Brown finds her first movie role a ‘very strange, but very cool’ experience.
When First Capital Films and Kappa Studios began producing I CAN, a Christian biopic about Katelyn Pavey, last summer, the Kentucky Christian University softball player trusted Danner Brown (WC ’22) to get it right. Brown portrayed Pavey, who overcame being born without most of her left arm to earn All-American honors for the Knights.
“It’s very nerve-wracking knowing you, your life, and your past is going to be displayed on the big screen where everyone can see,” Pavey said. “Having someone else play you is weird. You wonder if they’ll act like you and portray your character in the way it’s intended.”
According to Pavey, all those fears were relieved as she got to know Brown. The two had video chats and exchanged texts and emails before meeting in person the day before shooting.
“She’s super sweet, smart, and down to earth,” Pavey said. “She really took her role seriously and ran with it.”
Brown, who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology at Belmont University, said getting to know Pavey, her family, and her friends helped her embody the role.
“It helped me convey her truth and story,” Brown said. “I believe I’m empathetic, and I try to carry that through everything I do and all the people I encounter.”
I CAN is more than an uplifting tale of overcoming obstacles; it’s a redemption story. Pavey’s parents, Eric and Salena, felt guilt because their daughter was the result of their affair. Eric believes Katelyn’s anomaly is a punishment from God.
Brown said the script reduced her to tears twice the first time she read it.
“There were a couple of lines in the script that still make me really emotional,” she said. “Hearing about Katelyn and her family’s experiences with different things and they actually went through these things in their lives (is tough).”
Kappa Studios president Paul Long told Fox News reporter Lori A. Bashian one of the most difficult parts of making this movie was casting someone to play Pavey. “(The person portraying Katelyn) had to look enough like Katelyn that the real-life Katelyn could be the body double,” Long said.
Worthington Christian played a small role in helping Kappa Studios find Brown. Brown’s father, Darren, posted videos of his daughter acting in the school’s production of The Twelve Jurors on his Facebook page.
After stumbling upon the clip, a talent scout contacted him about having his daughter audition for a role in I CAN.
“She has the same color hair. They’re the same height,” director Tyler Sansom told Fox News. “They just look very similar, just not in the face.”
After reading for the part with two cast members, Brown anticipated waiting days or weeks before she heard an answer.
The wait turned out to be around 60 minutes.
“An hour after the callback, I got a call from the director, who said, ‘We want to offer you the part of Katelyn. We are so excited for this, and we would love to have you be a part of this,’” Brown said with a laugh. “I was in shock for a whole month. I couldn’t believe it.”
Often when one lands a role, it involves research to find out what the person was like or the director’s vision of the character. Brown said Katelyn Pavey became quite a resource as she was preparing for the role.
“I remember her saying whatever it is — her faith, softball, or her work in school — she puts everything into it,” Brown said. “I’d try to remember that when I was playing her. I wanted to make sure I was fully into whatever I was doing in each scene.”
Brown had two major challenges in becoming Katelyn. The first was Brown played soccer, not softball. That was an easy fix, as Pavey filled in for all the softball action in the film.
“My soccer background helped me with some of the concepts (of being an athlete), but my family is not a baseball or softball family,” she said. “I had to do a little bit of research on softball and went to softball games to get an idea.”
The second obstacle, portraying a person without a left arm, proved a little more problematic. The actress spent about 95 percent of her days with her left arm pinned to the back of her shirt and a small prosthetic arm attached to her shoulder. The film crew gave her breaks in which she could unpin her arm when they weren’t shooting.
“It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but I got used to it,” she said. “I was practicing for weeks before filming just using one arm around the house. You take for granted having two arms.”
Over three weeks last summer, Brown endured 12-hour workdays, shooting on location in Indiana and Kentucky. During this time, she grew close to her castmates, including Daniel Roebuck (who was in The Fugitive with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones and a regular on Matlock with Andy Griffith), Vernon Wells (Mad Max), and Cameron Arnett (Star Trek: The Next Generation).
“It was some tiring days, but it was also very fun,” Brown said. “When you spend that much time together during the day, you really start to become more of a family. (At the end of shooting) it was one of the hardest goodbyes). We built a strong connection that I really value.”
Brown had a brief reunion with Pavey and the cast for the movie’s April 2 premiere in Pavey’s hometown of Corydon, Indiana.
Brown admitted she was apprehensive about watching herself on a 70-foot by 40-foot screen.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Brown said. “They always told me that the final cut was going to be totally different from what you remember. It was surreal, but I was taken in by the movie (to notice the changes). I just noticed, ‘Oh hey, there I am’ (on a movie screen). It was very strange but very cool.”
Brown won over the person who knew the story best: Katelyn Pavey.
“I think Danner did a fantastic job,” Pavey added. “She played and looked the part. She took her role seriously and studied me well.
“I thank Danner for helping share my family and this story. I thank her for willing to further God’s kingdom with her talents.”