Life has not been easy for Gianna Simone. The actress, who stars in two new movies this spring, grew up in Boston with a physically abusive childhood. Later, going into foster care, she was bounced around from home to home. But her story is one of hope, not unhappiness.
At 13, she began to spend more time at a local gym, where she went to build her physical strength and mental toughness, in order to fight back. She also found a mentor in the gym owner, who began taking her to a nearby, small, non-denominational Christian church every week. “I was in a deep, dark, angry place,” says Simone, who is radiant in person.
After the death of her mentor she attempted suicide, and wound up counseling and supporting her troubled hospital roommate, saying, “The only thing I could tell her is that Jesus loves you.” By repeating that, it made her realize she had found a new “truth” for herself through her faith.
She says now she has no problem being a vocal Christian, even in Hollywood. “There’s no downside in believing in God,” she says. “I’m loved, and somebody died for me.”
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In 2014 movie, “God’s Not Dead,” a devout Christian student (Shane Harper) must prove the existence of God or his college philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo) will fail him. With just a $2 million budget, the movie became a big success, grossing $62 million worldwide.
Simone appears in the sequel, “God’s Not Dead 2,” starring Melissa Joan Hart. It has grossed nearly $19 million since opening in early April. The story revolves around Hart’s high school teacher character, who is asked a question about the existence of God by one of her students. She is taken to court as the school system refuses to allow her to answer in the way she knows is right.
“It’s the battle we all face as believers. Do I stay politically correct or give this person in need of hope, hope — the message of God’s love for us all?” explains Simone.
As for her own role in the film? “I play a little bit of a bad guy,” says Simone with a sly smile. “I play an attorney who is on the opposite end of the spectrum.” In other words, she’s defending the school system, against Hart. “Talk about acting!”
Simone also required some acting chops to play her role in Garry Marshall’s new movie, “Mother’s Day,” starring Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, and Britt Robertson. Simone plays a pregnant mother.
As she lives her faith every day, she also has a plan for her career. “I try to take roles that will help me reach my goals. My ultimate goal is to play a warrior queen.” She cites Wonder Woman and “Tomb Raider” character Lara Croft. “I like playing strong female characters.”
When she’s not acting, Simone works on The Gianna Simone Foundation. “I’ve tithed since I started my career,” she says. She also helps to put women in Rwanda through school and she spends time at the Maryvale organization, working with foster children. “The girls remind me of when I was growing up.”
In the meantime, she has starred in and co-produced 10 episodes of a sitcom called “Hitting the Breaks,” with her production company, GS PRODUCTIONS and Pure Flix Entertainment, a Christian film company based in Arizona. “I play a vegan restaurant owner. I wanted to make vegan cool, so I helped write it to play where she’s a bada–.”
Simone describes the series as “family friendly and faith-based.”
She doesn’t find it hard to talk about her heartbreaking upbringing or her strong faith. And she has a message for young girls, in Hollywood — or anywhere in the world.
“My hope in sharing my story is to inspire people who are going through the same thing or something similar to know that with God’s help you’ll come through and know that you’re loved — as I did. Teen girls need to know that it’s cool to believe in God. People shouldn’t shy away from that — especially young girls. There’s only one you, and you’re special and you’re loved.”