Twenty-five Days that changed my life

Jul 20, 2018 9:00 AM

Five years ago today (August 19, 2013), after a leisurely four-day road trip with my lovely wife Linda, I stepped into a project that would unfold into one of the great surprises of my life. I was going to be the lead actor in a feature film, exactly my second. My first was Indescribable--that’s the title, not a description—a deligthful movie produced by ThornCrown Project (2013). Two summers before, Linda and I had journeyed to the South Texas town of Goliad so I could be in a one-day shoot on location there. It was one of the hottest days of one of the hottest summers on record, and gallons of sweat were spilled by all. But it was truly a wonderful experience for me, something I’d always wanted to do, and I wondered whether I’d get to do it again. When I got to see the product almost two years later, I was as proud to be part of it as I knew I would be.

My role in Indescribable was a historical figure, an 11th century rabbi in Worms, Germany. It was a small role—I appear in the film short of 4 minutes total—but it was a vital part of the film, and the plot turns on what happens to my character, so it was an ‘impact’ role.

While the film was in post-production, a Facebook page was started both to promote the film and to keep the cast in the loop. One day one of the production members posted a casting notice for a new film that would tell the story of the 2nd century Christian martyr Polycarp. Well that caught my attention because as a student of Christian history, I knew who that was. I read a little further that the principal photography would be shot July and August, 2013 in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. At that point I chuckled and thought, “As if I’m going to Ohio to make a movie.” I thought the drive to Goliad was about the maximum for me.

A couple of weeks later I received a personal invitation from Rebekah Cook, who had posted the notice, to audition for the title role.

Now I thought, “The Lord might be in this.” So I set up to do something I’d never done before: enlisted the help of a couple of friends and shot a self-tape audition.

Another couple of weeks later I got a callback for a Skype audition with the writer and director, a sister/brother team, Jerica and Joe Henline. I met them on that Skype call. Jerica was 20 and looked 18. Joe was 18 and looked…well, younger. These kids amazed me with their talent and audacity to make, not just a feature-length film, but a period film to boot. But I liked them right away, and I suppose they liked me pretty well also, and I got the part. (They have their own story to tell about how and why they came to cast me, but I’m not going to try to tell it. I’ll let them do that their own way if they want.)

But here’s the thing: In exactly my second time on film, I get to play a role of a lifetime—and that’s no exaggeration. It truly is a great part, a great character, and a splendid challenge for any actor. And they trusted me with it.

So when I stepped into that improvised movie studio in Loveland, Ohio five years ago, I was ready for a challenge and expected to have a great time stepping up to it. I had my character well-loaded into my mind and heart, had my lines down cold, and enough experience as an actor, a sports official, and a substitute teacher to feel that I could adapt to anything.

I expected to have a wonderful time.

I did not expect that the next 25 days would prove to be the most prolonged, intense spiritual experience I had had in many years. I did not expect that it would change my life.

When filming actually began the cast and crew would receive daily call sheets and sides (sections of the script we would be working on that day). I began right away to use the backs of those pages to write a diary of my experience. I published in my blog an edited version of that diary on the one year anniversary of the filming, which was still in post-production and several months away from release.

Since then Polycarp has been released to film festivals, DVD, and various streaming platforms. It has won a number of top awards. It has been seen by many thousands if not millions. Above all, it has made a powerful impact on lives of people literally throughout the world.

But if anyone’s life has been changed by this film, it is mine. 

This year, the fifth anniversary of its filming, I am re-publishing my Polycarp Diary. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.