Kristoffer Polaha has been a staple on the small screen since 2001, starring in such series as “Life Unexpected,” “Backstrom” and “Condor.” More recently he joined the Hallmark family with holiday movies (“Rocky Mountain Christmas”) and mysteries (“Pearl in Paradise”) and going forward will add even more of films to his plate. This month he can be seen in the Tim Tebow-produced “Run the Race” and next year he will boast being a part of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984.”
What drew you to “Run the Race”?
The call came two years ago. This movie was made back in the fall of 2016 and the director is a guy named Chris Dowling who directed “Where Hope Grows” [which I starred in in 2014]. He called me up and said, “Hey, we have a last minute thing, can you come and pinch hit for us?” And I said, “Of course I can.” My son just loves Tim Tebow — to the fact where I remember we were driving on Sunset and my kids were talking and he said, “Dad, if you could do any movie in the world, if you could be a superhero or do a movie with Tim Tebow, we’d rather you do a movie with Tim Tebow.” And they asked if I thought I’d ever meet him, and then lo and behold a year later I’m on set with his brother. And we have a dog named Tebow at our house!
What new shades of a character did playing Michael Truett allow you?
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This guy’s a mean son of a bitch; he’s just a mean drunk. He’s the kind of guy who just failed, and his kids are doing well, and he just hates them for it. And so when I read the script I looked at the whole picture, and I was like, “This is a really cool thing.” I loved the story — it’s about second chances and what happens when you fail. In our society that’s interesting, because we only promote success and what it’s like to be winning all of the time, but we don’t often always win all of the time, so what happens when you fail and have to circle the wagons and get back on the horse? What does that look like? I think it’s a unique story, particularly coming from Tim Tebow, because his journey in professional football was interesting and he’s had so many challenges as an athlete, which, when you look at his entire career, you have to start asking, “There has to be more than this. The entire story has not been told completely.” And that’s what “Run the Race” is about.
How important is the overall message of a project above or beyond the specific character when you choose a role?
There is something about making people feel good, and what’s happening on Twitter and what’s happening on Instagram and what’s happening with these [Hallmark] fans, they’re sending me books and letters about what these films are doing. And “When Hope Grows” came out, there was a community. We got to take that movie all around the country — and talk about inclusiveness; we’re in the age of diversity right now and we put a person with Down syndrome front and center, which hadn’t been done to that extent, and we got to go all over the country, and all of these families filled theaters, and it was an amazing feeling. And it did kind of rob me of that, “I’ll do whatever it takes” because all of a sudden I tasted something more significant, and it made me go, “We actually have to be careful of the stories we’re telling.” … As I’m going through this world, what my voice is going to be…is that I will tend to lean toward the inspirational.
“Run the Race” is the second feature film you’ve worked on with writer-director Chris Dowling. How does having an existing relationship with your director aid in your work?
Chris Dowling and I have an extreme shorthand, to the point where he can just give me a thumbs up or he’ll just give me a look, and literally if I get the look, I’ll be like, “What do you need?” And we try it again. It makes it easy for me because I do so much work leading up to [stepping] on set; I’ve arced out the character, so I know who the guy is. And then what I’m doing in the moment is reacting to my partner. I don’t know what [he or she] is going to give me, but I kind of know where my guy is and I know where the trajectory is. And with Chris, because I trust him and he trusts me, I can show up and I can put something out there, and then I know I’m on the right track and it’s just a matter of connecting. And that’s what we love when we go to movies: seeing two people connect and listening to one another.
How did you establish similar trust with Patty Jenkins on “Wonder Woman 1984”?
Patty Jenkins is somebody who, in my experience, was able to create trust almost instantaneously. I met Patty Jenkins five years ago when I tested for a pilot called “Betrayal.” She was upset because I was her choice, and ABC, for whatever reason, said no. … And she wrote me the most beautiful letter I had ever gotten from anybody, let alone a director, and it was just about how right I was and that she was sorry and how much potential she thought I had. She was like, “I can’t wait to work with you at some point in the future.” And that was it, and I was like, “Great, thank you.” Cut to “Wonder Woman” [in] theaters…and I loved it. I thought it was not just a great superhero movie but she really took devices and flipped them on their heads, the whole thing. So I just shot her a quick email that said congratulations and six months later I had an audition.
What are the new kinds of challenges that come from such a big budget, big scale project?
There was one day where we shot 1 2/8 page from six o’clock in the morning until 8 p.m. It took an entire day to shoot basically a page, and the luxury of that — that’s the kind of thing you can only experience on a film like that. At one point we were just waiting for the sun to move off a building. … Doing that is harder than trying to get through nine pages of a crazy television show where you’re just jamming through stuff — because you do it once and you feel really connected and good, but then you do it again and you’re still connected, and then you do it again, and you’re like, “Do you want me to do something different?” Eight hours later, you’re like, “I think it’s good?”