Anna McGahan is a Logie-nominated actress, but she’s driven by a whole lot more than where her next role comes from. Here, she tells Jessica Morris what it really means to be a modern Christian woman.
In the eight years since Anna McGahan emerged on Australian TV, she has immersed herself in roles that portray strong, empowered women.
She has had leads in House Husbands, Anzac Girls, Underbelly: Razor and The Doctor Blake Mysteries, and will play Greta McGraw in the upcoming Foxtel mini-series adaptation of Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock. She has also been nominated for two Logies, and was a recipient of the Heath Ledger scholarship.
It’s undeniable that the 28-year-old’s tenacity, wit and sensuality have all been on display to the public. After her time on Underbelly (where she played a role that called for nudity) she began auditioning for the role of ‘sex girl’ in TV shows and movies, and continued to privately struggle with an eating disorder. She was also averse to Christianity.
“I lived an aggressively anti-Christian lifestyle that served my own self-hatred—consuming people and experiences,” she says.
It was only after moving to Melbourne five years ago that her mindset shifted and her life radically changed.
“I was honestly the last person anyone expected to become a believer, but I was pursued by God, and had a series of spiritual encounters,” she says.
“I eventually read a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, met the person of Jesus within it, and received profound healing, inside and out. The journey started there, and has only become more and more thrilling. Not one day with him is boring. The love is overwhelming.”
Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is a clichéd, Hollywood Jesus-freak story though. Anna’s faith hasn’t just changed her mindset, it has also emboldened her to become a fearless advocate for young women in the industry.
With the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March ‘Be bold for change’, Anna is determined to try to even the playing field for men and women in the entertainment industry.
“Being ‘bold for change’ is ultimately about giving voice to the voiceless,” she says. “It is costly, to be pioneering. If you fight for equality and awareness, or against misogyny, you cop the initial fire.”
“[Feminism] is like gospel to me. It’s about mercy and justice,” she says. “I’ve made the decision to speak up when things don’t feel right, because though sometimes difficult, it paves a path for younger women to do the same. “
Working as an actor and being a person of faith may seem at odds for some, but for Anna this is precisely the point.
“If I can somehow publicly present both of those and embrace the tension of it, despite how strange it can seem, it hopefully allows other Christian artists to consider it too. You have to step into the firing line a bit in order to see culture shift. For women in my industry, the culture needs to shift.”
So how does Anna portray characters that live a life contrary to her beliefs? It all starts with an intimate knowledge of her self-worth—something she finds intrinsically through her faith in God.
“If I am working creatively and imaginatively, with clear boundaries, the integrity of my values is never touched, and I can enter into an exploration of the ‘other’ without judgment,” she says.
“I believe that representing a character who holds different values to me does not negatively encroach on my sense of identity, but that the light within me actually permeates it.”
In an industry focused on women’s appearance and marketability, it’s easy to compromise. Thankfully, the community Anna has found through the church gives her stability in a fast-paced lifestyle.
“Healthy (not competitive) community strengthens identity, and allows for a celebration of an actor’s own self. I think that’s the key,” she says.
This partnership with other Christians actually fuels her creativity, and Anna visits churches whenever she travels.
Her friendship with The Salvation Army began three years ago when she met with officers (ministers) at Perth Fortress Corps (church) and Adelaide City Salvos. Sharing her story at Delacombe Corps (church), she also recently filmed a video for International Women’s Day with Salvo Studios.
Anna has also worked with poet and fellow Christian Joel McKerrow, and together they penned an immersive spoken-word poetry piece in 2016 and toured it in a production called ‘People of the Sun’.
“Storytelling makes me come alive, but it’s also an incredibly powerful tool for shifting culture,” she explains.
She has studied screenwriting, and is currently writing a memoir. She also blogs on topics such as spirituality and feminism at aforbiddenroom.com.
“I love acting, and I love giving life to other people’s words and characters, but I feel a responsibility to speak, too,” she says.
“I’m currently studying postgrad theology, and I constantly find myself reflecting on the power of storytelling. It only increases my desire to write for and about God.”
A sought-after actress, an articulate writer, and a feminist—Anna shows that the multidimensional aspects of the modern woman aren’t devoid of faith, but can be inherently linked.
“I receive my identity and worth from Christ and, naturally, that changes everything,” she says.
“Holding onto that sort of truth as an anchor when you enter into an industry that constantly calls your beauty, power and value into question completely sets you free from the pressures, expectations and demands it can make.”