Portraying your everyday high school student in a movie is generally a pretty standard role. However, playing Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine shooting, is anything but standard.
Kennesaw State senior Masey McLain is doing just that in the upcoming Christian film “I’m Not Ashamed.” The film, which opens Oct. 21, focuses on Scott’s high school years up to the shooting and her Christian faith, using Scott’s own journals as references.
We sat down with McLain to talk about the experiences and preparation of playing a role from one of the most notorious events in modern American history. This interview has been edited for length.
Q: Everyone that sees the film already knows what’s going to happen to Rachel at the end. Why do you think that people need to see the last years of her life before the tragedy?
McLain: I think the really special thing is what she wrote in her journals, and that’s mainly what “I’m Not Ashamed” is about. It doesn’t focus on her death, and it’s not this big buildup where we’re all waiting for that scene. Once you’ve seen it, you really notice it focuses on her walk with the Lord and what the Lord was teaching her. She was finding out, “What does it look like for me to live out my faith? What does it look like for me to follow Jesus? What does it look like for me to love people?” I think that the example she set was so inspiring, and I think it’ll be so inspiring to so many people.
Q: How did you get involved with the film?
McLain: (Laughing) I auditioned. It was a long process. I auditioned for about a year. People ask me if this is the first role I’ve ever done, and I’ve actually been an actress for about eight years, so I’ve been in the business for a long time. It was really a dream role and really a work of God that I got this role because I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: Was it intimidating taking on such a famous figure surrounded by tragedy?
McLain: Oh yeah, for sure. I was really scared honestly. When I first found out I was playing her, I had a different view of Rachel in my mind than I found out to be true in her journals. In my mind, she was a perfect Christian girl. She did everything right. She’s considered a martyr for Christ. But the more I got to dig through her journals and go through the script, I realized she’s just like you and me. She struggled. She was just trying to figure it all out. It was a journey, and it wasn’t easy. … I was intimidated by it being a real person, and there was a lot of pressure not to be the one who messed it up. But really, the Lord gave me everything I needed, and my prayer was that he knew Rachel better than I did — than anyone did. So I asked him to give me really creative insight on how to play her, and I really felt him do that.
Q: How many of her family members or witnesses to the event did you get to meet, and what were those experiences like?
McLain: Meeting her mom — I was so nervous about that, because you’re playing someone else’s daughter. That’s a lot to live up to. She just honestly took me in like I was her daughter. She truly loved me and spoke into me so much encouragement and how confident she was that I was supposed to play her daughter, and that helped me so much going into filming. I needed that assurance that she’s not like, “Oh, this girl’s gotta live up to the standard.” She was full of so much love and encouragement and sat down with me for hours and told me everything I wanted to know about Rachel.
And then I also got to meet her brother Craig. He was kind of the face of Columbine after the shooting happened. That was a really cool experience, too. The more we were around each other — I don’t know. It was just special and weird all at the same time.
Q: Was there ever any emotional moments where you ever felt overwhelmed with the role? And how did you deal with them?
McLain: The most overwhelming day and a day that I was extremely nervous about was the shooting scene. You could really feel the weight of what we were about to portray on the set. That morning, everyone knew what we were about to do. I was so nervous leading up to that day, and I was like, “What’s this even going to be like? This is the scene. This is the reason why Rachel is considered a martyr for Christ.”
I remember I woke up that morning and honestly God brought me to the story of Stephen in the Bible. Stephen’s the first martyr that’s mentioned in Scripture. In those last few moments with Stephen before he was about to get stoned, he says the heavens opened up, and he saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus at the right hand of God. That’s all I could think about, and instead of fear in those moments, in the scene — I’ve never felt the presence of God so strongly in my entire life. … Like I said, rather than fear in that moment, I just experienced through Rachel’s pain and suffering in that moment that she also felt the love of God like Stephen did.
Q: Do you think that’s why it was so necessary for this to be a Christian film?
McLain: Well I just don’t think you can separate (her faith) from her life. If you read her journals, that’s who Rachel was. Her relationship to God was everything to her.
Q: The release of the film was pushed back twice. Do you care to share why? The original release date was April 20, which is the anniversary of the shooting itself.
McLain: I think a misconception of the film is that we’re glorifying a shooting, but (once) you see the film, you’ll realize that’s the furthest from the heart behind it and all. It doesn’t do that in the least. So when people hear that we’re releasing it on the 20th, they could have thought that. But out of respect for the people from Colorado and the people still hurting from that today, we didn’t even want that to be a thought.