If you happen to see the new movie "War Room," leading man T.C. Stallings may look familiar.
When called Tony Stallings, he was a standout football player at Bedford High School near Cleveland and later made some impressive moves on the field for the University of Louisville -- the first person in his family to go to college, he said.
He also played pro ball in NFL Europe, Canada and the Arena league and had a moment in the TV spotlight in 2004 when he won Animal Planet's "King of the Jungle" reality competition.
In spite of all that, he never achieved his dream of playing in the NFL stateside. Stallings now thinks that the NFL was not what he was meant for. Instead, he says, the Lord had something else in mind: a ministry, giving talks about his faith -- and, in recent years, acting.
The acting is also part of his witness, as "War Room" is a firmly Christian movie. The makers are the Kendrick Brothers, who over the course of five films -- notably "Courageous" and "Fireproof" -- have found considerable financial success through modestly budgeted, faith-based movies.
"War Room" features Stallings, 37, as Tony Jordan, a pharmaceutical salesman whose charm in business is matched by a harsh, domineering way at home. As Stallings described it, Jordan just does not understand that other people have feelings. That is tearing at his marriage to Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer, a minister taking her first major film role).
Things change when Elizabeth meets Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), an elderly woman who challenges Elizabeth's faith and introduces her to the idea of a "war room" devoted to prayer. Before the movie is over, Tony, too, will have a spiritual reawakening, though not without trouble along the way.
Stallings has most often been seen in Christian films but does not rule out secular productions. "I'm not necessarily a Christian actor," he said. "I'm an actor who happens to be Christian. I won't do a film that dishonors God. But there are some really good, clean roles out there, and I'm going to grab some of them."
At the same time, he sees "War Room" as a step forward for him, a break from what he considers mean characters such as a gang leader in "Courageous" and "the evil anti-Christ-type supporter" in "Rumors of Wars." Tony Jordan provided a wider range of emotions to play.
"I read the script, and saw everything the character would have to do, and the responsibility to help carry the film. It was a tremendous challenge," he said. "I was honored that they chose me. So I jumped at it.
"Tony has an incredible arc of emotion. You go from hating the guy to cheering the guy to being confused about the guy, and all kind of things. "
And he recognized Jordan's journey in his own. Jordan, he said, was completely focused on his business life -- wanting to end up owning his company. "He was locked in on that, and everything else got in the way.
"If you take out 'pharmaceutical salesman' and replace it with 'the NFL,' replace it with 'football,' that is what I wanted. If you got in the way of it, you would get pushed aside. Even the Lord. I tried to take him along with me, as opposed to letting him lead me to what he wanted me to do."
While he thought of himself as a Christian, and had gone to Blessed Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland, he said he was not really keeping the faith. He was called on it by another student during his sophomore year at Louisville. "That was my moment when I really started laying into Scripture myself and, from that point on, tried to have the Lord lead my life."
But he was still thinking about football. "I was headstrong on everything. The Lord got my attention this way: No matter how good I would do on the field, I couldn't get where I wanted to get to, which was the NFL. I started getting worn out, physically and mentally. That's when the Lord took that opportunity to say, 'I want you to do something else.' "
He began more closely reading the Christian preacher-writer Francis Chan and, after an accident in 2009, Stallings said to himself, "OK, let's wake up, dude."
That wake-up call led to acting, starting with a Christian competition in Florida, and now to "War Room." And, again, he sees in his life what happens to Tony Jordan -- that it can take time, and more than one try, to get to where you need to be.
"That's what I love about this movie," Stallings said. "It isn't this big, happy, flowery life. You get to see the whole story of Tony Jordan. When he tries to get things right, man, he runs into some mountains. But he stuck it through and found the victory feeling of pushing through and getting to be the man that God designed him to be."