Award-winning actress and international model, Jenn Gotzon Chandler got her career break playing President Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, in the five-time Oscar Nominated “Frost/Nixon.” She went on to star in a variety of award-winning films, including “Doonby,” “God’s Country,” “The Sacred Eternal,” and “Julie and Jack.” In “Unbridled,” Chandler is Felicity Clawson, a counselor who runs a healing ranch for troubled teens by teaching them to care for horses. The film exposes the evils of sex trafficking in suburbia and chronicles the journey of 16-year old Sarah Miller (Téa Mckay) as she struggles to find solace away from her alcoholic mother and criminally abusive stepfather. In this one-on-one interview, Chandler reveals some insights about the film, her faith, and what she learned about the healing power of horses.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview. What drew you to this socially important film?
JGC: The producers, Gerald and Christy McGlothlin are good friends of mine. They shared a vision they had in their heart to make a movie that’s not only dramatic and thrilling but with a message of redemption. They wanted to bring hope to a topic that’s just now coming to light. When I grew up, this was never spoken about. So it was important for them to make an entertaining film with a good story that lets you walk away with a pearl of wisdom. Maybe we know someone that might be going through a similar situation. The possibility of healing through horse therapy is not only fascinating but real; it’s a community of people that I was introduced to while filming “Unbridled.”
Are you familiar with horses and horse ranches? What did you learn about them that surprised you?
JGC: There’s a discipline called “natural horsemanship.” It’s about connecting with the horse through your emotions. Joy Currey is the lady I played, who runs the horse ranch called Corral. Christy McGlothlin approached Joy because Christy’s daughter is one of the helpers at Corral. The story was inspired by seeing what the horses were doing and how they helped heal these girls. I was unaware that horses had this kind of connection with humans. Lindsey Partridge, who did all the stunts with the horses in the movie, taught me how to teach others about the kinesthetic energy connection between a horse and a human.
So how does that work exactly?
JGC: If a person is upset and challenged—maybe they feel closed off, frightened or angry—the horse feels that emotion. When a horse places its nose on the chest of a troubled person, its nostrils draw in the breath of that person, and that person’s troubled emotion transfers to the heart of the animal. The horse feels that connection and is drawn to you, and you feel trust, love, and safety from this large animal.
There’s a scene where an initially reluctant teen, Stacy, establishes a deep connection with her horse. Can you go into that?
JGC: One day when the sun was setting, the producers and directors brought me down with Lindsley Register who played Stacy. She and the horse had not been prepped and they were both nervous. I prayed silently to God to settle the horse. We were in the scene and I coached Lindsley through the connection with the horse. I felt Lindsley and the horse calm down as the horse brought its nose onto Lindsey’s chest and it began to connect with her. We captured that on film. It’s this type of horse therapy that allows humans to open up to heal their pain of being broken or emotionally damaged. I can say that this was, by far, one of the coolest, most educational roles I’ve ever played.
What did you draw from internally or externally to portray a mentor to troubled teens?
JGC: I spent a lot of time with Joy who possessed both strength and discipline. She was very reserved with the teens. And that was difficult for me to portray because I’m naturally a very exuberant, high-energy person. So I would listen to the pattern of her voice, her body, and how she moved. She called it attaching and detaching. Broken teens won’t respond when you attach, but only when you first detach. That was difficult for me, but I studied Joy to get into that space and rhythm. I love mentoring girls, so I had to work mostly on detaching my energy.
There’s an emotional scene where Felicity tells Sarah about her own disturbing teen experience. Can you go into that a bit?
JGC: My natural instinct would have been to pour into her with this love. But internally as an artist, I chose to honor Joy and work in this space of detached energy. I waited for Sarah to connect and then I was able to attach to her, to shift my focus and be very giving, and to empower her with encouragement, love, and prayer.
Many teens fall victim to sexual exploitation. What have you learned about this tragedy that surprised you?
JGC: I think it happens all the time. Unfortunately, with the current climate, an attractive girl will walk into a room and men will sometimes manipulate her to do something inappropriate. Even in high school in a party environment, those things happen. You need a sense of discernment and strength. My parents raised me in the Church, so I had the upbringing and morality to help keep me grounded. Working in “Unbridled” gave me empathy toward women and what happens to them in sex trafficking. Women and girls are often so easily broken by a bad experience. It’s part of our culture. My goal with “Unbridled” is to plant a seed of hope in anyone facing these issues, that girls deserve respect and that they don’t need to give themselves to gain fame, wealth, respect or peer acceptance.
What did you find most challenging about being in this film?
JGC: Because director John David Ware is one of my closest friends, and “Unbridled” was his first feature film, I put a lot of pressure on myself to portray Felicity with the utmost excellence. But playing Felicity was a challenge because she and I are complete opposites in temperament. My strength is more reserved and detached. As an actor, when you put pressure on yourself, it doesn’t sometimes work for the best. I drew from my prayer team to help me relax.
Looks like your dance card is full of interesting roles for the next year. What do you like about portraying characters that inspire hope and faith?
JGC: At the end of my life, if I’m asked about my greatest accomplishments, I would have to say that being in movies and protagonist roles that inspire and impact lives, that leave people with a pearl of wisdom, were my greatest joy. I love films that touch the depths of your soul, films that leave you with hope, love, and healing. I try hard to find movies that line up with that messaging. My husband and I are producing a film called the “Farmer and the Belle” about a sleepwalking New York City supermodel who finds real love by searching for mojo in a pig farm.
What do you do between film projects to unwind and relax?
JGC: On filming days, I like to soak in a bath and relax. Between projects, I enjoy spending time with my husband and my family. I love going to the beach, horseback riding, and being outdoors. I also enjoy helping kids through my mentoring program called Inspiring Audiences.
“Unbridled” is due for release later this year.