​LDS Actor Jasen Wade: From Living in Car to Movie Star

To see Jasen Wade in his latest lead role, check out Miracle Maker on deseretbook.com!

You may recognize him from 17 Miracles—the breakout role that put him on the Mormon map. Jasen Wade is an LDS actor who has starred in 20 films, most notably The Cokeville Miracle, Saints and Soldiers: Airbourne Creed, and 17 Miracles. But watching his movies wasn't enough. We wanted to learn more about this rugged, cowboy-playing actor, so we asked him a few questions to get to know the man behind the movie characters.

You’ve done work in front of the camera, and behind it. Do you prefer one over the other?

I prefer to be in front of the camera, at this point in my career. I understand that greater creative power is behind it, but for now, roles are being offered to me that both challenge and inspire me. There will come a time when I feel like I need to create my own work through writing or directing, but I am still working on my confidence in that area of storytelling. Right now there is a momentum with my acting, so I want to focus all my attention on riding that wave.

What has been your favorite movie to make so far?

17 Miracles was a life-changer for me—I could never express properly how important that film was to my sanity. I had just about given up on filmmaking. It requires a great deal of sacrifice, and I guess I was at my breaking point and ready to find another way to creatively express myself. To be a part of that film was like taking a breath for the first time. The next year I worked on Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, which was a fulfillment of a goal I set a decade prior. Those two films gave me the clarity to continue down this complex path of acting.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your new film, Miracle Maker?

The movie Miracle Maker was such a great experience. I always enjoy working with John Lyde and his crew. The big joke on set was that this film completed my trilogy of 'miracle' films. But—all joking aside—I am drawn to faith-based films, so 'miracles' are going to be ever present, and I am okay with that. My hope is that people walk away from this film with the idea that we can create our own miracles. We don't necessarily need to sit around waiting for a miracle maker, but with the right kind of nudge, and the right kind of insight we can create a miraculous life. That is the whole point of being here, right? Joy. If you find yourself feeling lethargic, depressed, derailed or defeated these emotions are telling you something is not in balance. Keep struggling, keep moving, keep questioning until you find a little courage to go down a different path. Gather the good things that make you happy and create a life you are proud of. Miracle Makeris about a community in need that is waiting for a Miracle Maker to fix their problems, but ultimately it was individuals inside this town that found their own personal strengths and changed the community forever.

What was it like working as a firefighter between films?

Working as a Wildland Firefighter between films was a great way to prepare for most of the characters I play. I remember 17 Miracles started filming right in the heart of the fire season. I was pulled off of a fire to make it to set in time the next day. The long hours, miles and miles of hiking we had to do, and sleeping out on the ground for 18 days prior to filming really helped put me into the physical body of a frontiersman like Levi Savage. When I arrived on set, half my work was done due to my day job. Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed was a similar situation the following year. As firefighters, you have about 40 lbs. of gear with you at all times, plus tools. Also, the Wildland Firefighting community is set up in a type of military fashion, so it was familiar for me to fall into a soldier’s mindset.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

"Find 'healing' in the roles you play. Your character's journey can bring wisdom and insight into your personal life. If you find healing through your performance perhaps someone in the audience may heal with you."

With all the thousands of dollars I spent on actor's workshops, I think that is the one thing that drives me to this day. There are experiences in my own life, childhood or otherwise, that have broken me down and kept me from accessing my full self. We all have issues, and things we would like to heal from, so part of my personal therapy is acting. Most every character I have played has resonated with me on one level or another; when I can tap into their weaknesses and strengths I find myself learning or applying them to my own personal life. You can learn from playing the villain or a saint and everything in between.

At one point, you were penniless and living out of your car. What got you through those dark days?

I am so glad the living-out-of-my-car days are over. Those were some dark days, but it had so much more to do with being spiritually and creatively lost than it did not having any money for rent. You ask yourself some pretty poignant questions when you get to that level in your life, and most days I didn't like the answers. I didn't know why I was here. I didn't know where I was going. I started to question everything.

But in the months and months of questioning to come, I started to answer the questions differently. I stopped blaming everything around me and I took personal responsibility. I realized I was the only one who could make choices to get me out of that dark place, so I started to collect all the things that made me happy or gave me a reason to wake up in the morning. I fell in love with Pennsylvania's beauty. I started to record my travels. I started to visit the historical sites and state parks and make little documentaries. A feeling of fulfillment awakened as I was running the camera, talking in front of it, and editing the footage throughout the night. I felt a sense of purpose.

This new energy emerged and I used that energy to prioritize my life. I put Church attendance on my top 5 list. I made my prayers more about being grateful and not so much about complaining. I stopped being a recluse and put more effort into being around people with good energy. This ultimately brought me to my senses. A very clear vision emerged. I needed to embrace my passion for acting and I needed to get back to Utah where I knew I had a stable job in Wildland fire. I could get out of debt in a few summers and I was hoping there was a talent agency that would pick me up.

Who has been your favorite person to work within the film industry (actor, director, producer, etc.)?

I'm sorry that I can't answer this question. Every project is so different, every filmmaker so unique. I have enjoyed most everyone I have worked with. I have to mention one thing: in Cokeville Miracle, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to have my daughter, Alexa, play my daughter in the film. It was an experience I will cherish forever.

How does being a father influence the acting roles you choose to take?

Being a father has completely expanded me as a human being. It has influenced every aspect of my life. It has driven me to a level of love and commitment I thought I would never obtain. I find myself gravitating towards stories that involve love, honor, redemption, and hope because these are themes I want to teach my children. In a way, they [my children] now have movies that represent parts of me. Sometimes I am bearing my testimony and other times I'm just having fun. Regardless, I am following my dream. I hope they see me as successfully following my passion, and perhaps this will teach them that they, too, can follow theirs, whatever they may be.

What are your favorite things to do with your family?

Our family has a lot of favorite things we like to do. We have a young family, and my wife Holly and I are fortunate to still have energy to keep up with the kids; so it's bike rides, hiking and camping in the summer with the occasional float down the rivers, and in the winter it's sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling to friends' cabins. We also get pretty obsessed with any holiday that is coming our way.

What's something most people don't know about you?

Most people don't know that I am obsessed with Halloween and all things haunted. Anywhere I have lived I have put on some type of Haunted Walk-Through for the neighborhood kids. I spend weeks getting it prepared. I get family involved. My poor parents sacrificed their backyard every October for over a decade to this madness. If I were elected President, I would establish a week-long national holiday so that we could properly celebrate for the greatest holiday ever invented. It is truly a time of purging for me. The smells in the air, the change in colors, the darker days…love it.

What has been the hardest part about being an LDS actor?

A lot of LDS actors will tell you that the most difficult thing is being limited in the industry. As a performer, you want to be open to all and any possibilities—most of your workshops are designed to break down any and all barriers that you may have. The problem is there are certain barriers that are built into an LDS culture that may present themselves as limiting in the film industry. At first I found this completely distracting and frustrating, but then I looked at it as a personal challenge. I had to take a couple of steps back and evaluate my own life. What am I willing to do? What would I be okay with immortalizing in film? What brings me a sense of accomplishment?

I never want to say that I won't do something because my religion won't allow it. This only sets the religion up to be a punching bag or the target of blame. I have spent the last decade of my life developing a standard that I feel comfortable with. This standard represents my personal boundaries. Family, religion and community have played their part in the development of this standard, but ultimately it's mine. The limits in the industry are still present, but they are limits that I have set. And I am okay with that.

My standard may or may not line up with another LDS actor's, but this is a decision that each performer has to make for themselves. And my hope is that it will be respected. Every once in a while there seems to be a general standard that is forced upon some of our LDS actors. I have heard horrible stories about a small part of the LDS community being outraged at a young actor for doing this role or that. We don't own that person's career just because they happen to share our same religion! We need to be very aware and very careful of our judgments on others. I feel like this 'judgment' could potentially present itself as another serious difficulty to a struggling LDS actor. It's a conversation worth having.

What was your favorite mission experience?

My mission in Moscow, Russia felt like an action-movie. I loved it. I hated it. That experience made me realize just how unprepared and ignorant I was, but it also forced me to rise to the occasion and awakened abilities inside of me I never knew existed. My favorite experience was being a Branch President of a small congregation the last several months of my mission. I've never loved a group of people so much. I still look back on that experience and wonder how I could have ever dealt with those kinds of issues and needs at such a young age if divine intervention hadn't been involved.

What's the most important lesson you have learned in life thus far?

The most important lesson I have learned in life so far is that balance is everything. The most difficult thing my wife, Holly, and I have had to do is find balance. A family requires a lot of time and effort. Jobs require a lot of time and effort. Passions, hobbies, church, community involvement, and everything else that life throws at you takes a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice, but if you can find that balance you will find your bliss.

When Holly and I first got married, I thought it would be "business as usual" with my films. That was not the case. My acting career was no longer top priority. I fought it. I fought it with such passion that you would have believed I was right, but I was wrong. My priorities had to be adjusted again. Just when I was getting momentum on the films that were bringing such joy I was now being challenged with the idea that this new marriage was going to be a hindrance. This was a struggle that would go on for several years until Holly and I came together and found a balance that works for our family. I have never felt more fulfilled and full of purpose as I do now. I can be a successful husband and father, hold a day job, and still find amazing satisfaction as an actor. We haven't figured everything out yet, but the direction we are going is definitely the right one.

Jasen's new film Miracle Maker is available on DVD starting Tuesday, November 3rd. Find it at Deseret Book stores or deseretbook.com. See the trailer here.

Or, check out more of Jasen's films here:

LDS Actor Jason Wade: From Living in Car to Movie Star

LDS Actor Jason Wade: From Living in Car to Movie Star

Lead image via Deseret News
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