(Photo: Alley Mills)
Actress Alley Mills, perhaps best known for her role as Norma Arnold, the mother in the coming-of-age TV series "The Wonder Years," is unashamed to talk about Jesus Christ. However, while she was still a Buddhist working in Hollywood, she was more concerned about what people thought about her than she does now, she told The Christian Post in an exclusive interview.
"This town is driven by ego," said Mills, who currently plays Pamela Douglas in the soap, "The Bold and the Beautiful." She adds, "The more confidence you have when walking into a room, which is really about ego – that, much more than the depth of your heart, is what gets you a job." The question is always, "Can you hold your own in a room?"
Mills said that she had good survival skills as an actress before becoming a follower of Jesus 15 years ago, but that her priorities are much different now. She gives her Christian testimony in church and has talked about it in Bible study, but has never spoken to the press about her journey of faith prior to her interview with CP.
The actress grew up in New York, both the city and outside the city, and was mostly raised by a caregiver. Her parents, a father that was a television executive and a mother that was a magazine art editor, were "rabid atheists," she said. They later divorced.
"From the age of a teenager, I was always seeking something outside what the real world was. I had a yearning for meaning," said Mills, 62. "That's why I became an actress in school. I went away to boarding school when my parents got divorced. My childhood had not been happy.
"I was always searching. I became a Buddhist in my twenties when I came to Los Angeles. I met a group of people who I really loved," she explained.
Being a Buddhist was part of her spiritual journey, she said. "I was a Buddhist for 20 years. At a certain point, in my late 30s I began to get unsettled about Buddhism. and the major thing was I felt like I needed to be grateful for this incredible creation … I've always loved nature. I've always been a hiker. I love the wilderness. I didn't realize it was God then, but I now do."
Her uncertainty began to grow as she realized that chanting "to a law in the universe" was beginning to not work for her. She was also concerned that some of the Buddhist leaders were "becoming a little bit egocentric."
A shift in her life began, she says, when she went to a Lutheran school's church service because it was recommended that as grandparents (Mills is married to actor and author Orson Bean) who are helping to place their grandchild in the school, they should attend.
"There on the wall [of the church where service was held] was a very old picture of Jesus and it was the same picture that the woman who raised me, my whole childhood, had by her bed," she said. "It was as if I was hit by a thunderbolt. I saw that picture and I suddenly remembered everything that I had not remembered at all about Mary (her caregiver) raising me pretty much from the age of two. She was a devout Christian. She was an African American. She kind of rescued me from a very crazy caregiver we had at that time, and always took me under her wing."
Mills continued, "She would rock me in her rocking chair. She had a huge Bible and would open up her Bible and read to me. And I remembered everything when I saw this picture. I remember when I used to walk to school and that Jesus was with me, that he was my friend, that I wasn't afraid anymore, because I was a very anxious child. Mary would pray with me all the time. I snuck out to Sunday school. I had my own Bible with my name on it because I sang in a school choir. My parents didn't know."
She said she completely forgot about this part of her childhood probably because her parents forbade the caregiver from teaching from the Bible at a certain point. "I remembered that happened in front of me when I was about six and she stopped reading me the Bible, which was awful. It must have broken her heart," Mills explained. "Unfortunately, she died before I became a Christian. I am convinced she prayed for me every day."
She said the transition from Buddhism to Christianity at the point of remembering her past seemed logical.
"Nothing went against what I believed as a Buddhist. It was all like a missing link, because I had remembered what Jesus had been to me – just this incredibly humble and kind friend who brought peace to my heart as a very little girl … but I sobbed and I sobbed," she said. "She (caregiver) was the most incredible role model of my whole life. When I saw that picture everything came back to me."
Later, Mills asked the pastor of the Lutheran school church if it was okay for her to attend even if she was a Buddhist. He told her it was fine just as long as he could have meetings with her and her husband over coffee.
"That pastor is still my husband's best friend and he baptized me 3 to 4 years later with my grandson," she said. "That was the beginning of a change in my life. It was a continuation for me… Buddhism was sort of a step. People worry about [Buddhism being the wrong spiritual path]. That's true, people can become complacent and remain stuck… but it wasn't for me, it was a step."
Mills said she now prays regularly before coming onto a set and has been shown that by doing so it can help her think less about herself and alleviate any worries. Most of her coworkers and the crew on the set of "The Bold and the Beautiful" know she is a Christian, she said.
"I like to tell people about the peace of God. When Jesus left, he said, 'My peace I give you,' and that peace is totally palpable and it accumulates," she said. "It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it, but as a [previously] self-centered, anxious actress, and often lonely, broken-hearted, and many other things as an actress at 40, that peace is palpable, it's real. That's exactly what I experienced."
Mills has also had discussions about her faith with conservative media mogul Andrew Brietbart, who was her stepson-in-law. She and her husband are in a scene of the documentary, "Hating Breitbart."
"In his book, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World, Andrew wrote, 'Alley, I want you to know that your prayers have not gone unnoticed.' Nobody that knew him doubts that Andrew is up there with Jesus," she said. "He and I talked about faith a lot."