Polycarp's Last and Fullest Day

Aug 13, 2018 9:00 AM

My Polycarp Movie Diary, Day 20*

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - Call time 3:00 p.m. Today is best described as... full.

We began at the end, with the scene of Polycarp’s martyrdom at the stake. Beforehand our Property Master and medic Matthew Shaw sat down with me to explain the safety protocols and to ask about my concerns. I had none. Having beheld the professional competence of this entire crew for over three weeks, I was completely confident in their measures.

It was an outdoor shoot. The temperature was mild—upper 70s, pushing up to the lower 80s when the sun peeked out from the clouds, but it was pleasant day. Still, it’s a grim thing to contemplate one’s own execution even on the gentlest of days. There was not much levity on the set today. It wasn’t morose, but everyone was in a pretty sober mood. It is particularly sobering to be tied to a stake as a torch with real fire is being thrown on dry wood beneath one’s feet. Of course I was never actually tied and stepped away to safety immediately—and after all that, that particular shot probably won’t even be used. [Note: It wasn’t.]

Then we went back indoors and did a series of “scroll shop” scenes, including the pickup of my close-up in the visit from Quadratus. Gary Bosek had already wrapped and gone home some days ago, but Andrew Hurt (Centurion) stood in for him. He did an excellent job reading Gary’s lines and giving me some good, arrogant Roman attitude to react toward. Then, with hearts much lighter than they were earlier, we filmed a charming little vignette between Polycarp and Anna (Eliya Hurt) showing the growing relationship between them and a bit of her playfulness while bringing him some materials. Harmless pranks were frequent occurrences on the set, and today was at last my turn to be pranked. Anna was supposed to surprise Polycarp with a scroll behind her back; instead Eliya surprised me by pulling out a sword. I didn’t expect that. I’m pretty sure (a) the director put her up to it and (b) the camera was rolling. For all I know (c) the look of genuine surprise on my face will show up somewhere in the movie. [Note: It didn’t.]

After the meal it was time for the final, crucial sequence of scenes at the 'hiding place” set, a shack set up outside on a knoll adjacent to the warehouse. We would be back outdoors with a dark night sky for a backdrop. The temperature was now in the upper 50s and dropping, and there was a chilly dampness in the air. It was one of the few times that I was glad for my woolen himation (cloak), but poor Eliya and Radek Lord (Demetrius) had to endure the chill without one. Adding to this we also had to suck on ice chips in order to reduce the fog from our breath which was aggravated by the fog machine.

The hour was well after midnight. Along about 2 a.m. we were about to roll with a scene when we had to hold and finally cut, for the quietness of the night was disturbed by the loud, long roar of a truck passing, miles away and seeming to take an endless time to pass. Finally the noise faded away and we prepared to roll again, only to be interrupted once more—this time by higher pitched but equally loud and long cry of a motorcycle.

My heaviness of mood from the early part of the day returned, partly because the scenes we were filming were heavy, and partly also because it was weighing on my heart that after these scenes I would be done. I had prepared for these scenes and for this day from the beginning, and I didn’t think it would be this hard. Among our scenes was one in which Polycarp shockingly snaps at Anna, and another in which he refuses to let her accompany him and cuts off her protest abruptly. I think they’re wonderful scenes, full of character and good for both actors, but I hated to do them, and had to be coached into showing more harshness. For the latter scene I added one word that finally made the action fall into place: the word “No” spoken to Anna. It was just understood in the script, but when articulated it gave an anchor to a complicated set of feelings for both characters. [Note: Apparently the harsher side of Polycarp did not do well in test screenings, because practically everything but the final No was cut in the final.] Throughout all this, Radek was a complete pro, as always. And Eliya played Anna so true that the real girl and the character became almost indistinguishable.

The last scene was the most emotionally draining. It is the moment in which the ever-strong Polycarp comes to the end of his strength and breaks down. I was alone in front of the camera with no lines, just a truck load of feelings. I had anticipated this scene from the beginning and prepared for it with many tears, but this night my natural tears refused to flow and I needed help from Mary Smit’s makeup kit to help me along. I just focused on putting all my very real emotion into the scene. Finally we got the shot Joe was wanting. And then it was a wrap.

Assistant Director Joshua Hedrick, as was the custom, announced to the cast and crew present that it was a picture wrap for Demetrius. We all gave Radek a well-deserved ovation for his performance and faithful work on this film. He’s a good actor, a good guy, and well-liked.

Then Josh called out, “Picture wrap for Polycarp.” Let me say that the expression of regard from the cast and crew in their applause touched me deeply and was returned with all my heart. Afterward there were many personal expressions of love, affection, appreciation, and respect. Sweet embraces and words of encouragement were exchanged and pictures with Polycarp were taken. Jerica hugged my neck for a long time. Makeup Artist Mary Smit, one of the hardest working members of the crew with whom I had spent many hours of conversation as she worked on me, was determined to get my makeup off quickly before she got emotional. It was a good call for both of us. There were many sweet expressions of love, affection, respect, appreciation. I received a precious embrace from Eliya. There were words of encouragement from all and to all.

Finally, reluctantly, I walked into that good, chilly night. I don’t know what time it was - 4 o’clock maybe? I slept, rose, bid farewell to my good hosts, and began my journey home. 

So long, Polycarp. See you in the movies.

Top: Screenshot - Polycarp rises to the challenge issued by the proconsul. Middle: Looking up at the outdoor set for the “hiding place.” Bottom: Setting up the scene for Polycarp’s burning in front of the green screen which will be filled in by a background in the arena.

*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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