Stephen Atherholt performs the function of nineteenth-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow within the latest film I Heard the Bells. The movie is the primary cinematic launch from the favored Christian musical theatre Sight and Sound. It chronicles the lifetime of Longfellow as he experiences a disaster of religion following the loss of life of his spouse, Fanny, and the grave harm of his son Charley, culminating in his writing the poem that might develop into the favored carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Atherholt has been an actor at Sight and Sound since 2001, and is now my colleague at Lancaster Bible College, the place he heads up the varsity’s Musical Theatre program. He sat down with me for an interview to speak concerning the movie.
The next interview has been edited barely for readability.
It appears to be type of an unlucky fact that evangelical Christian creators have a protracted historical past of manufacturing generic or subpar merchandise. Was that ever one thing you have been involved about for this undertaking, and the way did the staff work to develop a chunk of profitable Christian filmmaking?
Sure, properly, we began out with this movie being a brief movie, and so sure, we have been all involved, I feel, initially [about] simply what’s the high quality going to be like, however they took all that expectation proper out from the get-go, they eliminated it, as a result of it was meant to be a studying course of, it was meant to be a studying course of for Sight and Sound, for Josh Enck, for all the forged members; [this] was a low-pressure undertaking that was speculated to be actually for instructional causes. They didn’t anticipate to launch it. It was speculated to be perhaps [at] a movie competition right here or there, type of garner somewhat consideration for Sight and Sound Movies, however Josh Enck knew that coming into this movie, he wanted to supply one thing of top of the range to be able to get the backing of the remainder of the corporate, as a result of it’s traditionally a theatre firm, and movie is . . . a brand new medium and never one thing they have been snug with. So I feel that by selecting this time interval and figuring out that they might masks the world round them pretty properly with their creativity, I feel Josh knew proper from the start that he was going to have the ability to create one thing that was going to be stunning. Whether or not or not the storytelling was going to totally work, I don’t suppose anybody knew. However they knew they have been going to have the ability to create the standard of the movie.
So Lancaster’s Sight and Sound firm was producing this movie, and, as you identified, they’re recognized for his or her roots in musical theater, which can also be the place your coaching considerably lies. Although I Heard the Bells is about a tune, it’s not a musical, so how did you all go about crafting a dramatic storyline, and what wanted to occur to make it cinematic somewhat than theatrical?
Yeah, Josh even stated initially of the filming course of that he was not going to draw back from sure theatrical parts, which he didn’t. That’s one of many criticisms I feel some individuals could have of the movie is that, just like the Kids’s Hour, when Henry is recounting this poem—now chances are you’ll know that in that point interval, it’s one thing they might have carried out as a type of leisure, however for the present viewers, it comes throughout a bit theatrical . . . at occasions, and Josh had stated . . . “Sight and Sound is understood for theatricality, and I’m not going to draw back from a few of that theatricality within the movie.” Nevertheless, I don’t suppose he took it to this point that it overplayed. There have been occasions the place he was trying to include some music into it. When Rachel [Hughes] and I as Fanny and Henry are speaking about [Charley] going off to conflict, we then go in and be part of the youngsters who’re enjoying the piano, and all of us sing collectively. Initially, Rachel sang a very good portion of the tune by herself, which might have very a lot come throughout as a musical, and as soon as they type of noticed it in relation to the remainder of the movie, they acknowledged, “No, this isn’t going to work. We’re not going that far with the concept of a musical.” So I don’t suppose it’s that arduous in storytelling to . . . take away musical throughlines as a lot as it’s to justify them and make them work once you wish to create a musical. I feel it’s so much more durable to create [something] musical in movie that works than it’s for them to take away a few of the theatrics which may be naturally current.
That’s fascinating. I by no means would have considered it on these phrases, however that makes plenty of sense. Now because the movie factors out, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a literary celeb in his personal day, and he’s nonetheless broadly learn, although . . . perhaps another writers of his technology have considerably eclipsed his fame since then. However how did the staff choose his story because the one to go together with?
Josh had needed to do one thing throughout the . . . 1800s time interval due to the colonial facet of the realm. Then they needed one thing that was faith-based. And as they continued to speak about who . . . was a very good illustration, who has a very good story to inform, a real story to inform, he and his spouse, Kristen, have been type of throwing round some totally different concepts, and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” had been one in every of Kristen’s favourite songs. And as they have been speaking by means of historic figures, Josh started to type of really feel like perhaps this was a very good story to inform. And his spouse, Kristen, type of confirmed that on a . . . religious degree and on . . . only a household degree as . . . they have been speaking about it. She confirmed it, and instantly they knew this was the fitting story to inform.
So out of your perspective as an actor, what did it is advisable to do to inhabit the function of Longfellow? In spending a lot time inside his head and his works, did you be taught something . . . from him about how Christian artists can have interaction with their cultures? Two-part query.
Two-part query. So first half: participating with this character. The biggest engagement piece was together with his grief, simply because a lot of the film offers with the lack of Fanny, the . . . potential lack of Charley. I used to be capable of type of faucet into his creativity partly as a result of I’m a artistic myself, however [also] by studying his works and studying about him in biographies, and his story of when he first met Fanny and the place they have been and him falling in love with the sound of her voice, the very first thing he fell in love with. Type of connecting with these key moments of his life helped me to get an general really feel . . . for what he was like. . . . Edgar Allan Poe was not the kindest in the way in which that he wrote about Henry Longfellow, however [Longfellow] nonetheless despatched [Poe’s] sister after Edgar Allan Poe died, despatched her copies of his books . . . in order that she might promote them and generate income. You realize, simply this actually sort soul that was keen to present wherever he might, who cherished historical past. . . . Their house in Cambridge was the fort the place George Washington was, and so he . . . fell in love with that concept of historical past. So type of simply studying plenty of these tidbits that offer you perception into the character, after which working by means of the grief course of with him. That was probably the most related a part of his journey, primarily as a result of I’ve not skilled that degree of grief myself, so to need to step in and cross over with the character on an appearing degree was a problem, and it’s . . . an fascinating course of. . . . With theater, , you’re at all times residing inside a linear development by means of the present. You’re residing inside this sort of fourth wall, protected, artistic atmosphere with a bunch of individuals. And on this course of, I used to be alone so much in that grief journey. And having to be so intricately related with Henry that when the digital camera is on you, it’s fully plausible means I needed to actually go there in plenty of methods. That has its personal impact on the performer.
Effectively, and also you have been additionally only a second in the past declaring—that is fascinating, I hadn’t considered this, that it’s . . . not linear in the way in which the movie is definitely filmed, proper? So that you’re really appearing totally different phases of his life out of the order that you’d usually expertise them.
Sure, and, properly, simply on a technical degree, Rachel Hughes was pregnant for the primary virtually three quarters of the 12 months that we have been capturing, and so we might [not] shoot any of . . . her pre-death scenes. We couldn’t shoot something along with her. And so, I needed to mourn the lack of her for nearly a 12 months of filming, and with out ever having the enjoyment and the household time that we received to have initially of the movie. Which made capturing the start of the movie so much sweeter in that this was what we’d been ready for, however, on the identical time, having that relationship along with her would have helped inform the loss in a while. It wouldn’t have used a lot creativeness to get there. What was the second half of your query?
Yeah, the second half was, after spending a lot time in his head, did you be taught something from him about how Christian artists can have interaction with their cultures?
In our portrayal of the movie, Henry is reluctant to get entangled politically; he’s reluctant to get entangled in issues that might be controversial. However he does, as a result of his spouse Fanny, in fact, challenges him to, and . . . calls him as much as utilizing his artistic authority to alter individuals. And I feel that somebody with the extent of expertise like Henry, there’s a calling, and there’s a accountability . . . to make use of that to the most effective of your means to spark optimistic change. And I feel . . . it may be an inspiration, I feel, to individuals who have a artistic genius, or at the least a artistic spark, to share that, I hope.
You’re an actor, and likewise type of a tutorial, working at a Christian school the place biblical integration is emphasised. So what’s your individual strategy to appearing, and are there ways in which your religion impacts that, both immediately or not directly?
So my strategy to appearing is a little bit of a mix. I’ll take a look at the script, do the analysis, element out the given circumstances . . . figuring out these explicit objects and details a couple of character and their scenario—once more, how . . . Fanny and Henry met—to create type of the define of the life for the character. After which I do some Stanislavski work the place I can take a look at what does a personality need on this scene, what . . . are they trying to perform, what are the obstacles that stand in the way in which, and . . . what are the techniques they’re going to make use of to beat these . . . obstacles? After which, the remainder of it, you go on set, and also you neglect the whole lot you considered, the whole lot you analyzed, and also you hear, and also you . . . open your self as much as the circumstances the character is in. After which it’s a must to purchase into the imaginary circumstances, to the purpose the place you might be emotionally related to the character, to the opposite individuals on set, and that . . . something that they are saying to you that’s optimistic or damaging has an emotional response due to that relationship and that open listening.
Do you see any means that your religion works into that course of, or is . . . this . . . extra like a commerce the place there’s similar to a sensible ability set that you just do, or is there some mixture?
Effectively, I imply, religion is definitely labored into this course of as a result of it’s a religion movie. So, relying on the fabric . . . I imply, my religion is at all times going to be integral in my efficiency, simply because all of my empathy and all of my emotional connection to different human beings is filtered by means of my . . . understanding of grace and fact. So, with this explicit undertaking, it was even simpler in that it was a battle of religion that’s type of the core of Henry’s journey. Inside his grief, , he questions the whole lot. He didn’t have a super-strong religion earlier than Fanny’s loss of life. . . . The household, and his . . . artistic pursuit in writing have been just about the whole lot to him, after which after Fanny died, he even says, , “When Fanny was alive, my religion was alive.” So, I feel once we lean on our personal artistic energy, we lean on [our] funds . . . (they have been rich)—I don’t know that earlier than Fanny’s loss of life he wanted God that a lot in his life. And I feel I can perceive that. I’m blessed myself, and . . . there are occasions when an excessive amount of blessing in your life can develop into an idol, can develop into one thing that attracts you away from the Lord, and I feel that’s what occurred with Henry. Till the Lord stripped all of that away, which he tends to do—on this case, extraordinarily tragically. And so I do really feel plenty of parallels in my very own life, besides I wish to be taught from Henry and not need to lose my very own spouse.
That might be perfect.
That might be perfect.
So, once you take a look at the present Hollywood panorama, what do you suppose Christian actors, artists, and filmmakers deliver to the desk? And what, on the opposite facet, do you suppose Christians might find out about their crafts from their secular counterparts?
I feel actually good storytelling is troublesome to do, and I feel . . . individuals overgeneralize storylines as a result of they both wish to spoon-feed materials or they’re simply not good writers. I feel that’s the largest a part of it, is that they’ve an excellent idea—Christian writers wish to get a particular theme throughout, however you can not simply put it on the market. It needs to be refined. . . . There’s a correct means of writing that’s going to permit the viewers to expertise and fill within the gaps of the artistic course of that I feel plenty of Christian authors and moviemakers are usually not good at. I do suppose that we’ve got one thing that must be instructed, and that’s, in fact, our religion and the assumption in Jesus Christ, and so when movies will try to succeed in the guts, they are going to try to succeed in the thoughts, they’ll even attempt to press into religious areas, they’re at all times going to fall quick with out fact. So secular movies, whereas they’ve probably higher writers, increased budgets . . . the flicks that may come from a secular area, for probably the most half, are going to solely have an effect on two or three totally different areas. Whereas the movies that we’re making an attempt to create from a Christian perspective, can also meet a religious want, which I feel, when the secular world makes an attempt to satisfy religious wants, it’s often simply complicated and misplaced. So what we have to do is we have to be part of the truth that, okay, we wish to attain them mentally and psychologically and emotionally . . . and even bodily, have a bodily response throughout the movie; we additionally wish to attain them spiritually, after which we have to do it in a means that isn’t preachy. . . . As plenty of the reviewers are saying, [we were] not “cringey”—apparently that’s a time period—, they have been like, “Fortunately, I Heard the Bells was not a ‘cringey’ film.” . . . However [in many cases] the storytelling, the writing, is de facto the place . . . it’s missing.
Do you’ve gotten something extra you wish to add, something you wish to say concerning the undertaking that might be good for anyone to listen to?
I feel in that very same vein, one of many greatest failings of writers are that they write the story as they see it of their thoughts, not the story by means of the human expertise. And so . . . they wish to specific a sure feeling, they need the viewers . . . to interact in a sure feeling. However the reality is, humanity . . . it’s not linear, level A to level B in any human journey. There’s a relentless human battle and the combat in opposition to the issues which can be good for us and in opposition to the issues that we’re afraid to face. So a very good author wants to have the ability to . . . take the storyline after which weave it out and in of the messy humanity in a means that isn’t clear. . . . With [this] movie, it was superior—that’s a horrible phrase—it was . . . a pleasure to work on the movie with the staff. The staff was extraordinarily proficient. I imply the whole lot that we did on the movie was principally all carried out in-house. Even the snow results have been carried out in-house. . . . they constructed the entire construction, the costumes, simply such a proficient staff. It was actually humbling to be part of the movie and work with only a mass[ive] quantity of expertise amidst all these different individuals.