Dressed like he’d stepped out of a scene from “Grease,” Max Ehrich logged onto Zoom, primping his hair and smoothing his black leather jacket.
It was as if the actor hadn’t quite left the setting of his latest film, “Southern Gospel.”
Ehrich, 31, will undoubtedly be familiar to two camps of people: Those who watch daytime television and those who follow singer Demi Lovato. The former because he stars in “The Young and the Restless,” and the latter because he was briefly but intensely tied to his now-ex-fiancée.
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In fact, it was that short-lived romance that inspired a certain vulnerability in Ehrich, who portrays 1960s rock and roll singer Samuel Allen in the faith-based film “Southern Gospel,” debuting in theaters Friday.
The film, based on true events, chronicles Allen’s life, from landing in jail on a drug charge — a consequence of the wild lifestyle he adopted after years of pain inflicted on him and his family by churchgoers who mistreated them — to a judge dismissing the charges against the rockstar, so long as he agreed to speak at churches and schools about the perils of drug addiction.
Overcoming the hurdles in front of him, Allen seized the second chance the judge gave him. He came to faith in Jesus, was baptized, and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a preacher.
Preparing for the film, Ehrich told CBN’s Faithwire, was a unique undertaking. He recalled spending a great deal of time poring over Scripture and reexamining his own view of God.
“My faith increased immensely while preparing for this role,” he said. “I think, just to get in the headspace, I was reading the Bible so much and I’d say that I definitely have grown so much as a person just from the experience and I’d say that, you know, the movie is one that has had probably the most profound impact on my life of any project I’ve ever done.”
He went on to say the movie, filmed in 2020, came “during a very specific time in my life and I’m very grateful that I had that movie there,” referring to the tabloid-esque rise and fall of his relationship with Lovato.
When his character was baptized in the movie, Ehrich actually decided himself to get baptized, a significant spiritual step he recalled taking “for many reasons,” one of which is a faith that deepened during the tumultuous end of his engagement to Lovato — a split that came the morning the scene was filmed.
“It was very public and people were very intrusive about it,” he said. “I just felt like I needed the protection of God and Jesus during that time and I’d say that was one of the many reasons why I [got baptized].”
Of course, it should be noted baptism isn’t a mystical act granting anyone greater access to God or His provision. Rather, put plainly, it is an outward display of an inward spiritual transformation. Baptism, while closely associated with salvation, is not required for salvation; it is an act of obedience, as Jesus calls all believers to take that step of public declaration of faith.
It was during the breakup, Ehrich said, that he “really leaned on” his family, friends, and faith in God.
“Something that I definitely leaned on was my faith, which is why I’m saying that this movie was super important,” he explained. “I don’t think that things happen just out of nowhere; I think there’s a reason why and I think that, because I got to work on this project, and I have a character that’s overcoming so many things and has an emotional arc, I was able to use [my personal experience] for the film, actually.”
A central theme of “Southern Gospel” is redemption, something so desperately needed in a today’s divisive cancel culture.
“I really hope a film like this softens people’s hearts a bit and gives us more of a sense of peace inwardly,” Ehrich said. “When we have that sense of peace inwardly, I think it transmutes outwardly as well.”
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