Listen: Shari Rigby chats to Laura Bennett. Above: Shari Rigby in a scene from ‘The Least of These’.
When Shari Rigby was first asked to play the role of Gladys Staines, Australian missionary to India, she hesitated – and turned it down.
It wasn’t the fear of having to pull off a convincing Aussie accent that stopped her, or the weight of responsibility in portraying someone so loved by so many – although both were big calls. In fact, she was nervous about travelling to India and spending six weeks so far from home while filming.
But then God spoke, and Shari listened. She was reminded her of a prayer she’d recently prayed: “God, what’s my next role, where am going to go next?”, and felt that she was being called to the task.
She changed her mind, accepted the role, and as it turns out, the beauty of India and its people “rocked her world and changed her life forever”.
- Tragic, Inspiring – Aussie Missionary Graham Staines’ Story Now a Feature Film
- Forgiveness in the Face of Persecution – A Chat With “The Least of These” Writer Andrew Matthews
Rigby plays opposite Stephen Baldwin in The Least of These, the film portraying the gripping and tragic story of Australian missionary Graham Staines who died for his faith in 1999. Staines was burnt to death along with his 10-year-old and 6-year-old sons, Timothy and Philip, by a mob of radical Hindu extremists. Overnight, Gladys become a grieving mother and a widow all at once.
Drawn to Gladys’s Grace and Strength
Shari told Hope 103.2’s Laura Bennett that when watching videos to prepare for the role, she was drawn to Gladys’s gracious nature, and strength of character.
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“The thing that really appealed to me about Gladys was she was just this incredible woman who was there to serve the people of India,” she said. “I think that when anybody leaves the comfort of their home and goes to the places Graham and Gladys went to and then raises their children there, there is something extraordinary about them.
“I remember watching videos [of Gladys] and the way that she carried herself, she was so elegant and feminine and yet she was serving in the ‘trenches’ and I thought, ‘what a powerful woman, what grace and beauty has God given this woman’.”
While filming, the cast of The Least of These worked on-set with people currently suffering from leprosy. Shari says it was an eye-opening and humbling experience.
“I thought, ‘what a powerful woman, what grace and beauty has God given this woman’.”
“When you’re in Hollywood you would never have experienced this,” she said. “You would have had actors with prosthetics or some type of makeup. We were with people [who had] extremities that had been lost, or things they were still dealing with. It really was real and heartfelt.
“The biggest thing was staying in the hills in the leprosy colony where they were actually living, and we were reminded it’s not something that died in the Biblical days. Here we were with people who are in modern day society living with this disease.”
An Astounding Depth of Forgiveness
Shari said the most impacting aspect of Gladys’s story, was her depth of forgiveness. Her husband and two sons had been murdered, when all they’d ever done was to love the people of India; yet she chose to forgive, completely.
As an actor, Shari couldn’t quite believe it at first.
“I kept saying to people, ‘There’s nobody who would forgive people like this, she would have at least been more emotional’, and they said ‘No, this is the way she was’. When she said those words, it really was about her finding the freedom to go on and continue to serve the people that she and her husband loved.”
Shari hopes those who see the film will be reminded that all followers of Jesus are called to serve ‘the least of these’. “I hope people see it as a modern-day call to action, that they would step in and serve the people they can,” she said.
On Friday, May 10, Hope 103.2 and Reel Dialogue are proud to be hosting a screening of the film at Event Cinemas in Castle Hill. Tickets are on sale now.