As Run the Race Scores at Box Office, Actor Kristoffer Polaha Talks Faith And Film
He's been called the “King of Hallmark” after many roles on the popular family network. Now star Kristoffer Polaha gives his take on the hit sports drama… and living out faith in Hollywood.
In its opening weekend, early estimates report sports drama Run the Race earned $2.3 million at the U.S. box office — reaching number 10 on the national charts.
The strong showing for the independent film, which executive producer Tim Tebow and a versatile team spent years bringing to life, surprised Hollywood analysts.
Actor Kristoffer Polaha, who plays a central role of two brothers’ absentee father in Run the Race, was not shocked. Recently starring in several Hallmark Channel TV movies, he is used to mainstream media dismissing his work — even when delivering massive ratings.
Star Turn with Now-Duchess Meghan
“Family entertainment [is] what people are watching,” said Polaha, a father of three, in an interview at the film’s Hollywood premiere.
“How many movies get made that very few people see?” he asked. “Do I want my work to be seen by people, or do I want to do amazing stuff that stays off by itself? These are questions you have to ask yourself.”
.@RunTheRaceMovie just hit #10 at US box office
Actor @KrisPolaha talks about the sports drama’s message: “Keep doggedly going after it… If you keep marching forward, you could be surprised by what does come out of your life”
— Josh M Shepherd (@JoshMShep) February 25, 2019
Nevada native Polaha is best known for starring as the suitor to Meghan Markle in her final acting role, a movie first aired on Hallmark in 2016. She met Prince Harry of the United Kingdom only weeks later. When the two married last year, Markle became Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Polaha spoke about his faith and work in a media roundtable for Run the Race, as well as on the red carpet. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Speaking to All Audiences
Why did you choose to work on Run the Race?
Kristoffer Polaha: Five years ago, director Chris Dowling hired me to play the lead in Where Hope Grows.
In that movie, my guy was drinking himself to death. And in this one, my character is again an alcoholic — maybe it’s type casting!
The thing I love about Chris Dowling’s movies is that they’re faith-based, but he tends to make them a little more raw and gritty. He’s trying to speak to the world.
As a Christian, I’m more interested in showing the Christ narrative in comparison to the other narratives that are offered. Because the other approach of presenting only one side isn’t compelling to me.
Dowling could make a movie about Christians for Christians. But he wants to tell a story and show how the Christian perspective helps you through.
Actors As Storytellers
Faith films and Hallmark movies are often criticized for certain clichés. How do you make what’s on-screen believable?
Polaha: Any project you work on, your talent is the deciding factor of how good it is going to be. I got the call for Run the Race three days before they began to shoot it. I had worked with Chris Dowling before, so I trusted him and we had a shorthand. But that’s a short time to work on a part.
As an actor, director or creative producer who puts all the pieces together, either you’re good at telling stories or you’re not. It doesn’t matter what you do — whether it’s a CW show or Hallmark or an Oscar-caliber production. I’ve worked with Oscar-winning actors and you wouldn’t know that they’d ever won an Oscar. There’s no difference. You’re doing the same stuff that they’re doing.
A director I know named Monica Mitchell spoke to this. She said: “The thing about Hallmark movies is, they’re populist — so a lot of people are seeing it.” Yes, they’re predictable and can be cheesy. But you’re also in the conversation of what’s actually being seen.
“King of Hallmark” and the British Princess
How does working with The Hallmark Channel differ from a production like Run the Race?
Polaha: Hallmark runs at a fast pace. You get an offer and a week later you’re making a movie. Then it takes three weeks and you’re done. It airs six weeks after that. It’s an amazingly fast process, a hybrid of film and television.
I got an offer to do something with Meghan Markle in December 2015. I agreed to it quickly. We went and made Dater’s Handbook, which aired in February 2016. Three weeks later, she met Prince Harry.
They got married, and now that movie has been played throughout the entire Commonwealth which is 53 countries globally. All of a sudden, this thing that I thought was just going to be a quick one-off became a global phenomenon. It was huge for my career.
Hallmark has continued to give me amazing opportunities. I went to Fiji to shoot a film. They greenlit a movie which I am writing and producing, allowing me to grow in my career. Every actor, as age starts to stomp on your youthful good looks, you need a second something. Hopefully, I can keep pushing that and direct in addition to producing.
Why are audiences flocking to Hallmark’s three channels right now?
Polaha: Hallmark is increasingly pulling in higher ratings than CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC. As often the number one network on cable and broadcast, they dominate this space. I was blessed to get in on the ground floor.
One scene from my family illustrates why. I was away and my wife was watching TV with our three kids. They were watching something on NBC. All of a sudden some subject matter got introduced into the show which was more mature than they were used to.
My kid asked, “Can we just turn it to Hallmark?” My wife was like: “Yeah, let’s do that.” There is something very relaxing about its safety and consistency.
Future Dreams, Deleted Scenes
How did the setting of Run the Race resonate with your life and experiences?
Polaha: We filmed just outside Birmingham, Alabama, in this little town called Bessemer. But it was like being in a war-torn country. Many homes were dilapidated. Poverty overrode everything, which hit me at a heart level. It made me sad that places like that even exist.
Run the Race grapples with this idea of: you’ve got to get out and make something of your life. I left Reno to pursue acting and Hollywood. But my mom and dad still live in Reno, and so does my brother. My wife and I are raising our kids without their grandparents nearby. I want to start a Northern Nevada Film Initiative to make movies and tell stories about Nevada, and bring the film industry there.
Filmmakers have revitalized communities in some places; they stay home and tell stories. It’s sad to me that small towns are seen as something you need to escape from, usually because of poverty and there aren’t many options. It’s an American problem that needs to be dealt with in this generation.
What was the most moving scene for your character in Run the Race?
Polaha: Dowling cut it out of the film ultimately, because it was too many tears. But it’s the first time I’ve ever been able to cry on camera. I remember being on-set and looking at one of my sons in the movie, in a hospital bed. In the story, something had gone down.
I don’t normally substitute my own personal life for stuff. But I happened to think of my own kids [lying] there, and it was like water works. It was profound for me to go to a place as an actor that I usually don’t go to.
Living Out Faith in Hollywood
Some people claim Hollywood has a bias against people of faith. How do you respond?
Polaha: Excuse my French, but I call bulls*** on that. I look at Steven Spielberg, who founded the Shoah Foundation after telling the story of Schindler’s List. Mel Gibson kind of stepped in it in his personal life, but The Passion of the Christ was a remarkable film cinematically.
Rather than “Christian” storytellers [per se], what the culture needs is great storytellers who draw on their faith.
The only bias is if I go on-set and my behavior is antithetical to what I’m saying I believe in. The Christ narrative is to love God and love one another. If I can be on-set and love the crew in a way that is encouraging, then I am doing my job as a Christian — and I don’t see how people can have a bias against that. If I’m going there and preaching, You can’t do this! Well, that would be annoying.
Hollywood has been extremely receptive to me. I’ve been able to be here and provide a great living for my wife and kids. I love this town, the Dream Factory that Hollywood is. But I love my God more. If I can show what a life without bigotry looks like, that’s a calling too.
What do you hope your kids take away from seeing Run the Race?
Polaha: Keep doggedly going after it. Even if you fail, maybe the thing you thought you wanted isn’t God’s plan for your life. If you keep putting one step ahead of the other and keep marching forward, you could be surprised by what does come out of your life.
People expect one thing out of life, then God opens up this whole other door for them and extraordinary things happen. It’s about staying present and being in the moment.