Watching the movie “Welcome to Inspiration: Where Hope Begins” was emotional for Marge Pennell.
Her 13-year-old granddaughter, Margaret London Kimble, portrays an abused runaway with a dirty face and tangled hair. She hides in the woods and steals food to survive.
“I had tears running down my face,” said Marge, of Granite City, who traveled to Nashville, Tenn., for the 2013 premiere.
But Grandma was all smiles last week, talking about Margaret’s short but impressive career as an actress.
The seventh-grader at Holy Family Catholic School has performed in more than a dozen plays with Granite City High School, Summerstage and Alfresco Productions. She just finished work on her second independent film, “The Nameless,” which is being produced in St. Louis.
“She’s a natural,” said Rochell Simmons, a producer with For Our Father Films, the Nashville-based company that created “Welcome to Inspiration.”
The Christian movie was designed primarily as a fundraising tool for churches and charities. It was released Jan. 20 on DVD and is available at Walmart and amazon.com.
Granite City Cinema will screen the movie at noon March 1. The public is invited. Admission is free.
“For every DVD sold, $5 will be donated to (Margaret’s) favorite charity, Billie’s Kids,” said her mother, Melissa Kimble.
The movie focuses on a big-city couple stranded in a small town. They learn seven life lessons from its residents, including Aletheia, Margaret’s character. The runaway is rescued by a small business owner played by Christy Sutherland, Barbara Mandrell’s daughter-in-law.
“She’s a pretty well-known Christian singer,” Melissa said. “She’s always winning awards and going on tour.”
Margaret and Christy developed a friendship during filming, and their families met at the premiere.
“(Barbara) is just beautiful and gracious and kind,” Marge said. “She is just lovely. At the premiere, she very much didn’t want to take the focus away from her daughter-in-law.”
The cast also includes Grammy Award winners Larry Gatlin and Jason Crabb.
Margaret comes from a well-known Granite City family. Mother Melissa was a St. Louis Rams cheerleader for seven years. Father Darin Kimble is a retired National Hockey League forward who played for the St. Louis Blues. Aunt Amy Holland Pennell is an actress in Los Angeles. Grandma Marge is principal at Holy Family and a choreographer who has worked in community theater for decades.
Margaret was 5 or 6 when she first performed in the Summerstage production of “The Music Man” with her mother. “The Wizard of Oz” also was a family affair.
“My Aunt Amy was Dorothy,” Margaret said. “Mom was the Wicked Witch of the West, and I was a munchkin. That was fun. They flew my mom in the air on a bike. That was my favorite part.”
At 7, Margaret hit The Muny stage as a member of the children’s chorus for “Beauty and the Beast.”
Her biggest theatrical role was the lead in “Annie” with Summerstage in fourth grade. She has appeared in the Granite City High School production of “A Christmas Carol” four years in a row.
“Basically, she has never stopped doing community theater since her first production,” her mother said. “She’s usually in two shows a year.”
Thousands of girls sent in audition tapes to be considered for the role of Aletheia in “Welcome to Inspiration.” Margaret learned about it through her agency, Talent Plus. She auditioned in person in St. Louis and again in Nashville.
Margaret took three weeks off school for filming in March and April of 2012. She didn’t seem nervous to cast and crew.
“We loved having her on the set,” Rochell said. “Her performance was spot on. Her character was not an easy one to play, but she nailed it. She performed opposite seasoned performers and held her own.”
Margaret’s Aunt Amy has appeared on several TV shows, such as “Instant Mom” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Granite City Cinema screened her first movie, “I Am,” in 2010.
Amy stars in “The Nameless,” so filming gave her and Margaret a chance to work together.
Margaret has about 30 lines in “Welcome to Inspiration.” Makeup and hair-styling included rubbing dirt on her face and putting twigs in her hair.
“(Movie acting) is very exciting, but it’s very long, too,” she said. “You film a scene over and over again, and when it’s all done, you realize it has taken four hours.”
Margaret has a brother, Lawson, 10. She sings in the choir, plays volleyball and runs track. She played basketball before breaking her ankle last year.
Margaret doesn’t know how much money she earned for her movie roles. Her parents put it in a savings account for her education.
“We don’t want earning money to be a focus for her,” said her mother, a second-grade teacher. “It’s important to me that she’s a normal kid at school.”