AN ACTOR'S BLOG
Polycarp Diary, Day 15: When Things Get Heated
Tuesday, August 8, 2023 10:28 AM
Thursday, August 8, 2013 - As part of the preparation for playing Polycarp I did my own research into that ancient Christian’s writings, translating his Epistle to the Philippians for myself and examining it verse by verse. (I’m not bragging - it’s just what I did.) I wanted to understand not just what he said, but how he thought, and why he strung his scripture-saturated ideas together the way he did. If that study was ever valuable, it certainly was today.
What a day! Today we shot Polycarp’s street preaching scene. I had worked hard to get the sermon right for the “Villa,” and I worked doubly hard to nail this one. Like the Villa sermon, the script is adapted from P’s Epistle to the Philippians. This one is more difficult to find the tone for because P wrote to Christians, but the sermon has a public design and an evangelistic element.
Going back to my own translation from Greek, I rephrased some of the script and worked out the intenal movement from admonition to Christians, to response and warning and invitation to unbelievers, to warm encouragement for new believers. It’s a pretty complex sermon with a highly complex internal movement of ideas, made even more complex by the external interaction of other (mostly hostile) characters.Yet it only runs a couple of minutes. I practiced for I don’t know how many hours.
I needed all my preparation not only to have confidence in the scene, but also to help maintain my focus without being distracted. [Note: The final edit does not capture the full monologue, but picks it up in progress.]
We had been blessed by gorgeous, mild weather throughout the shoot, but today was seasonably warm. The fountain square set was exceptionally warm. Whatever ventilation there was did not circulate well through the most interior part of the building, being blocked off by the constructed walls of the set. Add to the ambient temperature the body heat of several cast, over a dozen crowd extras, and some Roman soldiers in full armor, plus the hot lights, and the environment became very challenging.
Light, camera, and sound set-up seemed (as always) to take forever, and we all just had to endure the standing and the heat. Jerica Henline, as Key Production Assistant, led a busy crew that made sure everyone stayed hydrated, passing out bottles of cold water to everyone for as long as we had to be there—and snacks when that time got extended. [Makeup Artist] Mary [Wise]’s hand-held, battery operated fans for “talent” (to keep us from sweating off our makeup) were heavily taxed.
Among the extras was a mom who had three little boys, one of them a babe in arms. At one moment I pointed my fan at the little tyke to give him some relief (he was being so good!). Our BTS photographer snapped that picture, and it became the first-released public glimpse of Polycarp—even if only his hand! (The middle boy was a mover—at one point he idly kicked dirt on me—but they all did just fine despite the difficult situation.)
After the last main take, Curt told me he thought it was the best, most authentic and spontaneous-sounding. I don’t know, I felt like I could still do better.
Several different camera angles were required for this scene, and it was laborious to shoot. But when it was finished it all just seemed anti-climactic. So few of the rewards of film are felt in the moment of filming. Still, we prayed fervently before that scene and put all our energy into it, and surely that will show up on the screen. And may God bless His Word spoken in it with power.
Then we did another scene, a smaller one with many fewer moving parts, in which Polycarp is watched by Anna while he teaches. I had no scripted lines and would not be on mic, but I didn’t want merely to pantomime so I improvised a telling of the story of Lazarus. I didn’t finish before that scene wrapped. [Note: Yet another scene that got cut.] Then I wrapped early for the day, leaving after the meal.
Eliya Hurt, however, was on site from the beginning of the filming day to the end. And of course she was not alone - and obviously our hard-working crew is working and sweating and laboring throughout the day. But by the nature of our relationship as the lead actors in this film, I notice what she is doing and how she’s getting along. Others are charged with her welfare and do an excellent job of looking after her. But I notice. I have mentioned my motto: No matter how early I come, or how late I stay, or how hard I work, someone is working harder and doing more. And once again, Eliya sets the example for me.
Above: Behind-the-Scenes photo from Polycarp.
*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.