart, you lived this story and now you get to watch it. How have you grown as a person?
“Therapeutic is an understatement. There’s no book to prepare you.” Millard said.
Millard shares the story of the first time he saw them shoot the film.
“The first scene they shot (in front of me) was when my Dad found out he had cancer. It punched me in the gut. Then, the next scene was when he broke a plate over my head. I needed to go for a drive.”
Seeing how his life played out on film forced Millard to see things in a different perspective.
During shooting, Dennis Quaid consulted with Bart to ask him what Arthur was like. According to Millard, his dad was described as a teddy bear prior to a tragic accident that left him in a coma for many weeks only to wake up a monster.
Millard shared how he was able to see his Dad differently as a victim.
“One scene Bart leaves the house and it keeps rolling on Arthur (Dennis Quaid). He has this moment where he can’t control his anger. For the first time in my life I thought about what my Dad could have gone through after I left. I was frozen. Dennis would always make contact and ask if I was okay. I never thought of my Dad in a different light and what he was going through. I’ve grown and learned a lot.”
Emotions after first time seeing the closing credits
“First time I saw a the movie, read the script, and saw a scissor reel of the film it was incredibly emotional. I think it’s right because it’s stirring something in me I have tried to avoid for a long time.
We nailed it because there was an ache I felt in certain scenes. I wanted people to see how rough it was.”
What do you want audience to take away from the movie?
Millard said, “I want them to walk away understanding that their story isn’t finished yet. We all have those people in our lives that we think are unreachable.”
Millard continued, “If you would have asked me a million times out of million, who is the one person God could not get to I would have said my Dad every time.
But here we are talking about his redemption story.
If there is breath in our lungs, then no one is out of the reach of God’s grace.
If we are still breathing, the story is not finished. We have every reason to hold on to hope until the last period.”
I Can Only Imagine hits theaters March 16. Buy tickets now.
I Can Only Imagine Movie Teaser Trailer
About I Can Only Imagine
Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, I Can Only Imagine is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many… often in the midst of life’s most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft.
Although he found faith at a young age, life wasn’t easy for Bart. He leaned into an active imagination and his love of music as escapes from a troubled home life. As he grew older, Bart turned to football in hopes of somehow connecting with his abusive father. But a career-ending injury—combined with the vision of a teacher who saw unlimited potential—set Bart on a musical pathway. Chasing a dream while running from broken relationships with his father and Shannon, his childhood sweetheart, Bart hits the road in an old, decrepit tour bus with his new band MercyMe—named for his grandmother’s favorite expression. With the guidance of a grizzled music-industry insider, the band begins a journey none of them could ever have imagined.
Directed by the Erwin Brothers, I can Only Imagine stars Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, and Cloris Leachman.