Actor T.C. Stallings is best noted for roles in the Kendrick Brothers’ Christian hits Courageous and War Room. In No Vacancy, releasing May 9, he plays Cecil Johnson, a real-life, down-and-out drug addict, in Leesburg, Florida in 2008. Stallings shared with The Stand some insights and challenges of the role.
The Stand: Give us a nutshell version of your own faith journey.
T.C. Stallings: I had a Christian mom. I was the youngest of six, and by that time, she had been growing in her faith. Being the youngest, I benefit from the best version of my mom. So I grew up learning to believe who God is, I just hadn’t quite yet learned how to follow Him, to follow Jesus, to obey Him. I was what I like to term a “habitual Christian,” you know, I went to church, carried a Bible.
It wasn’t until I got to college, my sophomore year when everything kind of came to where I discovered biblically what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus at a Bible study in my dorm room. … My life truly took another turn at that point to where [I acknowledge that] the Holy Spirit had to lead my actions, the Bible is the top authority, God is sovereign. It was the foundation that my mother laid, the seed was planted that way. [That’s when] I was going to transition from being just a believer to a true, sold-out follower.
TS: Why did you pursue acting as a career?
TCS: This was God’s choice, not mine. I wanted to be a professional football player. I pursued that all my life up until 2008, and I got a chance to play six years of professional football. In 2008, though, I saw a film that inspired me to do acting myself.
I should preface this by saying acting wasn’t completely foreign to me. it was just something that was more of a hobby. It really was a seed planted in my life that I thought the Lord was going to let burst out one day. I just didn’t know when it was coming.
I used to have fun with acting, just doing plays in church, in high school, and college. I just like to be a goofball, be the center of attention at times. That was what acting was for me.
But in ’08, it took a different turn because I saw the impact this movie was having on people, and I thought, Wow. This is no longer a hobby for me. I think I really want to do this possibly professionally when I’m done playing football.
The Lord said, No, you’re going to quit playing football, you’re going to do it now. That’s how it felt to me. So I prayed and asked the Lord if He wanted me to stop playing football and start acting, open up a door. He opened up a door with the Kendrick Brothers almost immediately.
And when I saw the success I was having, I felt like the Lord affirmed the call to act. I wanted to obey Him at that point, and I put everything into it. And here I am some 20 films later. That’s how I got into it and the reason I’m staying in it.
TS: Is this role any different from others you’ve played?
TCS: With No Vacancy, the basics of performing the character are there. You want to be believed, you want to be authentic to your role, you want to do your research.
The complete difference with this is that it’s a 100% true story based on a real person that people knew. It’s very easy [for them] to see if you didn’t nail it. It’s easy to see if you didn’t study if you didn’t know him, that you’re just kind of winging it.
The challenge is having people see me, but I want them to see Cecil Johnson, my character – not me, T.C. Stallings. That required things I hadn’t done before.
TS: How did you prepare for the challenge?
TCS: By sitting down with people who actually knew Cecil and just hearing and studying everything I could about him.
[Living in California] this was the first time I’ve had to do a completely different accent from the way I talk, do a southern twang. And I’ve never had experience with things my character experienced, so studying homelessness, on the streets, and drug addiction, coming out of it, recovery, relapses, and withdrawals.
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. Those were the challenging aspects of it.
TS: Did you get to meet Cecil Johnson?
TCS: No, I didn’t. But his widow, Victoria, was incredible. She was on set pretty much any time I portrayed Cecil. It made me nervous at first, but once she said, “You’re nailing it!” that was always so encouraging for me. She was there for nearly 95% of all my scenes.
Before I came down [for filming], she sent me some DVDs of Cecil preaching and teaching, so I could see how he moved, hear how he talked, the inflection in his voice.
We had Zoom calls, and she would answer all my questions about his home life, how he acted at home, how he acted around her. So I almost felt like I do know him, like I met him.
He passed away in 2019. That’s another reason I wanted to do the role – because people loved him, and I wanted to honor him by doing a good portrayal.
TS: How do you hope No Vacancy will impact viewers?
TCS: I feel like the theme of this movie is to love and to listen twice. To me that means, you love people. People have issues, and you want to help them out. And you love them enough to do the “first listen,” which is to listen to them.
Then the “second listen” is to listen to what God says to do about what you heard. This is something that happened in the film. And it changed lives.
This is an action you can do in your life. I think people are going to come to the film, they’re going to see this play out, and it should inspire them to do it in their lives.
Ask, Who can I love on, listen to what they’re going through, and ask God if there’s anything I should do? If we see that start happening around the country, around the world – wow! The great thing is you’re being inspired by a true story. That’s what I would hope to see happen.
TS: What impact did this story have on you personally?
TCS: I’m inspired by what Cecil was able to become. For him to be a person who literally was trying to die. Let that sink in. He was trying to die. Life had gotten so bad for him that he didn’t even want to live anymore. He was tired of hurting people, and he didn’t do anything to merit anybody coming to help him out.
In fact, the things he said to the Lord were things like, Lord, just let me die. I’m tired of hurting people.
Instead, God decided to completely turn Cecil’s life around. So Cecil shows the limitlessness of God’s mercy and His grace. … For me to play him and be able to show that to people and to know that a lot of people are going to be able to see this and have them say, Man, if God can do that for Cecil Johnson, He can do that for me.
That’s the take-away that really inspires me. I think that’s what Cecil Johnson’s going to be able to teach everybody. There is no limit to what God can do if you’re willing to trust Him with your situation.
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.