The movie, inspired by true stories, follows Rachel, an Amish teen who refuses to obey her parent’s command that she marry the man who abused her as a child. When she attempts to run away, she is caught and sent to a “rehab” for Amish girls who don’t follow the rules.
The film stars the multi-talented Dylan Ratzlaff, in her first major lead role. Dylan may be best know for her work on the series The Next Step. She’s also appeared in the television movie Doomsday Mom and the ABC series A Million Little Things.
We sat down with Dylan to talk about An Amish Sin, how important it was to get the story right and how her faith helped her throughout the process of filming the project.
Pop Culture Principle – Before you even learned about this project, what, if anything, did you know about the Amish and the Amish community and way of life?
Dylan Ratzlaff – I feel like I knew a couple of things. Obviously, I knew that they didn’t use electricity and stuff like that. I also knew that there was a big segregation between men and women in their community. So, my heritage is Mennonite, which is similar to the Amish. I don’t practice anything that they practice, but I got to ask my grandmother a lot of questions which was really helpful. Hearing stories from her throughout the years was very helpful in preparing for the role.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it about the script for this movie that made you decide to sign on to the project?
Dylan Ratzlaff – You know, I had done a lot of projects that were fun projects, but this one, I knew it was going to mean something. This project was going to be important and help people get through tough times and gain courage. I was so inspired by Rachel and the story, and I just had to get on board. It is such a beautiful story and for my first lead role, I am so grateful that it was going to mean something.
Dylan Ratzlaff – I got to email with Joanna, and she was so helpful with both learning what victims go through and also learning about the Amish community. I also got to meet with someone who counsels women through their sexual abuse. I got to learn what she sees throughout their journey and their healing process. Obviously, the healing process is different for everybody, and I wanted to find a good representation that brought them all in in a sense and that people could relate to that in a sense.
I had a week to prep for the role and that was me basically diving into how survivors experience life and relationships after these incidents and also learn more about the Amish community and realize how intense the segregation is. I was with the nicest people on set, but when we all got into our characters, I felt like I was nothing compared to the men, and I could really feel that when on set.
Pop Culture Principle – You have an extensive background in dance. How did that training, and discipline help you as an actor and preparing for this role?
Dylan Ratzlaff – I think so, one hundred percent. I would say there is one good thing about it and one bad thing about it. The good thing is that I am able to use my entire body. A lot of actors find that they will say the words but will be stagnant in a sense and I am able to use my body which can affect the lines.
The only bad thing about it is that when you practice a dance, you practice so that it is perfect every time. So, I took that into my acting and made it that every time that I said the lines, they were the exact same and I never explored saying the lines. It’s something that I am continuing to break out of is not having it perfect and so rehearsed. So, there is a plus and a negative, but I think the plus definitely overrides the negative.
Pop Culture Principle – The film is based on the story of Joanna Yoder and many like her who have had to deal with what your character dealt with in the film. How important was it to you and the creative team behind the film to get this story as accurate as possible?
Dylan Ratzlaff – I think it was super important. Whenever you are portraying a certain culture or religion, you want to get the details right. It was a big thing we focused on and that’s why we reached out to Joanna Yoder for specific details. With the sexual abuse side of the story, it was super important to me that I portrayed a character that people could relate to and that’s why I talked to a lot of people preparing for the role.
It was a daunting task for me because I didn’t want people to say that something didn’t happen a certain way, so I wanted to make sure I got those moments correct, especially because I don’t have a lot of lines at the beginning because my character is so suppressed, so it as all body language. I watched victims tell their stories and I would analyze their body language when they told their stories and would try to portray that.
Pop Culture Principle – Being that this film is based on an actual person, for you as an actor, did you feel any pressure representing this person and their story?
Dylan Ratzlaff – Absolutely. I think in one of my emails to Joanna, I told her that I hope I do her justice. She is just such an incredible woman and I really wanted to get it right. What’s crazy is that what we show is not even a quarter of what she went through. It really broke my heart, so I needed to make people realize that this is happening today, and it was super important that I got all the details right for her and really brought her story to the screen.
Dylan Ratzlaff – Every time I did a scene with her, my acting just got better because I think when you have someone so amazing, you just feed off their energy. She was the first one to email me and let me know that this was heavy content and If I needed any help, to reach out to her.
It was awesome that she did that for me. As big as she is, she could have just gone into the movie, done her thing, and then just left, but she really took me under her wing, taught me everything and just made sure I was ok through the entire process which was a huge thing for me.
Pop Culture Principle – The film deals with some very disturbing and dark subject matter. For you as an actor, where you able to escape that darkness when not on set or did you take some of it with you when not working and if so, how did you deal with it off set?
Dylan Ratzlaff – I was able to separate it mostly because of my family. They were great supporters and were always checking in on me which was a huge thing. I am also a person of faith, so that really helped me because I think we can really get consumed when we are on set with all these dark things and being able to look forward to that light and faith is really helpful.
Pop Culture Principle – Even though you did research and prepared for this role, did anything still surprise or shock you about the Amish and their lifestyle?
Dylan Ratzlaff – Yes. I think the biggest thing was just how severe the suppression was with the women. They are basically used for a role. Your role is to bake, cook and take care of the kids. I felt so degraded and got angry sometimes while filming this project. So, that was super interesting to me and a huge realization. I asked my grandmother what would happen if a woman spoke up in church and she had this look on her face and told me that that would never happen. To actually see her facial reaction, I knew it was serious.
Dylan Ratzlaff – I think I want women to be inspired by my character Rachel’s courage because I know everyone has that courage inside of them and I want them to be able to use it to get out of a bad situation. Also, creating a network around you to be able to do that is a big thing. I think sometimes that we have to do it alone, but you could see through Rachel that she started to do it alone and as soon as she found Grace, it is when she had the most amount of growth and was able to find herself.
I would encourage people to find that network around them and to gain the courage to leave their situation. Also, I want them to know that it’s not easy. Sometimes we kind of discount how difficult it is to leave that abusive relationship and it takes a lot of courage. So, understanding that and knowing that it’s difficult and be proud of yourself when you do get out.
Pop Culture Principle – You have this film coming out shortly, are there any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Dylan Ratzlaff – Yes, so I just filmed a little part on Cruel Summer which is on their second season, and I am super excited about that episode coming out. I always tell people I have a dual job. I am also a dance teacher, so I got the opportunity to travel across Canada and judge dance competitions, so I also do that. So, whichever way I get pulled is where I go. I am half in the dance world and half in the acting world. So, those are the two main projects that are on my plate right now.
A huge thank you to Dylan Ratzlaff for taking the time to talk with us. We highly suggest you watch An Amish Sin when it premieres Saturday, October 29th at 8/7c on Lifetime!
**Main photo courtesy of Annika Brown**
**All An Amish Sin photos courtesy of Lifetime**