AN ACTOR'S BLOG
Polycarp Diary, Day 14: Table Talk
Monday, August 7, 2023 8:51 AM
Wednesday, August 7, 2013: The early shots I was in today were filled with detail but not too much drama. As is often true in real life, it’s when it got late that it got serious.
Much of the day we were shooting scenes that will be part, I think, of a unified sequence in the movie, the conference of elders: Polycarp, Irenaeus (Ted Rich), a protege of Polycarp, who has come to visit from Ephesus, and local leaders Justin (Justin Lewis) and Elias (Curt Cloninger). Their time together begins with a season of free fellowship and congenial conversation over dinner. The challenge here was to continue to be entertained by the same story told in multiple takes while appearing to eat heartily—after being filled with a real meal and while inhaling the fishy odor of warm sardines that have been sitting out too long.
Then the discussion gets serious as the tale is cleared and the prospects of persecution are batted about, and the choice whether to stay or flee. As actors, we are now engaged in a test both of concentration and endurance (and for Justin whether he can say Smyrna and not Smeer-na. Yeah, he got teased a bit.). Multiple set-ups and retakes became grueling, as did the wait between sets and the demand to come back and do the same scene with the same intensity (and matching gestures for continuity) over and over.
In one way, its a help to share that issue with other actors; in another, it’s an extra complication to fulfill the scene as a team. Then suddenly it’s over as we complete Justin’s close-up in one take. And move on. That’s a wrap for the day.
My suggested final line was well-received by the director and other actors and may be the crucial one for the scene.
It isn’t common to be shooting consecutive scenes, but for at least part of the day that’s how it worked out. How we went about it highlights one of the big differences between acting in a film and acting on stage.
If you’re a stage actor, imagine breaking a scene up into small pieces, and then, after waiting for everyone to be seated in the audience, playing one bit over and over - to a silent audience - then waiting for them to exit while the stage is re-set for the next bit, then bringing them back in and playing it over and over. It’s different.
One thing that is the same, however, is the joy of acting when you get to work with a great team of actors to pull a scene together and make it come alive. It was a joy to work together with Ted, Justin, and Curt, each one bringing his own read on his character and his own brand of intensity.
The table was set with real, fresh, tasty, fragrant food prepared by our Production Designer, Marcela Shaw. (I’ve suggested that the film company needs to produce a Polycarp Cookbook featuring the authentic recipes she used for our sets. I can still smell the pot of lentil stew for one of our scenes. And the bread - oh my!) The sardines was the only dish she ever put out that nobody really wanted.
In scenes like this, it's not just about one’s own performance, but everyone else’s as well with all the characters reacting to one another. It’s one thing to do it once, it’s another to do it over and over again. To be, however, in the company of these excellent actors, and to feel their intensity and seriousness - with lots of joking and humor during the breaks - makes me want to raise my game and play at my highest level in every take.
Postscript: Only half of this day’s work—the latter, serious half—made it into the final cut of the film. Alas, the scene that got cut was the one that best featured Ted. The rest ended up on the digital “cutting room floor”—again, for the simple reason that value of this scene to the story was outweighed by the need to get the movie to about an hour and a half running time. [sigh] (An edited version can be viewed in the Deleted Scenes feature of the DVD.) But while such scenes do not become part of the audience experience, they remain indelible memories of the cast and crew. I hope reading this helps you share some of our experience and fellowship.
Above: Keeping it loose between takes. L-R: Garry Nation (Polycarp), Curt Cloninger (Elias), Ilse Apestegui (Melina), Carry Austin (Lydia), Justin Lewis (Justin), Ted Rich (Irenaeus), Rusty Martin (Germanicus).
*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.