It’s a story of struggles and successes, despair and deliverance, fear and faith. The script is based on the real-life challenges of an unlikely trio of main players – a homeless drug addict; a jaded, demoted news writer; and a highly challenged pastor. The true story factor grabs the viewer’s attention from the start.
T.C. Stallings, noted for roles in Christian hits Courageous and War Room, plays Cecil Johnson, a down-and-out addict, in Leesburg, Florida in 2008. Stallings shared with The Stand some insights and challenges of the role.
It was his first experience portraying a real person, in this case, a long-time drug addict. To study his character, he spent long hours talking with those who knew the real-life Cecil Johnson (who died before filming).
“Life had gotten so bad for Cecil that he didn’t even want to live anymore,” Stallings said. “He was tired of hurting people, and he didn’t do anything to merit anybody coming to help him out.” Fortunately, help finds Cecil anyway.
Stallings added, “I wanted to do the role, because people loved him, and I wanted to honor him by doing a good portrayal. It required a deep dive into all aspects of this man’s life so that not only those who knew Cecil, but also those who knew him well would believe my portrayal.”
Cecil’s widow was on set for almost all of Stallings’ scenes. No pressure!
But when Victoria Johnson told him, “You’re nailing it!” he breathed a sigh of relief.
Orlando Sentinel news reporter Brandi Michaels is portrayed by Sean Young (Dune, Blade Runner). Michaels is the primary caregiver for her mother, whose Alzheimer’s is bringing her near death. Then she is demoted and transferred to a remote outpost.
Furthermore, her only sibling is an alcoholic brother who refuses to seek sobriety and is no help caring for their mother.
Michaels is at best an agnostic disinclined to consider anything positive about the church and the Christian faith. Ironically, the biggest story in her new post at the time is the controversy surrounding First Baptist Leesburg and its creative community outreach ministries.
That leads to the third main character, First Baptist Pastor Cliff Lea, who is played by Dean Cain (God’s Not Dead, Gosnell, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Super Man). The pastor’s challenges are multiple. He steers a congregation with an admirable vision of reaching the city for Christ. But how to do so is the rub.
The church is on the edge of a designated historic area with its fine old homes and residents with innate determination to protect the neighborhood’s reputation – and its population. Pastor Lea, however, is determined to purchase a nearby motel to remodel as a facility for the homeless. Not only does he face opposition from his parishioners, but the city won’t approve a permit, and he doesn’t have the money for the project.
The uphill battles faced by these three underdogs merge beautifully to tell a cohesive, gripping story of faith, perseverance, recovery, and redemption.
No Vacancy is well produced, and the acting is tops; that alone makes it both entertaining and encouraging. The fact that it is a true story is the remarkable feature that seals the impact this film can have as it illustrates how a committed church can change a city.
Produced by Kingstone Studios, No Vacancy premieres May 9 in a one-night-only Fathom event in more than 700 theaters. Locate theaters, view a trailer, and purchase tickets at novacancymovie.com.