FC Interview: John Rhys-Davies

As a preteen wannabe princess, I binge-watched Princess Diaries 2. What’s not to love about such a tale? After all, Mia wins the crown, hosts the best sleepovers (with an indoor slide), and finds true, not-so-forced love.

One of my favorite characters in Princess Diaries 2 is Viscount Mabrey, played by John Rhys-Davies. He might be the bad guy in this film, but he owns each scene he is in, and his Welsh accent will either make you fall in love or fall asleep from its beautiful narrative rhythm.

(If you’ve never seen Princess Diaries 2, I’m sure that you’ve witnessed John’s talent as Gimli and the voice of Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as Sallah in the Indiana Jones movies, or as the voice of Man Ray in SpongeBob SquarePants.)

Just last week, I had the chance to talk with John about his role in the new fathom film, I Am Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland. This gripping, raw, real story behind St. Patrick unveils the testimony of his bravery as he returns to his former Irish captors to share The Gospel, creating a much deeper message than the four-leaf clovers and pinching games so renowned every year on March 17th.

John plays the older version of St. Patrick, but his insight into this film is new, fresh, and inspiring (and sprinkled with delightful Welsh humor): 

PEYTON: Most people substitute the secularized leprechaun and the four-leaf clover for St. Patrick, but St. Patrick tells a completely different story. Did you ever have any assumptions about St. Patrick that were incorrect?

JOHN: Well, I’ve always enjoyed teasing my Irish friends. What I can say to them [is], “Well, you do realize your patron saint was a Welshman who ended up civilizing you lot! At which point fists fly in the rugby scrum and things like that!

[But] Patrick is hugely important. This drama-documentary is marvelous… so laden with the sense of alien societies in basically the early Dark Ages, and Patrick emerges almost uniquely from that period of time as a distinct individual: I am Patrick. I am a sinner.

The authentic voice of a really extraordinary fate is there in every line of the writing. He is just so human and so unmistakably powerful and driven. He is wonderful, just wonderful. Patrick just seems to be… the most human, and I think that’s one of the reasons we love him. 

PEYTON: Do you think [Patrick] ever had the Jonah mentality, where he absolutely did not want to go [back to Ireland]? Do you think Patrick struggled with obedience or do you see him as someone who just accepted it as God’s will?

JOHN: He is abducted as a slave and taken to Ireland… [for] 6 or 7 years, makes his escape back to his Romano, Britain, Christianized family, and realizes when he’s gotten there that life back there isn’t what he thinks God wants. In a way, there is a touch of Stockholm syndrome in him, but that resolution he takes to be God’s imperative to go back and convert the heathens who enslaved him. It’s like returning to an inefficient Stalin’s Russia in order to overthrow communism. I mean, it’s a vast and incredibly risky job that is certainly going to end with risk, danger, pain, martyrdom, punishment, and yet he goes and does it.

And of course, after he’s done it pretty successfully, of course from Rome come these accusations by jealous people that he has been doing it the wrong way and he hasn’t got the right to do this anyway and he’s been accepting gifts. Of course, I accepted gifts. How else am I going to feed the poor and help become give up their lives and become missionaries, themselves?

I’m not going to apologize for Patrick, but I don’t think anybody who we recognize as being good and great starts off always being good and great. Obviously, there is one major exception, but for those of us not born in any particular sense divine really would have to work at emerging consciousness of what is right and proper.

… I’m sure that he saw forth in himself and discovered them [flaws] more and more as he grew older and deliberately changed and modified his behavior to answer that for [the] palpable presence of The Holy Spirit– and I find that interesting and compelling and part of the glorious paradox of Christianity. 

PEYTON: Psalm 37:4 is often misconstrued [and redefined by selfish wants]: Delight yourself in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. While filming this and while being on set, where do you think Patrick found the delight in this process?

JOHN: I think that in the loneliness of being a shepherd really with nothing, with no protection, no accommodation, but just simply [being] forced to be a shepherd on his own for a number of years in his first time, he increasingly found God through The Holy Spirit talking to him. And that triggers in him a moral and spiritual growth and keeps him alive, and that inner illumination, I think, abides with him all his life.

I think Patrick is one of those people, he listens to that inner voice…The Holy Spirit, and God talks to him, and when he follows God’s advice, he finds his life–despite any of the most extraordinary problems, conflicts, near martyrdom events… He is threatened, beaten, humiliated, nearly killed, nearly dies, and yet, he goes on because he has that extraordinary strength. 

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