So apparently I sit down like an old man. That’s the secret to how I nailed down my role in 7 Deadly Birthdays. It certainly wasn’t my Irish accent.
My name is Dick Phillips and I’m Copious Love’s in house character actor. I’ve been with the company since the first show and became a member around the third. Up until now I played two distinct roles, a grumpy old ex-hippie and a meth addled mad man. While these were two very different characters there was one uniting factor, rage. Steve’s was a rage based in frustration and regret. The Cook, well that would be the meth. Anger is something I do very well, it’s something I’m comfortable portraying and I don’t think I’m bragging when I say I do it pretty well. Now I’m faced with a character whose profession…or rather his calling, demands a thoroughly in check temper and what’s more, uses his faith to do so.
Part of the reason I love acting is to escape myself and become another person. But I’ve never been farther away from the person I am meant to become as I am now with Father Reilly Oliver. I wasn’t raised around religion; I’ve been an atheist since the first time I heard that it was an option. As a matter of fact the entire concept began to piss me off as soon as I learned I would never be getting superpowers. What the fuck kind of shitty asshole god would build people to walk around when his infinite powers could have us all zipping around in capes? I mentioned that I’m kind of an angry guy right?
But I did find in my adult life that I could get over my anti-religion rage. There was a period not too long ago where I decided to come on over to Jesus, I was door to door canvassing and the power of self-delusion is totally necessary for success in that field. While I’ve moved on since then (pretty much as soon as I got fired) I did learn that I could be more accepting of Christians, with the exception of one concept, Hell. I hate the entire idea of eternal damnation, it’s so completely disproportionate. You take the worst person ever, a guy who spends fifty years of his life doing awful things to people. Okay, if there’s any kind of fairness then he should be punished for fifty years right? Maybe visit every torture he’s ever inflicted? I don’t see the point at all really, how it makes anything better but okay, sure, sounds justifiable. Fuck that! Fucker’s gonna burn for ETERNITY! I cannot and will not ever be able to get behind that ideology and therein lays my dilemma. When I first read 7 Deadly Birthdays I felt that I needed to be able to get behind this idea to be able to do Father Reilly justice.
But do all Catholic priests believe in Hell? I don’t really know. But what I’ve decided is that Father Reilly doesn’t. There are Priests who tow the line and there are Priests who do their best to instill values, these are not mutually exclusive of course but there is a distinction. At no point in the script does Father Oliver refer to Hell or use it as a threat. Instead he talks about life and how to live a good one. I think, in his mind, faith is about being connected to something bigger than yourself and using that knowledge to make decisions that serve a greater good. Now, he’s still rigid in his ideology. Jesus is the salvation and all others are likely fucked. But for him it’s about how your life is lead now and not about the reward or the punishment that comes in the end.
Of course the good Father completely fails to understand that living with such rigid standards is just not possible for some. But why he doesn’t pull out all the stops to save Maddie’s soul, why he allows her to make mistakes and doesn’t come down on her with a message of fear for eternal damnation is because in his mind she’s suffering in the here and now. And that is where Oliver’s blind spot firmly resides. He will never understand just how much Madeline truly enjoys her sinful life. Or maybe he does and THAT’S what pisses him off.
When I shut down the possibility of Hell, I unveiled another layer in Oliver’s development. The Father has excellent control over his temper, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one. While I’m not in his position and likely never will be, I do have some insight. I’m a step father to a brilliant, gifted and sometimes completely shit house crazy young boy. In the years that I’ve been his parent I have been forced to deal with my own issues of anger. The Father has his faith but at the root of that faith is the desire to do good. I’m not perfect but I have worked very hard on how I communicate with my red headed step child, I’ve had to make more apologies than I would have ever liked, but then I’m no Father Oliver. Of course, I’m not yet thirty and he’s in his golden years but his anger is still there, just under the surface. His control may be great but he’s still a human. It’s his acceptance of that, which has allowed him to forgive his anger.
Now I have a character I can get behind, one which I understand and can at least in some small way relate to. I will never have faith, I will always be angry. But that’s what is great about this role and why I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play it, when the lights go up I won’t be angry and faithless, I will be a better man for an hour or so. Of course I get to immediately go back to sinning when those lights go down, thank God. Or not.