Table Talk

Aug 7, 2018 8:30 AM

My Polycarp Movie Diary, Day 15*

Wednesday, August 7, 2013: Day Fifteen. 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. 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. The sequence depicts fellowship and counsel exchanged between Christian leaders: Irenaeus (Ted Rich), a protege of Polycarp, who has come to visit from Ephesus, Justin (Justin Lewis), Elias (Curt Cloninger), and of course, Polycarp.

Their time together begins with a season of congenial conversation over dinner with the whole family. For all of our mealtime scenes 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 challenge here was to continue to be entertained by the same story told in multiple takes (well-performed by Ted Rich as Irenaeus) while appearing to eat heartily - but after being filled with a fine meal prepared by our production caterer Amy Siderits.  - That, and also inhaling the fishy odor of warm sardines that had to be sitting out during the whole, long sequence. (That was the only thing Marcela ever put in front of us that nobody really wanted.)

Then the table got cleared and the discussion got serious as the four elders dealt with the growing prospects of persecution. As actors we were now engaged in a test both of concentration and endurance. (And for Justin Lewis, our Canadian cast member, a test of whether he could pronounce “Smyrna” correctly. Yes, we helped him and hazed him at the same time.)

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 over and over. On the one hand, there is much gratification in being able to share a strong, complex scene like this with other able actors. 

On the other hand, it requires a high level of teamwork in front of the camera. 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.

And 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. He nailed it! Attaboy, One-take Lewis! 

Postscript: Only half of this day’s work—the latter, serious half—made it into the final cut of the film, although some of the behind-the-scenes moments do appear in the extras in the DVD edition. 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] 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 fifth 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.

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