This is the transcript for this podcast.
Allen Wolf (00:03):
Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood Podcast. My name is Allen Wolf, and I’m a filmmaker and an author. Navigating Hollywood encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives. If you work in entertainment, visit navigatinghollywood.org to discover how you can get involved.
Today we are joined by actor and writer Kristoffer Polaha. Kristoffer has been featured in Jurassic World Dominion, Wonder Woman 1984, Where Hope Grows, TV movies for the Hallmark Channel, and so many other films and TV series, including Madman, Get Shorty, and Backstrom. He has also co-authored two books from the series From Kona with Love. Welcome, Kris.
Kris Polaha (00:52):
Hey, Allen. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.
Allen Wolf (00:55):
Absolutely. Thanks for being here. One of your best credits is for the Wonder Woman 1984 movie where your credit is Handsome Man. I love it. I want to be cast as Handsome Man. I would be cast as bald man.
Kris Polaha (01:14):
Allen Wolf (01:15):
Any man. Any man.
Kris Polaha (01:17):
What’s interesting about that is that Handsome Man sort of became the male face of the Me Too movement in the most ironic of ways because obviously he didn’t consent. December 25th, the movie dropped, and all these people went to Twitter and they were like, “This poor guy, he was taken advantage of.” And I was like-
Allen Wolf (01:37):
Oh, my gosh.
Kris Polaha (01:38):
… I don’t know. No comment.
Allen Wolf (01:42):
We’re seeing Chris Pine, but she’s actually not seeing Chris Pine.
Kris Polaha (01:46):
Yeah. It was a weird swap. Aside from Wonder Woman and the man’s entanglement, you had him fighting and getting his body just beaten up, and so it was this whole thing of this poor guy, what happened? He’s going to wake up and be like, “Why am I sore? Why? What happened?” But it’s a movie. And a great experience. Gal was incredible to work with and Patty is a genius and just wonderful to work with. So, it was a fun experience.
Allen Wolf (02:10):
Aw, that’s great. It came out in the midst of the pandemic, and I remember what was then called HBO Max decided to put it on their platform first. How did that impact you?
Kris Polaha (02:21):
Dramatically. I’m going to be honest with you. When you have a movie and it gets a theatrical release, especially one that was projected to make a billion dollars in the box office, you split that profit margin by putting it into home theaters versus theaters. The movie only made 35 million domestically, and I think it ended up breaking 100 million globally. And then when something is broadcast on television, even if it’s streaming, your residuals are chopped so significant that it was like… I get residuals from an episode of Mad Men that were equal to Wonder Woman. It was basically like being on a TV show.
It’s interesting to see how the real world affects art and how art affects the real world because if you go back to the original Wonder Woman, the first movie, that was the thing that kicked off the Me Too movement. Go back to that summer of 2017 and Wonder Woman and Clay Jenkins and all of that stuff. There was this huge groundswell, and then it all kind of closed up with the second one. It was interesting. If you go back and really look at it from an anthropological point of view, it fascinates me when a movie drops, when it has any kind of cultural significance, and then what the follow-up is and what the ramifications are.
I remember sitting in the movie theater watching Wonder Woman, the first one, and I thought, “Man, I would love to be in the next one. I’d even beat her boyfriend, doesn’t matter.” I remember just kind of like lifting, up a little prayer being like, “Come on, man. How cool would that be?” The story was I had auditioned for Patty Jenkins for a TV show back in 2013, and she brought me in five times. I tested five times for this show, and ABC kept saying, “We don’t want you. He’s not edgy enough.” She wrote me this wonderful letter that I still have saved, and she was just like, “One of these days, your ship will come in.” She had a bunch of wonderful stuff to say. I, at the time, replied and just said, “Thank you,” but replied to that letter in 2017 and was like, “Patty, you just crushed it with this movie. You didn’t just make an amazing superhero movie. You made an incredible movie.” And she wrote me back. We had a nice correspondence the weekend the movie debut. This is Wonder Woman, the first one.
February in 2018, I got this call to go to Warner Brothers and they were like, “They want to read you for this role.” I knew it was going to be relational because it was kind of like a role between a boyfriend and girlfriend, and it was just me and the casting director. There were no other actors there. It was kind of like Patty had this little part dogeared for me, and it was a wonderful experience. It couldn’t have been a cooler job. It was interesting to see how it all came out.
Allen Wolf (04:55):
Well, speaking of culture-changing movies, you were also featured in Jurassic World Dominion, and you’ve known the director of that film, Colin Trevorrow, since your NYU days, which is where I actually went to film school.
Kris Polaha (05:11):
Look at this. I’m just rocking it.
Allen Wolf (05:13):
Oh, my gosh. And you’re wearing your NYU T-shirt. Amazing. Did you have a sense back then that he would ever create such an epic movie?
Kris Polaha (05:21):
He and I would talk about movies. One was the trilogy of the Star Wars. George Lucas came out with one, two, and three while we were in college. Colin and I would talk about what was done right, what he thought was like, he’s like, “Oh, they missed the mark on this or what if we did this?” And he was such a nerd about Star Wars and Jurassic Park all the way back in ’99, ’98, ’97, ’96. So, when Jurassic World 3 came out and we went and watched the movie together, and we sat down and he was like, “Okay, this was cool and this was cool, but man, what they should do next…” And he literally pitched Jurassic World back in 2001. He had the whole thing dialed in. He’s like, “Somehow the dinosaurs will get off the island and they’ll be in the world. You’ll see Tyrannosaurus Rex in New York and there will be pterodactyls in Japan.” And he’s like, “And we’ll call it Jurassic World.” I mean, he literally, he had the whole thing.
Allen Wolf (06:19):
Oh, my gosh.
Kris Polaha (06:21):
So, he was 100% the right guy to do that. It was, again, a very cool experience because we filmed that during the pandemic. We started in February of 2020, and when we got to set, there was, again, very little conversation. But Scott Hayes, who was in the movie with me, he was like, “Bro, you need to start putting…” And he got me this hand sanitizer. He’s like, “You got to start washing your hands, man.” He’s like, “I don’t want to catch the germs. I don’t want to catch whatever’s going on.” So, there was all these kind of weird conversations. And then of course, March 17th happens. The world shuts down. The whole industry shut down. They then called me about two weeks later, so now we’re in April. We were the tip of the spear, we’re the first production back. They said, “This is what we’re doing. We’re going to put everybody in a hotel. We’re flying everybody to the UK. We’re going to test everybody three times a week. We’re going to have incredible protocol to make sure everyone stays healthy, and we’re going to make a movie.”
So, we went back to work in June of 2020 and they wrapped October of 2020 and we all just lived at this place called the Langley in the UK. I had Bryce Dallas Howard as my neighbor for one part of it. And then when my family joined me, so my wife and kids came and joined me for July and August and September, and then I was Jeff Goldblum’s upstairs neighbor. It was the most surreal kind of experience. I only had, like four days of work or five days of work, so I had to work and then I had a whole month off, and then I would work again a couple days and then I’d be off for another couple weeks.
Allen Wolf (07:50):
And they would keep you there the whole time when you were off?
Kris Polaha (07:53):
Yeah. We were literally imprisoned in this beautiful hotel.
Allen Wolf (07:57):
Outside of that craziness, what was it like filming Jurassic World?
Kris Polaha (08:02):
I mean, outside of the fear of catching COVID, it was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my career because, like I said, we were stuck in this hotel. So, every Friday night and every Saturday night, everybody went down to the terrace and everybody had dinner together. There was such a sense of community that you never get because oftentimes your big A-list movie stars are going to go off and do their own private thing, and people are going to clique up and if you got your family or if you’re shooting in town, everyone just goes home after work. So, the opportunity to bond like that doesn’t exist.
Colin was living there. We played Frisbee on Sundays. Every Sunday, we would all go out and giant ultimate Frisbee game. I remember Sam Neil, it was his birthday, and I was like, “You want to go through…” There were parks adjacent to the property that you could walk on because it was outside. You had to avoid people, but you could be out in the wilderness at least. So, I took Sam on a hike on his birthday, and we just had this incredible conversation about how he got started as an actor and what his life is like and what it’s been like. So, for a guy who just loves making movies and telling stories and loves meeting people, it was a really cool opportunity to sink in and get to know the people you’re working with.
Allen Wolf (09:15):
It’s interesting because it shows where your priority is, because I asked you what it was like filming Jurassic Park, and the thing that really sticks out to you the most is the relational time because maybe someone would be like, “Oh, yeah, it was cool with the dinosaurs and the green screen and everything,” but you’re like, “Oh, no, it’s the people time that stays with you and that you love.” And it’s interesting because the movie part, it kind of comes and goes, but it’s those relationships that endure. I just love that that’s what came out as you were priority.
Kris Polaha (09:46):
That’s cool. Thank you. Well, and the movie was fun. We had to act against all these different raptors. There were some that had actors that had the head on and you would see, and they would walk through, you would see a head kind of cruise through and they were dressed in the green screen. But mostly, the way that technology is now, it’s gotten so advanced that they need to create a plate, but you can move within the plate and you can just literally look and pretend that you’re looking at it, and they give you a rough eye line and they say, “Look at about…” And you just track your eyes across the room real nice and slow, and they can just digitally pop in a dinosaur. So, you really truly act with mid-air, with space, with nothing.
Allen Wolf (10:29):
You began your career with a series of performances of the works of Eugene O’Neill on and off Broadway and at the Lincoln Center. How have his works impacted you?
Kris Polaha (10:40):
My whole career is because of a play I did that was written by Eugene O’Neill. I did a play called Bread and Butter, and it was Eugene O’Neill’s first full-length play that he’d written, but it’d never been produced. It was literally the world premiere of Eugene O’Neill’s first full-length play. I got these rave reviews, and it launched my career. I got signed because of it. I had an agent because of it. It was the summer between my junior and senior year, and by October, I signed with Gersh. I was off to the races. I was auditioning for Puffy the Vampire Slayer and Popular.
But Eugene O’Neill, there was something about the depth with which he told stories and the pathos and the empathy and the darkness because they were all very haunted. By that, I mean in the way that the human heart can be haunted. But there was always this hope of redemption in all of the plays that he wrote, and being steeped in that stuff as a young actor has literally stained and colored the way that I approach everything.
Allen Wolf (11:40):
It sounds like he had an impact both in helping to launch your career, but just in your inner life and how you process roles and stories.
Kris Polaha (11:49):
When you’re a young actor, you’re going to have to cut your teeth on a few different things, and some people cut their teeth on Shakespeare. Then they have this wonderful kind of like, “Yeah, I played Hamlet and I played this,” and they can quote things. Some people cut their teeth on Ibsen or Chekhov or the Russians where they go, “Yeah, this is naturalism,” and this is sort of the beginning of the kind of storytelling that we know. Then you kind of jump into Tennessee Williams or David Mamut or Arthur Miller, and there’s certain American playwrights that you kind of go from Chekhov and you leap to these other guys that were already established.
Few people dig into O’Neill, which his first play is about abortion. His second play is about a jealous mind. All these one-acts that he did, you can go through and they are just intensely human and extremely dramatic and heightened, as high as you can go, but also based in this reality that, like, Tennessee Williams was hoping to touch and Miller was hoping to touch. When you really dig into the works of this guy, you can’t help but be impacted.
Allen Wolf (12:57):
I’ve read that 2% of actors are able to make their living as an actor, which is incredible to think about. What do you think has made a difference for you?
Kris Polaha (13:08):
There is one name that has made a difference for me, and I don’t mean to get all Christian on you here on the front-end, but Jesus. If I didn’t have the faith that I have, I don’t think I would’ve had the tenacity and the courage and the gumption and the grit to stick with it through all of the hardships because it is not easy. It’s not easy to get to a certain level. And when you achieve that, it’s not easy to stay at that level and then to continue to push forward and grind out. As you know, it is a really tough, hard business. When you’re a young man at 24 and you get your first series… I made my first million dollars by the time I was 25 years old, and I lost it by the time I was 27. Think about that.
Allen Wolf (14:02):
Oh, my gosh.
Kris Polaha (14:03):
I was a millionaire. And then my house went into foreclosure. I’ve always been a working actor. Like you just said, it’s interesting. I’m in this 2% where I have not had another job other than acting since I was 23 years old, and I’m 46 now, so half my life. But I was a busboy. I worked as a bellman in casinos. I installed refrigerators, did the carwash. I mean, I did all of the grind work and knew what it meant to really earn and work hard for your dollar. Then as an actor, when I got blessed enough to start working, and again, because of that play in New York City, I had this launchpad that none of my other peers had, and something happened. That work ethic and that appreciation for it, that has to be grounded in something, and my faith is the thing that’s kept me in line.
When all of the temptations of Hollywood when I was 24 and young and I had the world, I mean literally… Like, I was on a show called North Shore, and we were living in Hawaii and all of the trappings, any snare that you can mention was literally… It was a buffet of potential booby traps. It was my faith that kept me like a mensch when I work with people to give them dignity, to give them respect. My wife and I, she met me before the rocket ship took off. Our marriage is literally the cornerstone and the bedrock of all of it, and that wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t rooted in our faith.
And I’ll be honest with you, the good times, the success is actually harder than the failure.
Allen Wolf (15:37):
Harder in what way?
Kris Polaha (15:38):
I’ll tell you. Did you see Top Gun Maverick this summer?
Allen Wolf (15:42):
Oh, sure. Yeah.
Kris Polaha (15:43):
Okay. Do you remember the opening scene where he takes the jet to mock 10?
Allen Wolf (15:47):
Kris Polaha (15:48):
And do you remember the jet starts to heat up and it starts to shake and it starts to…
Allen Wolf (15:51):
Kris Polaha (15:53):
And everything starts to… And you can see him holding on for dear life. Well, when you are in the white-hot heat of a successful show or a moment in Hollywood where all eyes are on you and you’ve got a press circuit and you are constantly, like, three-a-day interviews and you’re selling and you’re moving and you’ve got everybody saying yes, yes, yes, yes, in this way, I got to be honest with you, man, you start to become like that plane at mock 10, and you’re just like, “Okay, hold onto this.” And it’s in those moments where I start saying, “Lord, this is yours. This is all yours. I’ve had nothing to do with this, so just give me grace and help me through this thing and help me keep my cool and help me keep my humility.”
Inversely, when you are broke and you don’t know where your next paycheck’s coming from, and the phone isn’t ringing, and I’ve been at this business long enough where I’ve had these waves of… I’ve had these amazing highs, and then all of a sudden, I’m like, “What happened? What did I do? Did I offend somebody? Did I get blacklisted? What just happened?” And then all of a sudden… It really is these two moments at the extremes where you need something. Everybody’s got this thing that they need.
Allen Wolf (17:12):
How did that faith journey begin?
Kris Polaha (17:15):
Well, I grew up in a household that had a lot of faith. My dad was Catholic. My mom was Pentecostal. Every little revival that would move through Reno, we were at these weekend-long things.
Allen Wolf (17:27):
Really? Is that something that you liked doing as a kid, or were you like, “Ugh. Another revival”?
Kris Polaha (17:35):
Honestly, some of them were moving and some of them were embarrassing. Some of them were genuinely embarrassing. I remember I would bring my best friend Graham to Catholic Church, and I would be so embarrassed because stand, kneel, stand, kneel. And I was like… I was almost ashamed. I was embarrassed because it wasn’t… I was a goofball.
But at the same time, there was this inner life and I just prayed all the time. I prayed to the Holy Spirit, which was interesting. I was always seeking wisdom, and I was seeking communion with the Holy Spirit.
Then, Allen, when I was 17, I prayed this prayer of pride where I was so full of pride because I was the lead of all the school plays. My grades were really good. I had this beautiful girlfriend, and I was like… But it was almost like I just wanted a break. I was like, “I’m just going to take a little break, God. I don’t want to feel beholden to this relationship that I’m in with you.” I was like, “I’m just going to take a break, God.” And that break then became my junior year, senior year, and then probably about six years of just kind of wandering through what I’ll call the wilderness and still identifying as a Christian, but not behaving like a Christian.
Two things happened in my life. The first one was I was caught up in this blast in New York City. Someone was trying to burn their restaurant down, and it blew up. I was with this girl and she was on one side of me; I was on the other, and I moved. There’s like I was prompted to switch sides with her. And then when the blast occurred, the explosion happened, we were somehow moved out of the way of danger. I mean, I had 120 stitches, but she had none. It was one of those things where it was just that I felt God’s presence and he literally saved my life.
Fire Marshal came to the ER and was like, “You know, you should be decapitated. You shouldn’t be here right now.” And my prayers after that, literally, the only thing I could pray was, “God, I want to go to you. I want to go to you. I want to go to you.” I was so hungry for relationship. All of a sudden, it was like a 180, and all I cared about was being in relationship.
Then the play happens, the Bread and Butter happens. I’m fully represented. I auditioned for probably 110 shows in the first year, and I didn’t book one of them. I got rejected 110 times in a row. So, of course, you’re sitting there feeling, “Okay, am I right? Should I be doing this? Am I any good?”
And then I got a pilot. Then I remember being in the trailer of this… It was a little triple banger trailer. We were doing a pilot called Third Degree for Fox, my first job ever. I remember falling on my hands and my knees, and I remember the dirt and how dirty it was, and I just started praying that God would bring a woman into my life. I was like, “Lord, I’m ready, and if you’re ready, open my heart and prepare me and prepare someone’s heart. I want to have a relationship.” Literally, on April 18th, I was filming in March, and two weeks later, I’m in LA. I meet this girl, Julianne. She ended up becoming my wife. Her relationship with God and who she is as a person, it changed my life.
So, these two and almost in one season, started with the blast and kind of moved all the way through to meeting her and then our relationship, her relationship with God, which then informed my relationship, as they do. I started reading the Bible because I wanted to have authority. I wanted to have to have something to contribute. So, while I was a Christian, and it wasn’t like I was converting or anything for her, she was a Christian. I was a Christian. We were equally yoked in several different ways. But there was something about her that made me want to catch up. There was something about the way she lived her life. God saved my life, and then he gave me a life.
But the one thing that I just clung to, and it was a contrail of this thing that happened when I was a teenager, when I wanted acting so badly, was I was never able to just completely give my career over to God. I would pray about everything, but my career, I needed to be the best actor. I needed to be the greatest actor in my generation. I needed to have the top… I needed the mountaintop, and I wasn’t going to let that go.
It wasn’t until 2017, and we used to live in this place, and there was a trail above our house, and I would call it the Holy Road. I would go on this trail every day because I was unemployed, and it got real lean, again, financially. We got real lean and things were tough. I remember falling down on my hands and knees again on this dirt trail, in this mud.
A lot of Christians will feel this way. I think a lot of people feel this way, that when life is good and money’s rolling in and things are happy, that you’re being blessed, that God is blessing you, that God is smiling down upon you and giving you providence, and that when things are bad, that God’s angry with you and that he’s punitive, and that he’s withholding blessings because you’re on the wrong path. I had to learn this lesson that that’s not the case, that sometimes we are made to suffer and sometimes we are going to struggle and we are going to have hardships, and we are not going to get the things that we want, not because God doesn’t love us, but exactly the opposite, because God does love us and he’s refining us and he’s putting us through these tests.
I remember standing in my son’s bedroom that summer, that night. I was reading the entire Bible aloud them while they fell asleep. And they were both asleep. Caleb and Michael were both asleep. I just stood in this bedroom and I started praying. It was that night, I said, “Jesus, take my career. I want you to have it. If I’m not supposed to be an actor, then take it and close the door and open another one, and I’ll walk through it. Wherever you want me to go, I’ll go.” And then the Wonder Woman happened, and then it was Hallmark happened. I mean, all these things. It was like the day that I got the Hallmark call, I was in a pool, I mean, broke, dude. I can’t even explain it. I had 80 bucks. I had enough money to either buy a tank a gas to get to an audition or buy food for my family.
I got a phone call and it was an offer to do Dater’s Handbook with Megan Markle. It was like, yeah. It was an answer to prayer. I mean, I literally was crying… Dude, I’ve never said this to anybody. I literally was praying. I wasn’t angry at God, and I wasn’t angry at myself. I wasn’t fearful of… I was just gobsmacked with confusion. I was poleaxed. I was like, “What, God?” And my phone rang. No sooner did I say, “Lord Jesus, I need a job. I need work,” and my phone rings and it’s my agent. He’s like, “Hey, I got an offer for you.” And I’m like… Of course, I leapt into it. It was one of those things where you can’t separate your faith from the facts because the facts are the faith.
Allen Wolf (25:07):
I love that you’re talking about the good parts and the parts that don’t feel as good because I think people can have a perception of it either being wonderful all the time, or people just not thinking there’s a value to faith. And so, it’s really interesting just hearing how your faith has just impacted you in such a deep and meaningful way.
Kris Polaha (25:31):
There is something about having somebody, again, being on the same page so that we can pray to the same God, and we can get small together, and in those moments of weakness, we can sort of huddle up and say, “Okay, we can make this.” And in those huge expansive moments, look at each other eye to eye and say… And I’ve got this incredible partner. This is what my prayer early on was, “Lord, I want to meet somebody before I become what the world sees me as. I want to meet somebody now, and I want to go on the ride with somebody. I want to go on a ride with a woman that can share all of the ups and downs and know me for me.” We’ve gone through some really lean times where if there was anybody who was superficial or who needed the trappings, she would’ve bailed. Having somebody at home to hold the fort down and to be steady with the kids and to be that support has been essential.
Allen Wolf (26:37):
How do you stay relationally healthy with your wife?
Kris Polaha (26:41):
You go through ebbs and flows. But I think that in our best moments, we are together all the time. We go grocery shopping together. We talk, we pray together. I think in our worst moments, it’s if I’m not listening, if I’m distracted, if I’m elsewhere, and when isolation, I think that relationship… And again, this is a lesson that I’m constantly having to relearn because either you’re running and gunning and you’re so busy that you’re having to pump the brakes to let everybody keep up with you; or you’re scrambling so hard to get ahead again, that you’re just like, “I don’t have time for…” So for me, it’s really about I got to put the phone down; I got to stop trying to make things happen. I got to drop in and pay attention.
Allen Wolf (27:32):
While raising three boys.
Kris Polaha (27:34):
And trying to be a role model to them and trying to be somebody that’s, again, raising men in a world where it’s hard. It’s a confusing, hard world right now. And raising kids that are full of empathy and full of compassion for everybody, and it’s easy for me to go to set and be a role model. It’s hard to have that kingdom-living at home because it’s 24/7 and they see every side of you. They see you when you’re grumpy. They see you when you’re down and out. They see you when you’re tired. My wife sees things that I don’t see, and I think that’s how we’re supposed to be built, men and women. We’re different for a reason. I think when you’re coupled with the right person, you’ve got this balance, and you’re given a set of eyes that you don’t possess for a reason, so that you have 360 view versus 180. Let’s be here. And so, it’s about relationship. Being relational is about staying in relationship.
Allen Wolf (28:33):
How do you stay spiritually healthy while working in entertainment?
Kris Polaha (28:37):
There’s this book called the Bible. You jump into that when you are feeling scattered to the wind. There was this verse that I read like a year-and-a-half ago, and Jesus says it, and in this one verse, I’d never read it before in my whole life, and I found it, which is a thing about the Bible is every time you open it, something will spring forth that you’ve never seen in that way before, and you’re like, “Holy cow.” My mind is being constantly renewed by this stuff.
But Jesus said, “When you’re invited to a party, seat yourself at the least, at the far end of the table. Give yourself the very, very back of the room so that when the host comes in and sees that you’ve sat yourself in the very lowest seat, he brings you up and sits you next to him and gives you honor, but woe be to the man who sits himself at the head of the table, and when the host comes in, says, ‘You got to move, buddy. You’re in my seat.'” So, this idea of humbling yourself and always taking the lowest position, it hit me in a way that I was like, “Man, that’s how you move through the industry.” That’s how I should always think of myself, as the lowest guy in the room. And then when people come around me and say, “Well, no, we need you here. We need you here.” Let them do it.
I think you and I probably meet a lot of people whose hubris gets in the way of a really otherwise perfectly functioning day. When you see ego get in the way of good work, it’s heartbreaking because it’s like, “Man, we’ve just spent two hours dealing with your ego and not the work and not the story.”
It’s changed my mindset, so much so, that you and I as storytellers are in the service industry. We are waiters still. We are the people, and all we are doing is bringing stories to people. If we do a really good job, if we can prepare a really great story, people will want to come back and they’ll want to eat it. They’ll want to buy it. They’ll want to be a part of it. If we’re sloppy storytellers or if we’re fast food storytellers, that’s it. We’re going to be done. So, going to work and treating it like a job that isn’t special, that it’s just another job that needs to be done because it’s a service to people, I think it’s the right mindset for this industry. 98% of people in SAG are paying to be in that union, and only 2% actually working. Anything other than gratitude is shocking because no one is entitled. No one deserves to be there, like… You know?
Allen Wolf (31:19):
Yeah. It’s crazy to think about because if that was a stat for architects… If they said, out of the 100% of architects, only 2% of them are making a living as architects, you would think, “Why does anyone want to be an architect?”
Kris Polaha (31:34):
Yeah. No one wants to do it. No one’s going to do that. But nursing, you’re going to go spend all this time and energy to become a nurse, and only 2% of you are going to actually make money.
Allen Wolf (31:45):
See, you just have to have such a crazy passion for it. But then it sounds like what’s made a real difference to you is your faith, that that has really given you the energy to keep pursuing it, the blessing from it you give to God. That’s really inspiring.
Kris Polaha (32:03):
Thank you. Yeah.
Allen Wolf (32:04):
At the end of your life, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
Kris Polaha (32:08):
When I think about what a life is worth and what success is, I think about my father-in-law. His name was Max Morris. Max had this unbelievable life on paper. He was able to speak in Martin Luther King’s church. He was the first white Southern Baptist preacher to speak out against segregation. And this was in 1961. He went on crusades with Billy Graham. Then when he felt no longer called to preach, he started one company that made a gazillion dollars, and then that company went away. And then he started this other thing called QuickScan, which was a type of print that made him and his family a lot of money. He’d done all these things that on a paper where you’d say, well, this is a success and this is a success.
But what was interesting about him was that in the last 20 years of his life, his biggest ambition and his biggest sort of legacy was his family, was just being there for his daughter and his son and then for me and for my kids. What was interesting is that the legacy that he left behind was how encouraging he was and how present he was with us and how loving he was. I think back on him, and there wasn’t a day that didn’t go by where he was like… And he had this booming Southern voice. He was from Alabama. He’d be like, “Son, you are the best father I have ever seen. I never have in my life seen a better father than you.” And it’s funny. We move through the world thinking that it’s all about us, and we’re waiting for the praise to come to us, but we often forget, what if… Somebody’s got to be the one doing the praising. Somebody’s got to start pouring out. Eventually, you’ve got to start shining the light away from yourself.
I think when we’re young and when we’re ambitious and when we’re trying to make our mark in the world, and we think in terms of legacy, I think the American mindset is, “I need to build an empire. I need to have my name on buildings. I need to be on the dollar bill. I need to be immortal. I need to be in the Greek pantheon of heroes. I need to leave this… I need a constellation named after me. I need immortality,” because in our hearts, we crave eternity, and humans have, from the beginning of time, craved eternity because we’re going to die. Sadly, my neighbor, who I love, died on Monday of a heart attack. One minute he was riding his Peloton bike, and the next minute he was on the floor and he was gone. He was only 58 years old. I mean, it’s awful. It’s a tragedy. I’m sad for his wife, and I’m sad for his family. It is a stark reminder that we have just enough time here on this planet to love each other, to be kind, to just dig in.
If you get to tell stories for a living or if you get to… Whatever it is, and I think what we’ve done is as Americans, we’ve created a hierarchy of, “Well, if you do this, you’re really important. And if you do this, you’re really important. But if you do this, you’re not so important. And if you do this, no one really cares about you. But we really love you if you do this. If you’re a pop star? Man, you’ve got your constellation.” I think that what’s even more interesting is the legacy you can leave behind on individual hearts. When you die, you can ask yourself this very simple question: Do you want people to be glad that you’re dead or to be sad that you’re dead? If people are glad that you finally kicked the bucket, you probably didn’t do your job on Earth. But if they’re sad that you’re dead, then I think you’ve won the game. I think you’ve ended it on this note of leaving a legacy of people who are like, “I miss that person in this world.”
Allen Wolf (36:28):
Well, thank you so much for being my guest, Kris.
Kris Polaha (36:31):
Sorry to leave you on a note like that, but it’s ultimately a joyful note because it’s a reminder to myself, to everybody who’s listening, just to go for it.
Allen Wolf (36:41):
I loved hearing how you have gone for it and just the impact that you’ve had both in entertainment with all the roles that you’ve had, but then on your relationship with your wife, on your kids. That’s the kind of legacy that’s going to just continue long after people have forgotten about the movies and the TV shows. So, it’s really inspiring to hear about your priorities and where you put them.
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