Actor John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Patty Srisuwan are starring in a movie writer-director by Chris Cowden, a feature film Moments in Spacetime being filmed in Cold Lake, May 15, 2019.
Writer-director Chris Cowden.
John Rhys-Davies discussing Moments in Spacetime.
COLD LAKE — As characters Sallah and Gimli, he’s played a good friend of Indiana Jones, then the rough-hewn dwarf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. But John Rhys-Davies’ latest role is a little closer to the here and now: a grandfather named Mason suffering progressive Alzheimer’s. And that’s a role that hits home for the actor in a most personal way.
“You want to know the secret,” the 75-year-old actor says up in Cold Lake: “All good stories begin as good stories.”
Enter Moments in Spacetime, an independently funded, Alberta-made feature — also starring Patty Srisuwan as Macie, Mason’s on-screen adopted granddaughter. The film is written and directed by Cold Lake indie filmmaker Chris Cowden, Srisuwan’s husband.
The movie is still shooting through the weekend — though Rhys-Davies, who arrived last week, wrapped his scenes Tuesday. “Up and down like a bride’s nightie,” Rhys-Davis laughs being moved around backstage at a press conference bustling with local media. “My mother used to say that all the time.”
Ultimately, Moments in Spacetime is Macie’s story, struggling as an outsider. She says working with Rhys-Davies was the opportunity of a lifetime. “What can I say, he’s a master. The last scene I worked with him, I cried. I said, ‘You’re not just a friend, you’re my mentor.’ ”
Writer-director-producer Cowden gives Spacetime’s elevator pitch: “A girl whose parents are killed in the 2004 Thailand tsunami is adopted by a Canadian couple who can’t have kids. But within a year of adopting her, they have their own child.
“Flash forward 15 years to 2019, and we examine the dynamic of who the parents love more: their biological daughter or the adopted daughter they chose.”
Still living at home in her 20s, Macie is charged by her parents with taking care of Mason.
“Half of her life and half of her language were in one culture,” Cowden explains, “so even though she’s smart, she hasn’t been able to adapt well. It’s about the relationship (she and Mason) develop over the course of the summer.”
Rhys-Davies lives on the Isle of Man, which he coyly describes as “70,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock in the Irish Sea.”
The actor unpacks his role a little further. “He’s a blunt older man — politically very incorrect. At first he doesn’t believe that he is in any way related to Macie.”
Unfortunately, Rhys-Davies understands Mason’s mental slide all too well. “My darling old first wife, we were married for 42 years and I think she was with the fairies for at least 30 of them. When I first met her — she was 15 years older than me — I’m not sure even then that she didn’t know. She would say odd things like, ‘You know, Johnny, one day you’re going to lock me up and throw away the key. And I won’t worry too much as long as I’ve got a room with some sort of view.’
“Which of course, when that time came,” he says with a faraway look, “I did make sure there was a view. By then, I don’t think she was seeing it.”
He brings it back to the film’s title. “Dementia is literally moments in spacetime for people who suffer it.”
As an intriguing framing device, which also partly explains the sci-fi title, the film is narrated by an unknown entity from 500 years in the future. “Some of the philosophical themes and arguments are articulations of my master’s thesis that I wanted to work into a very simple narrative film,” says Cowden.
He notes science fiction set in other times and places is generally informed by whatever year it’s made in — he decided to try to invert that idea, having a narrator look back at us as historical curiosities.
He muses, “What would interest the sentient being or machine or alien race might be the smallest, simplest human stories that don’t exist any more.”
He laughs, “If you don’t understand any of that s–t, you’ll still get the story. But those layers are there.”
Srisuwan’s experiences in real life also deeply influenced her husband’s script. “We worked together hand in hand,” she says. “There we so many moments where I gave him notes: Macie wouldn’t feel so angry — but left out, alone.”
Cowden agrees. “It was collaborative process even from the beginning. The film is about the immigrant experience. We have a lot of scenes where she experiences a subtle prejudice where people don’t really mean to do the wrong thing or offend, but inadvertently they do. It’s a fine line I find really interesting.
“Almost all those scenes we’d ask ourselves, ‘Is this too much? Too on the nose?’ Our guideline was we only used stuff that actually happened — and we even had to filter some of those.”
The film will be finished this fall, then sent out to the international festivals for consideration.
As for Rhys-Davis, still going in the industry at 75, he says he always assumes his next shoot could be his last — but plans to never retire. With a big smile he says with a bit of a dwarfish growl, “In the end, last man standing wins.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019