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Jena Malone on "Saved!"

Christians, Controversy, and Authentic Roles


Jena Malone Saved

Jena Malone stars as 'Mary' in "Saved!"

Photo © United Artists
Jena Malone began her acting career by starring in “Bastard Out of Carolina,” earning Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit award nominations and putting her on the map as a young talent to be reckoned with. Roles in “Contact,” “Donnie Darko,” and “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys” followed, with each subsequent role further illustrating her ability to handle edgy characters.

In writer/director Brian Dannelly’s dark comedy, “Saved!,” Jena Malone plays a good Christian girl who gets pregnant by her gay boyfriend, questions her faith, loses her best friend, and finds herself an outcast at her Christian high school. Writer/director Dannelly, who based the film very loosely on his own experiences in school, feels Malone brings truth, honesty and depth to the role. “In her own life she’s already had to make some very grown-up choices, and she was familiar with what that meant. It works well for her character because Mary goes through such a huge decision-making process and journey of self-discovery. And Jena had such good insight into the character. I literally cried when I met her because she explained the story to me from her perspective and it was so right on,” explains Dannelly.


How’d you get interested in the script and at what point did you attach yourself to this project?
One of the first people was Macaulay [Culkin]. He was one of the first cast since he was good friends with [producer] Sandy Stern and they always wanted to work together. I was like one of the first people on board. Basically, I got the script in a very conventional way. My agent sent it to me. I was 16 when I read it. I just remember one of the first things that popped into my head when I read it was just, “Finally.” As a 19 year-old and an audience member, I have never seen these issues addressed in a film about young people. Young people really questioning their spiritual beliefs and making sure that they’re working for them and not against them. It’s so funny and the fact that you can use humor to ask important questions - I’d never really done like a sort of full out comedy. I just thought it was so smart and subversive and really beautiful. I fell in love with the script as soon as I read it.

I met with the director/writer and the producer and they are such beautiful men. There is like no one else in the world who could be inside a 17 year-old Christian girl’s head other than Brian Dannelly, the co-writer and director. He had this book of pictures and clippings and stuff that he thought of for the film. Just like colors and pictures and he had this preliminary poster that he’d done. My face was on it and I was looking through it when I first saw the script and was like, “I think you guys want me to be a part of this film. I’m just going to take a wild guess.” It worked out wonderfully. We finally made the film after two failed attempts and all the people stayed on board.

Was there ever a point where you almost gave up on the project?
No, but there was a point where there was another film that was going to be conflicting with this film, and we were trying to make it all work out. But then “Saved!” fell through again and I was able to work on that. We finally shot this film in 2002 in the fall.

Unlike some actors your age, you’ve done a lot of heavy films. Does that help you learn your craft more than being in teen films would?
I’m a teenager so regardless of whatever film I’m in, I’m trying to portray youth in an accurate and honest way regardless of whether it’s a film that’s marketed toward older people or for younger people. I don’t know. That never really drives me to a certain degree because the films I was influenced by when I was younger were never the films that were marketed towards me. Like I think I first saw “Thelma and Louise” when I was 10 years old. I was just obsessed with it, that and “Shawshank Redemption.” I couldn’t believe that these films existed. They weren’t shown in my school and I’m like, “Come on. I love these things.”

I’ve had incredible opportunities to find scripts and to also get work on the scripts that are really honest and truthful and kind of funny and smart and kind of conquering some different taboo or some controversial issues. I think they are just issues and they are just words, but as soon as you personalize them into a personal story about real people, you eliminate the controversy and the taboo because you are showing the reality of those things. I always thought that was important because I think controversy can be a bit contrived. I just think it’s like we can create it with anything. We can call it a word and say it’s controversial and there you go. It’s kind of strange.

PAGE 2: Teen Movies, Role Models, and Religion

Interviews with Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, and Patrick Fugit/Heather Matarazzo
Macaulay Culkin Interview
"Saved" Photos, Trailer and Credits

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