‘Breakthrough’ movie: A true story of unconditional love, prayer, and miracles

Speaking about her upcoming movie, Breakthrough, actress Chrissy Metz told CatholicDigest, “It was so nice to be part of a real story that I know is going to change people’s minds, their perspectives, [and] their hearts.”

The star of the hit television show, This is Us, also shared, “I think we’re here on this plane of existence to help one another. I happen to be doing that in the form of entertainment.”

Breakthrough, slated for release on April 17, is a true story about then 14-year-old John Smith of St. Charles County, Missouri, (Marcel Ruiz), who falls through the ice and dies. Miraculously, after an hour without a pulse, his mother Joyce — played by Metz — prays her son back to life.

“It’s almost unbelievable. Even the doctors didn’t believe that this could happen,” Metz says about the story.

CatholicDigest spoke with Metz about her role in the movie, about a miracle in her life, and about how starring in Breakthrough contrasts with her role as Kate in This is Us.

Q: Did Breakthrough impact how you feel about miracles?

A: For me, it just solidified everything that I already believed in, which was unconditional love and the power of prayer and miracles.

I already had a strong foundation in faith, which was instilled in me by my grandmother. Our faith was something really important that we shared; we went to church and sang hymns together.

Josh Lucas (Brian Smith), Chrissy Metz (Joyce Smith), and Dennis Haysbert (Dr. Kent Sutterer) star in “Breakthrough.” Photo: Allen Fraser

Q: You’re very convincing in the role of Joyce. I’m wondering how did you prepare for it?

A: I prepared just as I do with any other role, but because I was portraying a real character, I tried not to get too in my head about it. My goal was to tell the story and empathize with not only with Joyce but with John, with Pastor Jason, and with Joyce’s husband, Brian.

I could relate to Joyce when doctors seemed to be giving up on her son. My mom suffered a stroke a year ago, and the doctors expected her to die. Ironically, the same things that Joyce said to her son’s doctors, I said to my mother’s doctors.

It was really special to bring my experience into the role and to understand what it’s like to hear something that you can’t believe — you don’t want to believe — when you are trying to think positively about the situation.

Chrissy Metz (Joyce Smith), Marcel Ruiz (John Smith), and Josh Lucas (Brian Smith) star in “Breakthrough.” Photo: Allen Fraser

Q: How’s your mother doing now?

A: Thank you for asking. She’s more physically healthy than she’s ever been, but she has aphasia, which means that she doesn’t have a vocabulary. My mom is active and walks every day. Her doctors thought that she wasn’t ever going to make it out of the stroke much less walk again. We’re really, really grateful.

Q: Do you admire Joyce?

A: I found Joyce’s unwavering faith inspirational because it’s easy to lose hope. It’s not easy to fight. Sometimes you’re tempted to give up.

I was reminded every day that I played Joyce Smith that when you face something difficult, sometimes you just have to fight — and fight harder — and that’s not always comfortable.

Q: Did you interview Joyce to help you better portray her?

A: We had a chance to meet, and we chatted a bit through text before starting to film. We agreed that my interpretation of Joyce would be my own with the help of my acting coach Darren Kirby. I wanted to capture her essence, and I wanted to make sure to convey what was important to her, but I couldn’t get too bogged down about being her.

Joyce and her family came to set in Canada during the middle of shooting the film. Luckily, she was very pleased with how I was portraying her and that made me happy. There were a couple of times when she asked, “Is that me talking — is that my voiceover?” DeVon Franklin, our producer, would say, “No, that’s Chrissy.”

Q: The scene where you pray your son alive, I felt like it was convincing. I’m wondering what you’re going through when you’re doing a scene like that?

A: I get into the place and that space of thinking: My goodness, what if this was my son? What if this was someone who I loved, and I was told they were pronounced dead? I remembered when my mom was in the ICU, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen to her. I had sit in that place, remembering.

It’s difficult for sure because there are 100 people doing their jobs, and I’m focused on this one, three-minute scene that I have to give my all to because I need to be authentic and present.

Q: Was playing Joyce easier or more challenging than playing “Kate” on your television show, This is Us?

A: Wow. You know, I think in some regards it was easier and in other regards, much more challenging. When you have a character that you’re playing for 18 episodes, multiple seasons, you get to let it unfold. There’s so much that the history or backstory educates the cast for the next scene because we have younger versions of ourselves.

With the Breakthrough film, you have two hours, and it’s based on a true story about real people, which can be a little more demanding. Anytime you sit in deep emotions for an extended period, that’s challenging because with film the setup takes much longer. You might be waiting around for 45 minutes just to move the camera angle, and you’re still on the same scene. This is Us is very quick because they use a single cam, so they just have the camera on the shoulder. With film, they have to set up a dolly track, and so you have to pace yourself differently.

BreakthroughChrissy MetzConversationJohn SmithLori Hadacek ChaplinMarcel Ruiz
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