Sarah Polly describes terrifying experiences as a child actor
Sarah Polley published her memoirs Run towards danger in the spring of 2022, which chronicles her experiences as an actress, director and activist. Polley, best known for her roles in dawn of the dead and The sweet beyondemerged as a child actor, and one of his first big breakthroughs was Terry Gilliam’s 1988 fantasy film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In her book, Polley describes the trauma and terror she experienced on set due to the film’s dangerous stunts and Gilliam’s chaotic directing.
Polley writes, “After Terry shouted ‘Action!’ I myself exploded. A log I had to run under was partially on fire. The gigantic explosions continued and shook all around me. I ran, terrified, straight into the camera, stumbling on the rails of the wagon.
“Terry laughed and looked puzzled. “What happened?” he asked, as if I had just run screaming from a slow motion carousel. I couldn’t breathe. that that might have been the plan, that things hadn’t just gone wrong. But they hadn’t. That was the plan.
Polley carried her childhood trauma for decades, but felt compelled to speak up when she heard another child actor had been cast in a new Gilliam movie. She emailed Gilliam to share her memories and concerns, but he rejected her. Gilliam responded with state-of-the-art gaslighting, writing “One thing I care about. Can you tell, when you see Sally in the film, which of the shots is you… and which shots are your double? Do you remember the shots of you in the boat being right at the edge of the reservoir with stuntmen in the water next to the boat? I’m only asking, not to minimize your bad memories, but to try to understand the differences in how you and I remember events…especially since you were so young and impressionable and sensitive and yet seemed so wise and about 30 years old.”
Her experiences were validated by fellow Monthy Python veteran and co-star Eric Idle, who tweeted, “She was right. She was in danger. Several times. It was amazing, we never lost anyone. It was me, her and Jack Purvis in the back of the boat. The explosion startled the horse, which backed towards us, and the brilliant rider carried it overboard.
In his book, Polley discusses the fact that Gilliam was given infinite leeway thanks to his reputation as a “mad genius”, a label that acts as a kind of a get-out-of-jail card for the bad behavior of white men on the plateau. . She wrote: ‘I think the truth is that I let Terry off the hook in part because even as a child I had bought into the glamor of the idea of the enfant terrible director, the out-of-control crazed white male genius – a myth that has dominated the film industry’s understanding of what brilliance must necessarily look like. As an adult, I find myself completely intolerant of the fetishization of this archetype of genius, having seen first-hand great works done by honest and conscientious people, and having witnessed a strong impatience with women or Bipoc. [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] filmmakers who show similar signs of irresponsibility. Terry has lived so long in the movie world’s imagination as a “mad genius” whose craziness and recklessness have somehow elevated his work.
Gilliam has since made headlines for racist and offensive statements that seem very much in character for an authoritative and irresponsible director. Kudos to Polley for speaking her truth and sharing her story.
(Going through The Guardianfeatured image: Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images)
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