In a time when the American church is grappling with a steady flow of sexual abuse allegations, the co-star of a new faith-based TV show says she relied heavily on personal experience and her faith to approach the topic with gravitas.
The show begins as a toned-down police procedural, though the detective’s family life becomes more integral with each consecutive episode. Family tensions hit a climax in episode eight when Travis’s estranged college-aged daughter Katie (Emma Elle Roberts) has returned home to reveal her pregnancy. Viewers learn along with Travis that Katie had been raped.
Actress Emma Elle Roberts shared that the scene mirrors her own life. She was violated as a teen, in events that still have a ripple effect a decade later.
“I had a really hard experience where I was taken advantage of when I was about 17,” Roberts said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “To be able to retell that story and know where it’s going, it was actually really cathartic for me.”
While she appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjayand Insurgent, Roberts has often chosen roles that reflect her evangelical beliefs. In the recent pro-life film Unplanned, her character stands outside a local Planned Parenthood facility to pray for those entering the clinic.
Now her latest role depicts redemption—with a personal slant. “There’s a lot that I relate to with Katie,” she said. “In Revelation, it talks about: ‘By the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony we will be victorious.’ I think you can’t go wrong with that.”
Vindication began five years ago as a side project for Jarod O’Flaherty, a software designer and emerging filmmaker. He and his friends from Retta Baptist Church in the Dallas-area suburb of Burleson, Texas, pooled their resources and talents to create the pilot episode as a solo short film, which eventually developed into a full series.
The show’s push-pull dynamic between the detective and his daughter, a recovering addict, has more complexity than typical faith-based dramas.
“I get asked a lot, ‘Why do I play such dark and troubled characters?’” Roberts said. “But it’s through those characters that you’re able to show God’s grace and redemption a lot more. If any given script is not telling a story that’s going to help people grow, I don’t see a point in it.”
Her character arc in this miniseries has particular resonance. Growing up in Atlanta, Roberts was raised by two police officers until her mom decided to stay at home. “I was used to my dad going out, protecting the streets—and trying to get the bad guys off the streets,” she said.
But Roberts also knows firsthand the trauma of abusive sexual relationships. When she became intimate with a man older than her while still a teen, things went further than she intended. “I would say I agreed to it,” said Roberts. “When you’re 17, you don’t really know you have a voice. Sometimes you’re so desperate for love you say yes to anything, because you want the people you think you love to be happy and return the affection you’re so desperately searching for.”
While rape and abuse are plot points in the show, on-screen depictions remain in PG-13 territory. Roberts is always seen fully clothed, but a next-morning scene where she processes her shock and trauma after waking up in a hotel room tell a heartrending tale.
Writer-director O’Flaherty noted they did a few takes of the scene, shot in a north Texas garage, where Katie finally tells her police-detective father the truth.
Despite her talent, O’Flaherty hadn’t seen the emotion it needed. “I said, ‘Emma, what do you need for this to really pour out?’” he recalled. “She said, ‘Give me three minutes in the other room. Once it’s up, start rolling because I’ll come out and just go straight into character.’”
The actress retreated, talking herself through the difficult scene and drawing from the trauma she had experienced.
Tell your story, Emma, Roberts told herself. Tell what you’ve faced, and realize that other girls have been through this like Katie. Sometimes they didn’t always have a dad who was willing to lovingly wrap their arms around them and let them cry.
“When she came out of the other room, it’s what you see on-screen in that final scene,” said O’Flaherty. “Whatever it was she needed to pull from, it was definitely worth it. Her emotion was so real and genuine.”
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Source: Christianity Today