Karen Abercrombie had appeared in several popular TV shows before catching her big break as Miss Clara in one of 2015’s most popular movies, “War Room.” The movie, which champions the power of prayer, was a surprising box office contender at the time and remains among the top 10 highest-grossing Christian films. Taking on the award-winning role of the feisty, seasoned prayer warrior put Abercrombie on an unanticipated path, which has included founding her own production company.
“[Founding] Earth Mother Entertainment was very important, because then I could say some things or address some things that people weren’t addressing,” Abercrombie, 59, told Faithfully Magazine in an exclusive interview. “And honestly, after ‘War Room,’ I think people’s appetites were whet for more quality Christian stuff.”
Some of that quality Christian stuff include projects in which Black characters, and other characters of color, take the lead. Abercrombie’s first creative project via her production company was “Discarded Things.” She stars in the 2020 drama as a recovering alcoholic who inspires a rag-tag group of mostly ethnic minority teens to believe in themselves despite the odds. The film earned Abercrombie her second award.
Her most recent film, “Heaven Sent,” is a romantic comedy with a diverse cast that centers Black romance — a rarity for the evangelical Christian film industry. “Heaven Sent” was released in February exclusively via streaming service Pure Flix. The entertaining romantic comedy sees the actress/producer/writer star as Elise, whose potential love interests are played by actors J. Leon Pridgen II and Gary Dourdan.
“It was important to me to show African American people, older and other ages, in a romantic situation where you didn’t have shooting, cussing, fighting, none of that kind of drama,” Abercrombie, who is African American, said of her new movie. “I feel responsible for what I put out there, and I just want other people to see us in another light, because we don’t always see us that way.”
Her character is also an overbearing grandmother, a rare role for the actress who has portrayed all kinds of characters in more than two dozen projects since “War Room.” The busy actress also has several projects in the pipeline, including a tentative limited TV series called “The Healer.”
Ultimately, her creative decisions are inspired by a desire to “bring people together.”
“Because honestly, when it comes down to it, we all want the same things, for the most part,” Abercrombie said. “Our techniques, or our how-tos and getting those things might be a little different. But in all honesty, we do. So I just want to braid a common thread, you know, or let people see that common thread.”
Read our exclusive interview with Abercrombie about her career, passion projects, and how to achieve longevity as an actress. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
How has portraying the iconic character Miss Clara impacted your career?
Majorly, majorly, and on so many levels. It was after “War Room” that a lot of people recognized that I was out in the world. Then people started sending me scripts and wanting me to play their version of Miss Clara. And I was like, “Well, come on, God. You gotta do something here, Lord [laughs]. You’ve opened up the doors and so I can’t just do this.” I’m a classically trained actress, you know. I’m gifted to be able to do just about anything acting-wise. That’s just how He has gifted me.
So it was after that that my first story started stirring in me, “Discarded Things.” I had never even wanted to write a script or produce anything. But it just happened. And “War Room” was like a blessing that keeps on giving. I had to raise money to do “Discarded Things.” But because people were still wanting more of Miss Clara, I could dress up and go around the country. So that is how I made the money to produce my first film. After that experience I was like, “This isn’t so bad.” And you’ve got some control of the material that you put out into the world. “Okay, God. I see what You’re doing.”
What are one or two of your favorite projects you’ve done over the years?
To date, certainly film. Miss Clara, because for an actress having to build a believable three-dimensional character, it was just delicious. Then she’s spreading some good news and light — even more delicious. And then, God in the process…I learned how to get out of His way and allow Him through. That’s why if my character was as powerful as she was, it was God working through me with me being out of His way. That was great, too, you know. Learning that I have to be cognizant of that fact… You got to make sure that you’re out of His way. And trust the closed doors, trust the open doors. He’s got you. So all of that. I’m the better for it.
Do you have any regrets about your journey so far? Is there anything you would change or wish you had done differently?
No, because it brought me to the point where I am now. I would like to teach other young people coming up in the business to not get so anxious about using your craft, that you end up being a part of something that you wish you had not. I still make those choices all the time. Not only did “War Room” put eyes on me in the Christian realm, but the world as well. So I get a lot of scripts from them. And [it’s a lot of] stuff I can’t do, and it’s from some very high places. But I can’t. I won’t. He’s got me and I’m here purposed for something very specific, as we all are, and I’m happy with that. I’m good.
Is there room for improvement in the Christian film industry when it comes to stories being told and who has creative control?
Oh, absolutely. One hundred percent, without a doubt. That’s something I am very serious about, making the necessary change in who’s in front of and behind the camera. You know, opening up the door [to] people nobody’s ever heard of. If you’re good at it, come on, come around. I want to open up the door because somebody did it for me one day. You know, you pay it forward over and over.
I’m thinking of a veteran like Sheryl Lee Ralph who’s been active for decades only recently winning a major award. How important are awards for an actor? And what’s the key to longevity in your industry?
Sheryl Lee Ralph has always been an amazing talent and a beautiful being. And I’m so glad that she didn’t give up. It’s deeper than holding that thing in your hand. It’s like, “I get to work. I’ve been doing this work. Great work.” So receiving it, there are so many different levels to the joy in that. And you know what, the fact that she’s a beautiful Black woman and an older beautiful Black woman, a brilliant actress, yes. So she’s getting something she should have gotten a while back. But this time is perfect, because there are a lot of things going on right now. I believe that it’s all part of the winds of change that are blowing. We’ve got a long way to go, but [there is a] more even or fairer playing field.
The key [to longevity] is don’t lose sight of the reason you are even in it. Make sure you know why you’re doing it. You’ve got to do it. It’s like breathing. It is your gift and you love it. You will do it for free, you know. So just make sure it’s not for fame, because it’s hard anyway. It’s a hard business to be in anyway, especially when you’ve got a handful of jobs for every Black actress on the planet. And then older women, you know, and so there’s a lot in that.
Actress is only one of your titles. What are some other projects or issues that you’re passionate about?
The Earth, taking care of Mother Earth. She is a mother. It’s so interesting that one of the first things we were given from God…the Creator of the Bible, in the beginning God began to create. So this incredible, live planet that will sustain us and feed us. And everything we need for healing is in the world, you know. But we’re so far removed from all of that. But for us to just dog it out on the continuous, it just breaks my heart. So I am passionate about people having food, about people in countries that we’ve never even heard the name of, and the water levels are rising, and they’re drowning. Or the heat in the sun of the Serengeti or in some of these other countries. You know, the sun’s burning everything up, that global warming. We want to build some pipelines and take it through some places where people have honored the earth, even though they’ve been pushed back a little bit. So now we want to go build pipelines where they are now, where they were pushed to be, you know. Come on.
What future projects, movies or otherwise, can fans expect from you down the road?
I had started a blog called “Living Simply, Naturally & Well.” It’s about slowing down and making sure you take care of your body, taking care of your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional self. You know, exercise, eating, a little bit of all of that. But guess what happened? Because I started it last year, I got busy. But I learned, girl, because I was so tired, more tired than I’ve ever been. Blessed beyond measure, but you gotta know when to say, “Thank you, but no.” I’ve already carved out time to make sure that I do that because I believe it will really help people. [It is] encouraging, sometimes just silly, you know.
Watch a clip of our interview with Abercrombie: