A chance in the limelight: Janesvillians act in newly released movie, 'Heart of the Country'

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Samantha Jacquest
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

JANESVILLE–Imagine being flown to North Carolina for an all-expenses-paid trip, a walk-on role in a movie, meeting one of your favorite actors and becoming personal friends with a big-time movie director.

For Britta and Ryan Gagner of Janesville, it's not a fantasy but a treasured memory.

While reading the electronic version of the book “Heart of the Country” by Rene Gutteridge last year, Britta discovered a drawing for the chance to appear in the movie adaptation as an extra. Britta entered their names and was surprised when Ryan was selected in March 2012.

The couple flew to Wilmington, N.C., the following week.

“I thought there probably weren't a lot of men that were going to enter a contest for a Christian fiction novel, so, who knows, let's roll the dice and see what happens,” Britta said.

It led to the couple being treated like movie stars for a day.

“The only thing we paid for the entire trip was a bottle of water at the airport,” Britta said.

The couple were given their own trailer, went through hair and makeup and were treated like every other actor on set, Ryan said.

“All for a minute and a half of screen time, if we're lucky," he said.

Ryan appears as a pretzel vendor in New York City near the end of the movie. He didn't have a script. The director told him to be natural and just see what happened, Ryan said.

“It was something really out of my comfort zone, but something I really enjoyed at the same time,” Ryan said.

Britta is an extra in a bar scene when the main character meets her future husband, an important point in the movie, Britta said.

Being part of the entertainment industry is nothing new for the Gagners. Britta was an extra on multiple episodes of the television series “Dawson's Creek,” and both were part of the television show “One Tree Hill.”

“We had been friends for years before we were engaged, and we would watch 'One Tree Hill' together,” Britta said. “So, through my experience of being an extra, we called up the show to ask if they needed any extras, and they invited us down.”

"One Tree Hill" takes place near Wilmington, N.C., where “Heart of the Country” was filmed. It is also in the same area where the couple married in 2011. The couple said they always have wanted to move to North Carolina, and being part of “Heart of the Country” renewed that desire.

“They didn't need to bring in any fake bushes or trees, everything is so naturally beautiful," Britta said. “Words don't describe how amazing Wilmington is. It's a hidden gem of the east.”

“Heart of the Country” was released directly to video Tuesday exclusively at Wal-Mart. The film focuses on Faith, who returns to her childhood home in the country after her husband is jailed for Wall Street fraud. The Christian story parallels the story of The Prodigal Son, but Britta said the religious messages are very subtle, and it is a film anyone can enjoy.

The movie stars Jana Kramer, a rising country singer and actor from "One Tree Hill,” where the Gangers first met her. After spending time together on the set of “Heart of the Country,” Britta and Ryan have become friends with Kramer and director John Ward.

“We were so stunned that the director's family was so welcoming and loving and invited us back down for a visit,” Britta said. “They really treated us like we were stars, and it was amazing to be a part of it and part of this story.”

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