Last summer, Wando High School student Jonathan Jones was given an ultimatum. "My mom said to me, 'You can either be in this film, or you can go get a summer job,'" Jones explains. "So I said, 'I'll just go ahead and learn all these lines and be in this film.'"
The film was Stephen Cone's The Wise Kids, which was shot in Charleston last summer. The coming-of-age religious drama tells the story of three recent high school graduates searching for answers to some of life's most challenging questions. There's Brea, the daughter of a pastor whose religious beliefs are waning; Laura, Brea's best friend and a true believer; and Tim, who is coming face-to-face with his homosexuality for the first time. Though some of the cast and crew were brought in from around the country, the film also boasts a variety of local talent.
Out of all the local talent, Rodney Lee Rogers, as Brea's father Pastor Jim, has the largest role in The Wise Kids. His character leads the Agape Baptist Church while also balancing the responsibilities of parenthood. He is battling with his daughter's newfound doubt in her faith, but he knows he must allow her to grow into the young woman she is becoming. Rogers and his wife, Sharon Graci (who also has a role in the film), operate PURE Theatre, and the actor knew Cone prior to their work on this project. Rogers couldn't be happier for the director. "It's just been great to see how well he's done and to see that type of energy and faith and talent rewarded, because it isn't always," he says. He believes his experience on the set of The Wise Kids was something special. "It had such a great energy, I think, from start to finish," he says. "There was such a goodwill around the film."
Rogers and his wife aren't the only members of the family that played a part in the film: 17-year-old Sullivan Graci Hamilton was also on set last summer. Hamilton plays the role of Haley, Josh's animated, chatty girlfriend. Hamilton's memories of being on set consist of passing time on apple crates between shots and taking power naps in hallways during the long summer days. "I knew on set that this film would move people," she says. She is thankful for the favorable response The Wise Kids has received.
As for Jones, his involvement in The Wise Kids has become more than just a way to kill time and avoid manual labor. His character, Josh, is the devout son of Pastor Jim, who hopes to follow in his father's religious footsteps. Jones is now a senior at Wando High School and recently starred in their rendition of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and is in the midst of auditioning for college theater programs and scholarships. During a recent audition at Coastal Carolina University, Jones said that the professors were very excited to see the film on his résumé. "I didn't really think that this would be going all around the country. I didn't see the larger impact."