Listen: Producer of ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Kevin Downes, chats to Laura Bennett
With pop music at our disposal 24/7, it’s easy forget that behind every great song is a great story. Inspired by the death of his father, Mercy Me lead singer Bart Millard wrote ‘I Can Only Imagine’ to process what he’d seen happen to his Dad, and what it would be like to stand in heaven before God.
Entering the Top 40 in the early 2000’s the song reached millions worldwide, who felt encouraged by its message of hope, but they had little idea of the tumultuous nature of Bart’s relationship with his Dad.
Suffering physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father throughout his childhood, Bart was challenged in his creative aspirations and Christian faith, and worked to forgive his father, who later followed Christ.
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Now explained in ‘I Can Only Imagine’ the film, Bart’s story of abuse and forgiveness is reaching a new audience, which Producer Kevin Downes says is the main goal.
“Bart’s overall purpose in life is just to encourage other people,” he said. “If this film encourages other people in their relationships, whether with their own father, or their parent or a child or friend, then for [Bart] it was worth it at the end of the day.
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“His story was so unique to us that when we discovered all the details that are to be a part of it, we were like ‘Wow this could really be a fantastic movie’.”
Casting J.Michael Finley in the Role of Bart Millard
Choosing who to play Bart took time, but when the crew found J. Michael Finley, they knew it was meant to be.
“We found [Finely] on Broadway”, says Downes. “He was playing the role of John Valjean in Les Miserables. We thought, ‘is this kid for real?’
“So we put him through an audition process and what we found out was that he’s a Baptist preachers kid, from Middle America, who grew up going to Mercy Me concerts. We thought, ‘You’re too good to be true’.”
With the perfect cast, including Dennis Quaid as Bart’s Dad, the producers felt they had a responsibility to honour the original intention of the song, and make sure its heart was well told in the movie.
“He’s a Baptist preachers kid, from middle-America, who grew up going to Mercy Me concerts. We thought, ‘You’re too good to be true’.”
“Many people say that when they first heard the song they had this tremendous rush of hope, and this picture of what Heaven could be like. So we do the same thing with the movie; the movie paints this picture of a tremendous rush of hope at the end of the film [and some people have said it’s one of the most brilliant endings they’ve ever seen—which is certainly very high remarks, but we’re very happy with it.”
Asked how he thinks anyone could forgive someone who’d wronged them as much as Bart’s Dad did him, Downes says, “I don’t know. For what Bart went through to all of a sudden just say, ‘You know what Dad, I completely forgive you’, what Bart would say is, ‘it was only God, and God deserves all the credit because the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross was sufficient’. That it was the Holy Spirit in him that allowed him to do that.”
I Can Only Imagine is in cinemas March 15.