AN ACTOR'S BLOG
Polycarp Diary, PS 2: Polycarp's Legacy to Me
Tuesday, August 15, 2023 8:05 PM
Thursday, August 15, 2013 - It was still daylight when I rounded the corner to my house. The drive took two days. Since my schoolteacher wife had to fly home the previous week, I was alone, and the past 25 days had given me much to ponder. Two questions in particular weighed heavily on my mind.
The first had been asked of me more than once as the production began to wind down: “What are you going to be doing [i.e., in film] after this?” My answer was that I didn’t know if I would be doing anything after this. I didn’t know I was going to be doing this. They seemed to assume that I must have more gigs lined up, but I was still amazed that in only my second time to act in front of a camera that I was playing the role of a lifetime.
That surface question hinted at a deeper one I had to ask myself: What am I supposed to be doing after this? I was coming down from a mountain as high as any I have ever visited in my life—one of the most prolonged and concentrated spiritual experiences of my life. It was a complex experience of moments shared with others, of time alone with God, blended together as a singular time of revival and renewal. I had neither anticipated nor hoped for it beforehand. My drive home was filled with feelings both of exhilaration and anti-climax.
Seasons like this are not ordinary in my life and have always signaled some change or decision I needed to make. The past 25 days had changed me, of that I was sure, but I was not sure how or what I was supposed to do now. Was Polycarp a once in a lifetime event for me, or something more?
A couple of months later I heard from Justin Lewis (“Justin” in Polycarp). Some Canadian filmmaker friends of his were casting for their new feature, My Grandpa Detective. In January 2014 I found myself preparing for a journey to Alberta in the dead of winter (seemed like a good idea at the time). I emailed my brothers that “I’m at it again, and once again I’m playing the ‘old guy.’” My younger brother sent back, “I think that’s what you have to look forward to from here on out.”
Post production for Polycarp seemed interminable. In the spring of ’14 they had to call back several of the cast for pickup shots and revised scenes. I was not needed (which is a good thing, because it would have taken months for me to grow back my hair and beard), and I felt both relieved yet left out at the same time.
The picture at last premiered in the filmmakers’ home city of Cincinnati in February 2015 following a snowstorm that kept some of the invited VIPs away. Most of the cast and crew made it, and it was a wonderful event. The fellowship of the reunion almost eclipsed the joy of seeing the finished film. It was streamed online to donors, and during the after-party I had to take a phone call to reassure my grandchildren that I was just fine after they had seen me burned at the stake.
The following month the film was screened at the Christian Worldview Film Festival in San Antonio, Texas to a standing ovation and cheers from a full auditorium of flimmakers. It took home major awards in that festival. Then in April it was again featured at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando where it was nominated for several awards including nominations for Eliya and myself, and I was there with my wife to represent. I was prepared with a little speech to accept the Best Actress award for Eliya if she won (it was taken by another child actor that year), but was caught by surprise when they called my name for Best Actor.
Polycarp is not the biggest movie ever made, not even the biggest Christian movie, but it has made its way around the world, translated into numerous languages, viewed by millions. I personally have heard from many whose lives have been impacted by the testimony of this, one of the less-familiar witnesses of Christian history. If this were the last film I got to do, I would have counted it one of the great honors of my life.
But it was not the last. I have had starring and strong supporting roles in several award winning feature and short films, am one of the principals in a docudrama series on a nationwide cable network, and have done a good bit of voice acting as well. I have been nominated for other honors since then and have won some, [See the full list here: http://garrynation.com/resume] I never sought to be an actor—but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s been an interest of mine for most of my life. My Lord opened this door for me and graciously commanded me to walk through it, and I have walked in this way joyfully.
The making of Polycarp was indeed 25 days that changed my life. I don’t think it’s insignificant that all of this occurred after my parents passed away—but I’m still not sure what to make of that. The real questioning that I had to come to grips with was how to reconcile my new work as an actor with my lifelong calling as a minister of the Word of God. I have prepared for, studied, and worked in Christian ministry for decades, and as far as I am concerned I am leaving nothing behind. I am simply doing it in a new way. Here is my mission statement as an actor—see what you think of it.
Why I Am an Actor
For me acting is an extension of my work as a minister of the gospel.
In the broadest sense ministry is communication—receiving something for the purpose of passing it along to others. Acting is a specialized form of communication, delivering a message that reaches both the mind and the heart of the recipient.
It’s not that I think that I have to preach a sermon every time I’m on stage or in front of a camera.
- In the first place, as an actor on stage or in film, I am conscious that I am only a small part of a much larger work—the servant of a vision God has given to someone else.
- Second, not every work of art has an explicit message, nor should it be so. But every work communicates the worldview of the artist. My dramatic portrayals are shaped by the truth I believe in, whether the characters I play believe in them or not. “Yea, let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4) I strive in every role to show what is true.
- Third, I work hard to show excellence in every performance, not from ego, but because I realize that people will judge my Lord by what I produce.
So I want to be careful about what roles I choose and what projects to be a part of. I am devoted to creating characterizations that are authentic, and that reach audiences empathetically and powerfully.
Above: Behind-the-Scenes photographer Courtney Vetter captured me in a pensive moment in this candid shot on location.
At the request of the producers, I wrote a study guide/journal for Polycarp. It is currently out of print, but send me a message and I will get you a copy. I will publish online at a future date.