Wayne’s Julia Rae Talks Battling Cystic Fibrosis and Her New Film

Julia Rae persevered through a cystic fibrosis diagnosis, and now she takes her talents to the silver screen with her film debut, "Playing Through."

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Julia Rae never held anything back because she didn’t know how long she had to live. A childhood cystic fibrosis diagnosis made her aware of her own mortality from an age when most teenagers were too busy enjoying high school to even consider the brevity of their own existence.

That all changed in 2017 when a new medication became available that treated Rae’s illness. The cloud that had once lingered over her life dissipated, and Rae could give herself permission to live life freely.

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A songwriter raised in Wayne, Rae dreamed of making it big out in Los Angeles at the time. She is a former Miss Philadelphia and Miss Philadelphia Teen winner as well as a featured performer in the city’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for eight consecutive years.

 

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With the weight of cystic fibrosis lifted, Rae felt it was time to expand her pursuits.

“Once this medication became available to me, I had hope and permission to pursue the multidimensional life that I always wanted to pursue,” she notes. “I always dreamt of having a family, and that was something that I put off thinking about seriously because I didn’t know if I would be here to experience that. I put off really pursuing my dreams in tangible ways that felt like I was betting on myself because I didn’t know if I would be here for it to pay off.”

On Wednesday, Rae will attend the first theatrical screening of her film debut, Playing Through, just a short drive from her hometown. It’s not often actors get to witness themselves in a leading role on the silver screen for the first time at age 31, but Rae was unsure if she’d get to witness life at all in her 30s.

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Playing Through is an indie feature film honoring the life and heroics of golfer and civil rights activist Ann Gregory, a woman of color trying to break into the USGA in the deep south during the 1930s. Rae plays Gregory’s rival Babs Whatling, a wealthy white woman who faces her own struggles, both internal and external, throughout the picture.

Rae, who was on a professional film set for the first time during production, powered through adversity while filming.

Julia Rae with her clubs on the set of Playing Through.
Julia Rae with her clubs on the set of Playing Through.

“Acting was always interesting to me, but being on camera just became secondary to me. So having the pressure of being a co-star in a feature film was daunting,” she admits. “And not only arriving the first day on set, needing to act and say my lines and do them well, but also swing a golf club in front of a whole cast and crew…I definitely had a learning curve the first day of just letting those nerves go.”

Though Rae was already an experienced golfer, she had to train for three hours every day for a month to perfect her swing and play a professional. 

“But then when I got to set, they handed me authentic 1950s-era golf clubs. They are so much harder to play with, which means that these athletes back then were actually so much better than I think we even give them credit for. Because the sweet spot on those golf clubs,” Rae pauses, “well, there is none.”

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Despite initial difficulties, it was clear that she and Andia Winslow, playing Ann Gregory, were up to the task. In fact, Winslow was already an accomplished golfer herself as a former member of the collegiate Yale golf team.

The cast and crew of Playing Through pose for a photo on set. Julia Rae (two from the right --- (middle.)
The cast and crew of Playing Through pose for a photo on set. Julia Rae is two from the right and Andia Winslow is in the middle.

However, Rae’s connection to the era of the film goes deeper than she ever realized. Her favorite childhood novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has stuck with Rae her whole life. She even named her dog Boo Radley after the iconic character from Harper Lee’s novel. Interestingly, both Playing Through and To Kill a Mockingbird have a similar premise: an examination of race relations in the Jim Crow south through the female lens. It’s the sort of tale that’s always resonated with Rae, even if subconsciously.

“I think witnessing these stories of trailblazers like Ann Gregory and like those in To Kill a Mockingbird and witnessing the atrocities of human nature, but then also the beauty of human nature, was always inspiring to me. And I have to believe that is because I grew up facing my own significant battle,” Rae observes.

Though she had never before considered it, she notes that both stories resonate with her and the hardships she faced her whole life. With the specter and danger of her disease now lifted, Rae pursues her interests not out of fear, but out of love and passion for her own creativity.

“I guess at the end of the day, I consider myself a storyteller. I think the thing that draws me to each of [acting, singing and songwriting] is the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s just a different version of storytelling. And I think the most beautiful way that we can connect with each other is by sharing the stories that connect us,” she says.

Watch Playing Through on Prime Video today via the following link.

Related: The 20 Men Project Wants to Change the Racial Narrative in Chester County

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