Actor John Rhys-Davies on playing ‘one of the great giants of western civilization’
A docudrama about the patron saint of Ireland called I Am Patrick will be shown only March 17-18 in select theaters nationwide. The feature-length film features a re-enactment of St. Patrick’s life using his writings, including his Confessio and the Epistola (or Letter) to Coroticus. Expert commentary peppers St. Patrick’s story.
Catholic Digest spoke with John Rhys-Davies about playing St. Patrick in the film. Rhys-Davies — who is best-known for his roles in The Lord of the Rings and Raiders of the Lost Ark — also discusses what he admires most about St. Patrick and Christians.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for the role of St. Patrick?
A: You ascribe to me such a serious professional dedication. I obviously read St. Patrick’s Confession, but then I’d also read it years ago.
Q: What do you admire most about St. Patrick?
A: I like the individuality of a man. He was a remarkable man, and he had such courage. He’s an authentic, original individual speaking to us. “I am Patrick. I am a sinner. The least worthy of all men.”
In the Dark Ages, few voices come through as clearly as his. St. Patrick comes through more than any of the other legendary saint of his time. He’s a real three-dimensional human being. I don’t think Patrick was aspiring to be a saint. He was aspiring to do what the Holy Spirit was telling him to do. St. Patrick — I think even to the end of his days — was a work in progress, and isn’t that glorious?
Q: Could you relate to St. Patrick?
A: Oh, I don’t call myself a Christian because I’m not good enough. Though, I’m proud to defend the faith of Christians and to defend Christians and Christianity because I think they are unfairly discriminated against — and by people who should know better. The best of western civilization has come from Christianity.
Q: You don’t have to be perfect to be a Christian. Do you agree?
A: Ha, ha! It helps if you start off less imperfect.
Q: Were you impressed with how the film turned out?
A: I think it’s one of the best bio-pics that I’ve ever been involved in. The director understands the essence of the period and makes it accessible to us.
During the filming of I Am Patrick, I was sitting in that wonderful hut — which is a reconstruction of a roundhouse in Ireland — and writing with a chicken feather and ink made by the props’ lady from iron and vinegar and a little bit of oil. I realized the great virtue of having to dip your quill into the ink well every few seconds because it allows time for thoughts to flow properly.
Q: What did you take away from playing the role of Patrick in the latter part of his life?
A: I knew St. Patrick beforehand and admired him, but actually playing him and having to study him in more detail, I felt that I got to know him. I think what I gained from Patrick is that that respect that you have for an ordinary man who becomes a giant.
Q: What do you hope the audiences take away from the film?
A: I want the audiences to feel entertained. I want them to say, “That was not a waste of time.” If we have done that, then we have done the first important thing. Film is not about preaching; it’s about entertainment. But if we have entertained them, then we’ve introduced them — and deepened their understanding — to one of the great giants of western civilization.