‘I found a home in Catholicism’

Filmmaker Roxann Dawson, the daughter of an atheist, on her conversion and the faith-based movie ‘Breakthrough’

Roxann Dawson. Photo: © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

With the release this week on DVD the movie Breakthrough — a true story about a mother whose prayers bring her drowned son back to life — Catholic Digest spoke with Roxann Dawson, the director of the film. Dawson, a Catholic convert, discussed her conversion, being a Catholic in Hollywood, Breakthrough, and more.

Q: You said at a White House prayer breakfast that God chose you. What’s the backstory on your conversion to Catholicism?

A: I grew up in a household where my father was kind of a devout atheist. However, he was one of the best people I knew, so I don’t think he practiced what he preached — thank goodness. My family was very anti-religion. They felt that it was a crutch.

I went on my own journey because there was something in me that didn’t accept that from the time that I was a child. When I met my future husband, who’s Catholic, I began to go to church with him. I’d been to other churches, and I even explored Buddhism, but I found a home in Catholicism. There was something that not only touched me in my heart but also touched me logically.

I converted before we were married. I think my conversion touched my father’s heart, and he was actually very accepting of it and surprised me with his support. I believe my conversion converted my father though he never really admitted that.

I think my conversion touched my father’s heart.

Q: Do you think it’s even more challenging to be a Catholic in Hollywood — even more difficult than being a Protestant?

A: You know, nobody discusses it. You just don’t; it’s unfortunate. I feel that Hollywood has become kind of an echo chamber. It’s interesting because every once in a while — especially since Breakthrough — somebody will privately come up to me and say, “You know, I’m Catholic.”

There’s a lot of religion bashing that happens in Hollywood, and people are stunned into silence about their faith. Hollywood is a place that supposedly preaches tolerance, and I would love them to start practicing what they preach.

Q: Did you suspect Breakthrough would be a hit?

A: We were so busy on set that we didn’t have time to think about that, but it did feel like we were in a very blessed environment. We thought there was a potential for it to reach a lot of people, which is all that you could hope for.

Q: Did you, right off the bat, think of Chrissy Metz for the role of Joyce?

A: The suggestion came to us from Fox 2000. They said, “We won’t make it without her. We really feel she is the one.” It was a matter of convincing Chrissy that this was a good step for her to take in her career. I couldn’t imagine another person playing this role.

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

Q: Christians are hungry for clean movies with high production value. Do you think Hollywood’s aware that a part of the population wants to see films that edify?

A: They are becoming aware of this. I’ve heard that there are certain companies that are now having entire wings of their company concentrating on trying to turn out this kind of content. But you also have to be careful. It has to be good. I think that as audiences become more educated and more sophisticated, they don’t want to settle for second-rate movies that are trying to tell these stories. We need films told in a really artistic way that speaks to the intelligence of our audience.

Q: Do you feel the production value of Christian-themed movies is getting better?

A: I think that it’s getting better. I think one of the things that will help is removing this faith-based label on the movie and having them compete in the real world. That’s the only way they will end up being respected and earn the kind of budgets that we need to do these films and attract the stars.

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


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