'Wonder Woman 1984': "Handsome Man" to Become Romance Novelist
Article by Chris Gardner
Kristoffer Polaha talks about building his social media community during quarantine and what authors have inspired him.
In Wonder Woman 1984, Kristoffer Polaha plays a character known only as “Handsome Man.” Despite the background player-type title, the role finds him prominently placed into the love story between Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Polaha may be a new face to fans of the DC Universe but the 43-year-old veteran actor has legions of admirers for his work on screens big and small.
Polaha, who next stars in Jurassic World: Dominion, is well known as a Hallmark star and for popping up in everything from Mad Men to CSI. But he’s about to become known for another new title he’s added to his résumé: romance novelist. Polaha has partnered with Anna Gomez to co-author a five-book series, From Kona With Love. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Polaha to discuss his writing process, whether he'll return for an announced third Wonder Woman installment and how he has been building community during quarantine with a little something called the "Polaha Chautauqua."
First of all, how are you? How did you celebrate New Year’s with your wife and sons?
I’m doing pretty good. I like the New Year, it's always a very mellow, introspective time for me. It gives me a chance to put the old dreams and goals away, reboot the ones I’m still chasing, and set out on some new ones. And yes, I celebrated with my wife and our three boys at home. We played a few games, counted down at midnight, I kissed my wife, and then we all sang "Auld Lang Syne." Nothing fancy.
You’ve been acting for a while and been able to celebrate premieres of your films and TV shows the traditional Hollywood way with red carpets and junkets and all the usual activities. How was it for you to see your latest, Wonder Woman 1984, enter the world during a pandemic without all of that?
What a wild time we are witnesses to, right? Here is a bona fide blockbuster that was set to smash box office records and it was released at home, which really only means one thing to me — the way the audience digests the content is different. Instead of driving to a cinema, standing in line to buy a ticket, being surrounded by strangers, maybe running into someone you know in the lobby, sitting in a dark — quite frankly — cathedral of light and sound to be inundated with moving pictures without interruption, only to drive home and process what was just seen when it’s all over; that, to me, is the magic of the movies.
This time a movie made for big sound on a big screen will be, in most cases, viewed from the couch on a TV or a phone, which means the audience is able to digest and respond in real time — so social media plays a much bigger part in the the experience. I’m just extremely happy that people have finally gotten a chance to see the movie. Patty Jenkins crushed it as a storyteller, both in the script and on the screen, and I thought Gal Gadot showed incredible depth as an actor, she just embodies that iconic role so well. I’m so happy with the outcome and my part in it.
What did you miss most about the experience?
I think I missed not sharing the excitement of a world premiere with my wife and kids. To see their dad in the middle of all that energy gives them a healthy sense of pride. I also really dig talking to people like you and doing interviews on the junket, if you can believe that, so I miss the human interaction that comes with a film's premiere. I mean, I’m answering these questions while sitting at my son’s desk as he doses off to sleep. And of course, getting a chance to reconnect with the other actors and Patty and the producers. We filmed this back in 2018, so it would have been nice to see everyone again.
I have to ask: The film’s ending lends itself to you returning for the third installment, which was just announced. Can you say whether or not you’ll be back?
I can’t say, as I've heard no word yet, but the Handsome Man did say “I’ll see you around,” so … I just love how hopeful the end of the movie is, how it inspires a feeling of being in love with life.
I’m assuming a few people did what I did in that after seeing you in Wonder Woman, I researched what you’re doing next and found that you’re branching out to become a romance novelist. And not just one book but a five-book, Hawaii-based series with your writing partner, Anna Gomez. How is it going?
It’s going great actually. I’ve never had so much freedom as a storyteller before. Filmmaking and television are very collaborative mediums. One is always asked to bend and flow to several differing points of view. With writing, every turn is decided by the author. It’s incredibly freeing. And working with Anna — who is a pro and so much fun to work with — we met on a zoom call last March through a mutual friend to talk about a few books she has already written to see if I could adapt them into movies, and we got to talking about creating IP and content and having creative control from page to screen, and the next thing I knew she offered to collaborate on a series she was just about to begin writing. I jumped at the opportunity, and, so far, it’s been an incredible journey!
We have one book done, which will hit stores on March 9, and the second book is on track to be in stores this November, so our readers won’t have to wait too long.
I don’t know if I think of myself as a romance novelist, per se, but we are filing these in the “romance” category because From Kona With Love is a series of love stories, but already in book two it’s becoming this deeper family saga about love and loss and redemption that spans time and generations and different cultures, and each book will take place on a different Hawaiian island. I’m really proud of how Moments Like This turned out, and we are writing each book so that it can be read as a stand-alone. No cliffhangers here.
You’ve said that the stories are meant to “leave the reader feeling good and inspired.” What else can you say about your vision for the series?
My hope is that our readers are transported to a beautiful place with beautiful people doing beautiful things. That they can escape from the news about the pandemic for the day or the few days it will take them to read the book. We are telling a story about a family, so my hope is that my readers will become invested in that family and their trials and tribulations and their love lives. The first book is also just good fun; it’s an escape with a few pearls of wisdom thrown in for good measure. In success, my plan is to turn the series into a trilogy of films, a saga set in Hawaii.
What books inspire you?
Oh man, books are such a huge part of my life. My dad is a voracious reader; he reads all the time and has this huge library of books at home, all of which he’s read. My father-in-law wrote and my brother-in-law, Scott M. Morris, is a published author and one of the greatest writers I’ve ever read and my writing partner on several projects, so you could say reading and writing books is a part of my life. As for a few books that have inspired me: Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, the short stories of Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. I can remember the midnight on one New Year's Eve that I spent at my brother’s house in Las Vegas reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. And Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is endlessly inspiring. I attended Robert Louis Stevenson High School in Steinbeck country. Books matter a great deal to me, so I guess it's a natural progression.
What is your writing process like with Anna?
For the first book, Anna and I liked to play a game called "Chapter Tennis." She'd write a chapter and I write one in return. For our current book, I am covering our character Adam’s story while she is writing Maele’s story, but we are about to merge their storylines, so it's time for another round of "Chapter Tennis." For book three we are planning on writing letters to one another as the book's main characters and incorporating those into the actual story. Which reminds me, Anna and I have never met in person! This entire collaboration has been conducted over Zoom! Like I said, wild times.
You also previously mentioned that the goal is to publish the books first and then adapt them for the screen. Is the idea for you to ultimately star in the series? If so, is it easier or harder to write with you in mind as the character?
I’d like to play Warren from the first book, and with that thought in mind I wrote a character I could portray, but he’s younger than me, and way, way richer than I am, and a much better surfer. So, I certainly didn’t write him as a stand-in for me, which made it easier to write, because I simply allowed this character to come to life and make his own decisions and be his own man.
You have a diverse résumé with films and TV series, but you’re also known as a regular face on Hallmark. Why do you think that has been such a successful collaboration for you?
Hallmark has been a wonderful place to work these past five years. I just read an article titled, "Wonder Woman 1984 Gives a Festive Nod to Hallmark Christmas Movies," which cracked me up. When I started out in this business an actor had to choose to make it as a film actor or slug it out as a TV actor, and once the die was cast crossing that divide seemed impossible, guys like Tom Hanks and George Clooney did it, but not many could. But in today’s entertainment landscape an actor can be on TV and in a blockbuster at the same time. The divide is officially gone; actors are actors and cream rises eventually.
Speaking of today’s audience, perhaps the best thing about working with Hallmark is that their audience is, hands down, the most loyal and fervent audience in the world, with a possible exception of the DCEU fans. These fans support the actors they love like die-hard sports fans supporting their home team; neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can keep a HU fan from supporting their favorite actor.
While digging around about you, I discovered your Instagram series “Polaha Chautauqua.” It’s such an interesting thing you’ve created during the pandemic, mixing community, faith, music, conversation, self-help and entertainment. How did you come up with this idea? What has it meant to you to see it grow?
Yes, thank you for asking about this. … In the very first week of the pandemic, on March 10, my friend, Liz Tigelaar, posted that the Indigo Girls were going to do a free show live on Instagram. I tuned in and these women doing what they were born to do, for anyone who tuned in, made me feel good. So that Friday I went live on Instagram at 4 p.m. PT just to check in with people and find out how the pandemic looked in their part of the world and how they were preparing for quarantine. I did it again the following week.
By the third week, I named it "The Polaha Chautauqua" and it was fast becoming a place to gather and tell stories and it was a place that was letting people know they weren’t alone and that all are welcome. The tag line for "The Polaha Chautauqua" became, “We can do this, but it’s better when we do it together.” The chautauquas of the past were traveling tent shows where popular talks were given to educate adults and enlighten the audience. Film and radio killed the historic chautauqua, but it seemed to me that social media and quarantine were the ideal combinations to revive the concept, plus it was born out of my own need to connect with people during that initial fear and panic of COVID.
Tim Tebow joined me one week to talk about hope in hopeless circumstances, Rainn Wilson joined me to give a commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020, and every week people from all over the world would join me live to sing a song, read poetry, or simply share their story. The Good Friday edition is the episode where I shared my faith — the Christian narrative has a very particular take on death — and with COVID roaming over the face of the Earth at a terrifying pace, it was a very real and honest 45-minute discussion about how my faith has helped me come to terms with my own fear of death.
I became a conduit to something bigger than my career or anything I’d even attempted on social media and I simply shared my story. It reached thousands of people by Easter Sunday. For Christians, it was a profound declaration of faith from an unusual source, and for non-Christians, it was an attractive perspective of a narrative they didn’t believe in but felt welcome to glean from. I did the show week after week until late June when I took a summer hiatus. Came back in August on Sunday nights stronger than ever with the theme of living the full expression of the human existence and what that looks like.
Again, all of this is in the context of a pandemic that has created extremely unique circumstances. People want honesty and truthfulness and something real; I’m giving them, well, them. The people who are brave enough to push that accept request button and go live with me are incredibly real and honest and surprisingly inspiring. I’m chasing this idea of kingdom living; how can you live each day to the fullest, purpose-driven, and what does that even mean? We've discussed anxiety, forgiveness, how to live lives with patience, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, peace, joy, and love. Week by week the number of live audience members has grown. The response I’ve received in letters and messages has overwhelmed me and it’s become a true community. People talk to each other during the week, they post pictures and quotes about the upcoming topics in preparation for the Sunday live. It’s been a bright spot in an otherwise very dark season.
Will you continue through 2021?
The last "Polaha Chautauqua" I did before Christmas was on love and it’s had a broad reach so far. Keep in mind that these are hourlong shows, so it’s a commitment on the viewer’s part. It’s been an interesting social experiment for me. Interesting enough for me to keep on with it.
What about for you: Any resolutions or goals for 2021?
Absolutely. I’ve said goodbye to some old goals, dusted off some others, and set out on some brand-new ones. Here’s to a bright and better 2021.