Entertainment

Sarah Polly Describes Terrifying Experiences as Child Actor

Sarah Polley published her memoir Run Towards the Danger in the spring of 2022, which recounts her experiences as an actor, director, and activist. Polley, best known for her roles in Dawn of the Dead and The Sweet Hereaftercame up as a child actor, and one of her first big breaks 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 yelled “Action!” I began my run as instructed. Blasts of explode debris on the ground around me, accompanied by deafening booms that made me feel as if I myself had exploded. A log I was to run under was partially on fire. The gigantic blasts continued and shook everything around me. I ran, terrified, straight into the camera, tripping over the dolly tracks.”

“Terry laughed and looked perplexed. “What happened?” he asked, as though I had just run screaming from a slow-moving merry-go-round. I couldn’t breathe. It didn’t seem possible that this could have been the plan, that things hadn’t just gone terribly wrong. But they hadn’t. This was the plan.”

Polley carried the trauma of her childhood experience for decades, but felt forced to speak up when she heard that another child actor was cast in a new Gilliam film. She emailed Gilliam to share her memories and concerns, but he brushed her off. Gilliam responded with peak gaslighting, writing “One thing I’m curious about. Can you tell, when you see Sally in the film, in which of the shots it’s you … and which ones are your double? Do you remember that the shots of you in the boat were right at the edge of the tank with stuntmen in the water next to the boat? I only ask, not to minimize your bad memories, but to try to understand the differences in the way you and I remember the events… especially since you were so young and impressionable and sensitive and yet seemed to be 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. Many times. It was amazing we never lost anyone. It was me, her and Jack Purvis in the back of the boat. The explosion scared the horse which backed into us, and the brilliant rider took it overboard.”

In her book, Polley expounds on the fact that Gilliam was given infinite leeway thanks to his reputation as a “mad genius”, a label that somehow acts as a get-out-of-jail-free card for white male bad behavior on set . 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 mad 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 wholly intolerant of the fetishisation of this archetype of genius, having seen, first-hand, great works made by decent, conscientious people, and having witnessed sharp impatience with female or Bipoc [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] film-makers who show any similar signs of irresponsibility. Terry lived for so long in the film world’s imagination as a “mad genius” whose madness and recklessness somehow elevated his work.”

Gilliam has since made headlines for racist, offensive statements that seem entirely in character as an entitled and irresponsible director. Kudos to Polley for speaking her truth and sharing her story.

(via The Guardian, featured image: Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images)

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