By Janice Malone
NASHVILLE, TN — The highly anticipated, new feel good film, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, opens in theaters nationally March 16th. The film is based on the hit contemporary Christian song of the same name, by superstar group MercyMe. The band’s lead singer, Bart Millard suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. His childhood and relationship with his dad inspired him to write the ‘I Can Only Imagine’ hit song. But the unknown backstory behind the song is even more inspiring than the song itself. Nashville’s
own Amy Grant, often known as the ‘Queen of Christian Pop,’ plays a pivotal role in this real-life story. Ms. Grant connects with Bart while he is on his journey of self-discovery of learning to find his voice after such a troubled childhood. Actress Nicole DuPort (‘NCIS’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’) stars as Amy Grant. Nicole readily admits that she’s a lifetime Amy Grant fan, so snagging such a plum role was high on her bucket list. The film also stars Dennis Quaid, J. Michael Finley, Priscilla Shirer, Trace Adkins and Cloris Leachman. Nicole says that playing the role of Amy has inspired her to study singing and guitar. In this chat, she shared some behind the scenes details with the Tribune about the film during her recent visit to Nashville.
TRIBUNE: You star as the phenomenally talented superstar, Amy Grant. What was it like when you first met her? N. DuPort: I just met her when the film premiered in Nashville recently. She’s so humble and down to earth, funny, and sweet. I’ve been a fan of Amy Grant since I was a little girl. I used to lock myself in my bedroom and sing every word to every song on heart ‘Heart in Motion’ album.
TRIBUNE: How did you prepare for the audition and later the actual role? N. DuPort: I did lots of research. I started watching her interviews intensely, listening to her music again, delving even deeper into her music library, by getting to know her. So, when I went in for the audition I really wanted to honor her by doing a good job with the audition and this role. I listened to hours of her talking, so that I could get a sense of the way that she speaks. I tried to use muscle memory to figure out how to do her signature smile. I’ve heard there are some people who have seen the movie thought that it was Amy, which is so funny to me. It was really exciting for me to get a chance to play a real person, especially somebody that I admire so much.
TRIBUNE: When the film was shown in Nashville, was Amy in the audience at the screening? N. DuPort: Yes, she came to the premiere and I got to meet her on the red carpet. It was such a big event. I didn’t get to see her again after the movie. She had already seen it before and she was very complimentary. We have some photos of us together on the red carpet. It’s funny, because we do look a lot alike. Even though I had brown hair and contacts in for the movie, we do have a very striking resemblance.
TRIBUNE: Were you nervous knowing she would be at the premiere and what she would think of your performance? N. DuPort: I was very nervous! I’m not as calm, cool, and collected as she is, so when I met her, I was a total fangirl–just geeked out. I was definitely so nervous to know that she was going to be there. I didn’t know at the time that she had seen the film, so I was just like, ‘What is she going to think? I hope that she likes it.’ But she really did like the film. It was nice to have her kind of calm me down, because I was so anxious to meet her. She was so disarming and kind.
TRIBUNE: Have you ever been to any of her concerts or shows when you were growing up? N. DuPort: No. I never got to go to any of her shows. When I was a little kid, going to concerts wasn’t a thing that we did. I tried to see her last year but the tickets were already sold out. I’ve never seen her perform live. She did perform a little bit at the afterparty for the Nashville premiere. I guess that was my first experience of seeing Amy Grant perform live. I’m hoping next time she comes around in the area I’ll definitely get a ticket to go see her perform.
TRIBUNE: I saw in my notes that before you auditioned for the role, a tarot card reader said you would one day sing before a big crowd of fans and it happened in this film! N. DuPort: It was my first tarot card reading that I’d ever done. My friend recommended it, and on a lark. There’s lots of crystal shops and stuff like that in my neighborhood in L.A. So, I went to this tarot card reader, and she said that she saw me on stage performing and singing, specifically singing in front of a huge audience. At the time, I had just auditioned for ‘I Can Only Imagine’ but I hadn’t heard from them for a long time. The tarot card lady says, “No, I see you singing on this big stage,” and within a few days I got the call that I had gotten the role of Amy Grant, and that I would be performing a concert in front of thousands of fans in the movie. So, she was right. We filmed the concert scene at a performing arts center in Oklahoma, with over three-thousand adoring Amy Grant fans filling the building.
TRIBUNE: Have you had a chance to go back and tell the tarot card reader how accurate she was? N. DuPort: I did go back to tell her how the prediction came true. She was like, ‘Of course I was right.’ And it’s funny, because at the time she did the reading, I was in a bit of a funk but her prediction gave me a lot of hope. I was so grateful to her for telling me something to give me a glimmer of hope in a difficult time… I think that people from all spiritual leanings can take away a lot from this movie about forgiveness and redemption. The film’s about finding your own voice and following that dream. I really think it has something that speaks to everybody. I’m excited for people from all walks of life to see this movie.