AN ACTOR'S BLOG
Polycarp Diary, Day 11: Polycarp on Trial
Thursday, August 3, 2023 12:00 AM
My Polycarp Movie Diary: Saturday, August 3, 2013.* This is Day Twelve of filming--yesterday I had the day off. My call time was the latest of the day, 8 p.m. Everyone else was already there and had already spent half the day filming before I arrived. I would only be in one scene today, the last scene of the day--but what a scene! The trial of Polycarp.
The outcome of this scene is not really in doubt. We know from the beginning that Polycarp was martyred, and the screenplay is a pretty straightforward adaptation from the account of that trial written by eyewitnesses. Yet remarkably, the dramatic tension and suspense in this scene comes through on the pages of the screenplay, and was even more strongly felt on the set as we played it out.
What gives the scene its tension is the clash of two different kinds of power. There is within the structure of the scene a kind of replay of the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate. (Indeed, those who wrote the account of Polycarp's trial were aware of the parallels, and it became a pattern for martyr stories told for centuries afterward. The theme of following in the sufferings of Christ is a unifying one between these stories, and that of Polycarp was the first of its kind.)
Playing opposite me in this scene is Gary Bosek as Quadratus, the Proconsul of the Roman province of Asia. Gary and I both had identified the power struggle at the center of this scene. The overall movement was pretty well laid out in the script, but we worked together practicing different approaches and nuances. He and I had a great rapport and saw things eye to eye as we discussed beforehand how the interchange should work.
Gary is a bit taller than I am anyway, but the structure of the set had him set high and me set low looking up at him. I was wearing chains. They were real iron chains, not fake. It all makes me wonder, how would I actually fare in a showdown like this? As Sir Thomas More says in the play A Man for All Seasons, "This (pointing to self) is not the stuff of which martyrs are made." I want to think that I would identify with my Lord no matter the cost, but none of us really knows until the time of trial what we will do. I hope we have not trivialized or reduced to a mere doctrine the living promise that he is able to keep us from falling, and will present us faultless in the presence of his glory (cf. Jude 24).
There were a few different camera set-ups, but Director Joe Henline had us do several takes in each one, looking for a variety of expressions, flow, and pacing. Interestingly, the more quietly I played my part, the more flustered and frustrated Gary's Quadratus became. (Afterward he confessed to me that he did find himself becoming truly irritated by my character. Apparently I have this effect on people. Of course that’s actually a reflection of how closely he identified with his character.) We may think we know how this scene will go, but I believe it's going to have surprises for all of us--including the actors. **
This was not rapid-pace filmmaking. Joe rightly wanted to make sure we got every detail right. We spent a long, long night to shoot this one, critical scene. At least I got to stand for it. (Rusty had to play his on his knees.)
Top: Actor Andrew Hurt as Centurion leads a squad, under the eye of director Joe Henline. Left: Gary Bosek as Quadratus facing off with Polycarp. Right: Myself as Polycarp facing judgment.
*This is the 10th anniversary of the filming of the award winning Christian film Polycarp in which I play the title character. The experience of making that film proved to be far more momentous and impactful in my life than I ever anticipated. To celebrate this anniversary I am re-publishing my diary from those days which I wrote on the back of the daily sides.
**There were indeed some surprises, mainly in what got cut, including a couple of great lines. But it made for a taut, suspenseful scene, and the camera caught some wonderful nuances that made this scene stand out as a high point to me.