‘Redeeming Love’: Tom Lewis on Working With Co-Star Abigail Cowen and Finding the Mix Between Light & Dark in the Story


Directed by D.J. Caruso and based on the best-selling novel by Francine Rivers, the period drama Redeeming Love is a tale of forgiveness and the power of love in an unforgiving world, set during the California Gold Rush of 1850. From the moment Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis) sees Angel (Abigail Cowen) it’s love at first sight, and he knows that he wants to build a life and family with her, but having been sold into prostitution as a child has hardened Angel and made her guard her heart in a way that proves to be more of a challenge to win over than Michael ever could have imagined.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, Lewis talked about finding the right mix of light and dark in this story, the casting process he went through for the role, finding the chemistry with co-star Cowen, and what the last day on set was like. He also talked about his experience making Gentleman Jack, what he’s learned about the craft of acting, and how he’d always like to be challenged by the roles that he plays.

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Collider: This film is beautifully done, even though it obviously has some very dark subject matter.

TOM LEWIS: I saw the movie for the first time on a big screen, and it really brings it home, how dark and brutal some of the scenes are. It really doesn’t shy away from it. I knew it when we were filming, but to see it on screen is a whole different level. But I’m really glad that we found the right mix of light and dark, and the different shades that the story has. It was brilliant to do.

It’s impressive how it doesn’t leave you just feeling awful. It still manages to find a way to give you hope and inspire you, which I would imagine is a tricky balance to find.

LEWIS: Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s all down to D.J. [Caruso] and Francine [Rivers], and such an incredible script. It was all there. You got it from the page. As soon as I read it, you really felt that mix between the light and the dark, and what the film was trying to portray. It was amazing to work on.

How did you come to this? What was your audition process like for this? Was it one of those like crazy, long, drawn-out processes?

LEWIS: For Abbey [Cowen], it was more so. She was cast a couple of months before me, and they did a big search to find Michael. Luckily, they didn’t find anybody, so they came to the UK looking and I got the audition. I’d never read the book before, so I read the book before my audition, just to prep. I loved it. I read it in one sitting. I love historical fiction, so the material really resonated with me. So, I did my first tape and went in for the audition with the casting director. And then, a couple of days later, I got a call saying, “D.J. is flying from L.A. to see you. Francine loves you. All looks good.”

As soon as I met D.J., we were just on such similar wavelengths about how to do the movie and what the movie should be and how to really come with the character. It’s a difficult character to portray. He’s the light of the movie, so it’s hard to get all the different shades of the character in there. D.J. had such a solid way of thinking about the character that it was just a dream to play. It was gorgeous. And then, as soon as I met D.J., I flew to South Africa within a week for pre-production. It was amazing. We got a lot of time to prep there, so it was brilliant.

redeeming-love-abigail-cowen-tom-lewis-02 Image via Epic

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This film doesn’t work, if the chemistry between Angel and Michael isn’t there and if the audience doesn’t care about them. It all relies on that.

LEWIS: Yeah, it’s really important. Literally, as soon as me and Abbey met, I could sense the producers and D.J. breathing a sigh of relief like, “Oh, thank goodness, they like each other. Thank goodness they get on.” You have to have chemistry, and we did, from the moment we met. We’re such good mates now. We’re such good friends. As soon as we met each other, we just hung out and spoke about the movie and our lives. I’m so thankful that it’s my first movie, and it’s also Abbey’s first really major lead in a movie, so we were at the same level. The nerves between us were there at the same time, so we went on this journey together. It’s so crazy that this is our first big thing, and we’re promoting it. It’s so exciting. We’re so proud of the work that we did and what we created, all that time ago. It was amazing.

Did you have a moment, before you got to South Africa, where you worried about what would happen, if it didn’t work?

LEWIS: Yeah. We spoke a little before I got there, and I knew instantly that we were gonna get on, so I wasn’t so worried. It doesn’t always happen. You have to get the right kind of chemistry, but luckily we did. Mostly all of my scenes are with Angel and that character relationship is so integral to the movie that without it and if you don’t believe it, it all falls apart. I’m really thankful, having watched the movie, that it does work, and it’s brilliant.

How was it to have Abigail Cowen as a scene partner, especially with how there are so many things going on it what isn’t being said between them?

LEWIS: Especially in the earlier scenes when they’re first meeting. My favorite scene in the movie is when they first meet. He goes into the brothel and sees her for the first time, and she’s expecting another customer, like all the men that she’s met before. There’s something different in this guy, and she feels it as well. There’s chemistry between them that’s so beautiful to play with. That was my favorite. That was what I auditioned with, that early scene. That was my main first audition. I loved playing that so much. It’s love at first sight. It’s like a teenage romance. It’s that flirting, when you don’t wanna say that you like someone. She doesn’t wanna admit that she likes a guy because her experience with men has been so horrendous before, but she can tell that this guy’s different and has a lot of love. It was great.

Just by him being a nice guy, she doesn’t know how to react to that or deal with it. Him being genuine makes her uncomfortable.

LEWIS: It’s interesting what you said about it being unsaid because there are these little moments that you see in her eyes where she’s like, “I like this guy, but I don’t wanna admit it.” He goes in full-blazing and ready to marry her, as soon as he meets her. He’s found the one. He’s not gonna settle for less. And she has to trust him. It’s about finding that trust between them and whether she can trust any man. She’s never trusted a man before. Why would she? All the men in her life have treated her horrendously. For him to bring out that faith in her is a beautiful thing to play. We were really lucky.

redeeming-love-tom-lewis-abigail-cowen-03 Image via Epic

What was it like to figure this guy out and figure out how you wanted to play him? He is somebody who is so patient and kind, and he just gives her room to really figure out what she wants. How hard is it to balance making him a nice guy, but still keeping him believable and genuine?

LEWIS: That’s an interesting question. I discussed it at length with D.J. in the audition. Michael is the light of the movie and really helps Angel find her path to self-love. You can’t play it too wishy-washy. You can’t be too angelic about it. He has to have depth. He’s a guy who’s tortured himself. He’s not happy in his life. He’s not quite sure why. Everything seems to be going well, but he’s just not quite found the one. He’s not settled down. He’s a little lonely. There are all of these inner aspects to him that you have to portray to make it believable.

You also don’t want him to seem like he’s allowing himself to be walked on.

LEWIS: Exactly, yeah, and he’s not. He gets angry at her, at times, and frustrated that she can’t see what he sees. What he really recognizes is the guilt that she feels about her life. She feels so guilty for everything she’s done, even though he knows it’s not her fault, and she’s not to blame. He recognizes that within her and has the patience to let her find herself. He’s there waiting, not going anywhere. As long as she finds herself, he’ll just wait.

That’s why the scene of him crying alone in the barn, or the scene of him trying to talk himself out of going after her, are important moments because even though they’re not sharing a conversation, you understand more about where he is coming from.

LEWIS: Exactly, I agree. That’s a really good point. You have to have those moments of self-doubt. He’s doubting himself, the whole time. Everyone is telling him, “This isn’t the girl that you should be ending up with. She’s trouble. She’s got this past and this is not for you.” It would be unbelievable, if we just showed him as, “Nope, it’s fine. Everything’s going well.” He has to have that doubt within him over whether he’s making the right decision and whether he should be waiting for this girl. He waits for her, for years. It’s a huge thing. That’s why the last scene is so beautiful. To see the hope in his eyes becoming real, the whole film is hope, and he’s just lived on it for so long that it’s exciting to finally see it all explode in the final scene.

I also love that we get the friendship between Michael and Paul because there’s such an interesting dynamic there. I love Logan Marshall Green, as an actor.

LEWIS: He’s brilliant. He was great to work with.

What was it like to share those scenes with him and to have him as a scene partner? He seems like somebody who really just likes to be in the moment.

LEWIS: Yeah, he does. He’s quite intense, as an actor. He likes to really stay in the character’s shoes, and he likes to really go there with the part. I come from a theater background, so that’s not really me. That’s just not how I work. But we really found each other in the scenes. Especially the fight scene between me and him was just a joy to play because you really get a sense of history between them. Even though, in the film, the history between them isn’t shown, and you just have to go with it because they’ve known each other for many, many years, as soon as we had that first scene, the history was there between us already. We didn’t have to work to find it. It was just there. They’re such different characters that you almost wouldn’t expect them to be friends, but I think it’s that difference that really brings their friendship to life.

redeeming-love-tom-lewis-02 Image via Epic

After doing this and playing such an intensely emotional role in telling this story, what was the last day on set like? What was the last scene that you shot and how was that to do?

LEWIS: The last scene that we shot was the last scene of the movie, on the last day. South Africa went into lockdown, literally 24 hours after we saw it. We had to shoot the end of the movie super fast. It was very, very intense. A lot of us just needed to sleep and decompress, after a very, very, very intense week. It was incredible to know that we finally were able to get it in the can and get it getting completed in time. We were so lucky. If we had gone a day over, we’d have been in a bit of a pickle. The whole movie is waiting for that incredible moment between Michael and Angel, and we just really wanted to do it justice. And it was happening at sunset, so we only had 10 minutes to shoot. The light only lasts for 10 minutes, so if you don’t get it within that five or 10 minutes, it’s gone. There was a lot of pressure, but D.J. and Abbey were so great to work with that it was easy.

You were also in Gentlemen Jack, which was such a great series and a very different kind of period piece. What did you enjoy about being a part of that story and telling that story? How do you like living in the worlds of these different period stories?

LEWIS: I love them. I’m a huge history buff. If I wasn’t an actor, I’d be some kind of history academic, or something. I live for it, so to do any kind of period piece is just such a joy, to do all the research and get to really involve yourself in that world, as much as you possibly can. I really get off on it. To work on Gentleman Jack was amazing. Sally Wainwright, the writer, is one of my favorite writers of all time. Her work on TV in the UK is just incredible. And Suranne Jones is just amazing in the series. It’s an incredible story. I’m from Yorkshire in the UK, which is where the story is based, so I was able to stay at my parents’ houses while we were shooting. It was amazing. And it was the first job I ever really got. I got it straight out of drama school. I was just thrown into the deep end. It’s an incredible character and was such a joy to play. It was very, very different from [Redeeming Love] and much darker. Even though the story of this film is incredibly dark, that was a dark tale.

Doing Gentleman Jack and now Redeeming Love, what have you learned about the craft of acting? You’re still so new to the whole thing, but how different do you feel, as an actor now?

LEWIS: I feel a lot more confident. I’m really ready and raring to go, for the next thing. I had drama school training and I come from a very theatrical background, so that’s what I was used to. Movies are very different. Acting is acting, but working with the camera is a different method of working. I actually love it more than I thought I would. I’d love to just do movies for the rest of my life. You have three months to just get your head down, you’re on location the whole time, and it’s all about the work that you’re creating with other creative people. That’s your one job. You have to get this one script down, and you get to go so in-depth with one piece, rather than an eight-episode thing. You’ve got so many different balls to juggle on TV. With filmmaking, the focus is a lot stronger, and I really like that way of working. It’s much more my style. Hopefully, that comes across in the film.

A lot of actors talk about wanting to play roles that scare them. Do you feel that way?

LEWIS: Yeah, definitely, and that can come in different ways. A challenge can be a challenge for many different reasons. It’s not just about playing a crazy character who does loads of crazy stuff. Actually, an intimate scene with somebody, where it’s just you two in a room, talking and finding out what you want from each other, can be a challenge. A challenge can come in tons of different parts. This was a big challenge for me because I felt a lot of pressure as the only British actor with a huge American and South African team. I just wanted to really nail the accent. There were loads of different pressures. There was fight training and horse riding training. It was a big leap. Hopefully, I did it justice.

Redeeming Love is now playing in theaters.

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About The Author Christina Radish (5170 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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