Kristoffer Polaha Talks Buried in Barstow, a Trip to Cannes, and His Crucial Work Fighting Trafficking


It’s always a pleasure when we get the opportunity to chat with Kristoffer Polaha.

He’s a very busy man with a role in the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion film and Lifetime’s Buried in Barstow, in which he stars with Angie Harmon.

We talked with Kristoffer about those projects and the short film he recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kristoffer is taking full advantage of the world opening up again. The last time we talked, he shared how much he managed to accomplish during the COVID lockdowns, and now he’s getting out there promoting that work.

We talked just before Cannes, and Kristoffer couldn’t hide his excitement about his film.

“A little film that I directed, called “The Work of Art,” was one of eight films selected at Cannes do the impact of emerging filmmakers showcase; we were chosen to be a part of this festival,” he said.

“I’m really excited about how it turned out. And again, that was all happy byproduct of the pandemic and the quarantine,” Kristoffer said. He worked closely with his editor to get the film right where they wanted it. “We took it from 23 minutes, all the way down to 17 lean, tight minutes, so beautiful.”

He described it as an anti-suicide film with a beautiful message resulting from a teen and her uncle discussing life.

As a father himself, Kristoffer knows a thing or two about such talks. He realized when he was cast on Life Unexpected how powerful the experience was with his work.

“I think that being a father has really been a huge additive for me as an actor because it’s given me a special power that I think a lot of other actors don’t know how to bring to the table unless they are fathers.

“So with Brittany on Life Unexpected, there was a really cool father-daughter relationship because I had young sons, and I knew how to deal with kids. And I think with Sylvie [Maris, his collaborator on A Work of Art], I was able to talk to her and nurture her as a director because I’ve been talking to my kids for so long and know how to.”

Kristoffer is a proud father, and with one of his sons going to Berkley School of Music for a week and another acting in New York City this July, he’s got a lot to make him proud.

You can find him talking about his family frequently on his Instagram account, and he shared his excitement about his son’s acting gig there. Kristoffer said his son was bitten by the acting bug years ago, but he wanted him to have a life before taking anything too seriously.

“He’s gotta wait and have a life and grow as a person and a human being first — get interesting. And then he could act if he has something to get back. But in the meantime, I want him to like really train, so he’s been extremely productive.

His son, a sophomore, was cast as the lead in a play with a senior girl, a two-person show about a little girl who needed a liver transplant, and the boy who shows up at her school. While working on a project together, the boy tells her about seeing a little boy die on the basketball court that day, and they discuss how something like that should make you feel.

“And then, all of a sudden, he finds out that she needs a liver transplant, and he’s the boy who’s died. And it’s like this weird, sort of existential, transcendental, and it’s really beautiful.”

Kristoffer said his son became an actor in the course doing that play, which had an emotional impact that made grown men sob. “He went from wanting to do it and wondering if he could and wondering if it is something that he has the chops for to actually possessing a gift and being able to drop in and get out of the way to tell a really amazing story and have an audience react.”

“And so he wants to do it. But I told him, ‘Listen, you gotta learn how to edit. You gotta learn how to direct and how to do all of it.’ So he’s just taken his time with it.”

The entertainment business has changed significantly since Kris broke into acting 21 years ago, when there was a continuum of great actors from Charlie Chaplin to Cary Grant to Marlon Brando to Robert De Niro to Johnny Depp.

“And if you were lucky enough to get pumped up into that line, then you’d have this really robust, wonderful career,” he said. The same went for directors, but that way of Hollywood progression has finally been disrupted.

“I think it finally got democratized where anybody from anywhere, if you’ve got something to say, and you can say creatively enough, you have a shot at getting your stories told.”

Kristoffer learned a lot about filmmaking with A Work of Art when he did so much himself as a director, producer, and actor. “It was really kind of awesome to see who I needed, what the collaboration really looks like, what’s essential and what’s not essential” because he can transfer that knowledge to all of his other work.

Kristoffer got involved with Buried in Barstow because he worked with director Howard Deutch on Life Unexpected and Ringer. “He’s just a mensch. And he’s somebody who’s been in my life ever since we worked together the first time.

“I remember meeting his daughter Zoe when she was like a freshman in high school or something. And he’s the guy who’s like, ‘Come over to my house, have lunch, we’re going to talk. We’re going to do this.’

“We tried to get a project off the ground together when I had a whole deal at CVS years ago. And he called me and said, ‘I’ve got this role for you. Are you interested?’ And I read the script. I said, ‘Absolutely. I didn’t need to. I would love to work with you again.’ And it happened.

“When Mystery 101 was scheduled to shoot in November, we were ready to go for number eight, and something at Hallmark switched, and they pushed it to January, and suddenly, they have this window and Buried in Barstow hopped right into it.”

Buried in Barstow gives Kristoffer and Angie Harmon darker roles to tackle than viewers may expect.

“Angie plays this mama bear to such an awesome degree,” Kristoffer said. “And to support her, especially as a producer, I mean, this is really her show. So it’s something that she brought to the table, so helping somebody realize a dream like that is awesome.

“It’s fun. And to play a guy you don’t know where he’s coming from and you don’t know what his deal is like, all of that, it was an exciting job to do.”

There are several twists and turns in Buried in Barstow that, with lessor actors, might have been easy to spot. But you grow so attached to the characters so quickly that you’re immersed in their stories, which provides ample room for the unexpected.

Kristoffer and Angie, as Elliott and Jane, have a palpable chemistry that steams up the screen and gives Kristoffer the opportunity to disrobe, right down to his derriere, which may or may not make it into the final version of the film!

“Yeah, there’s a lot of actors who take a lot of pride in their bodies and work out all the time. I’m not that guy,” Kristoffer laughed. “I’ve always spent far more energy on my craft than my abs. So, whenever I have to take my shirt off, I’m always, frankly, insecure.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I hope I don’t look like a dad.’ But it’s okay. I think that’s really sexy. So maybe I’ll shift public opinion. Hopefully, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get enough to take my shirt off. I don’t know.”

Don’t be alarmed when the movie ends on a cliffhanger because everyone is on board and ready to jump into more material.

“I know that there was a writer hired in January. And I heard dates bandied about for late summer, but I don’t know anything. There’s no like, tickets, or anything by yet for our final destination.

“But I know that there is interest in telling at least four stories in total, and maybe more depending on the audience reaction. And I think all of us involved are in for the long haul. I would love to keep telling these stories because I think our story is just getting started.

“Firstly, my character and her character are definitely just getting started. So there’s a lot more territory to explore and story to be told. It seems like they could both bring out something in each other that might get them in trouble but might also steer them in a different direction,” he said.

Kristoffer is in awe of the incredible team they had working on Buried in Barstow.

“Howie Deutsch, he’s a big deal. He has directed amazing movies. And he brought together a team, like our gaffer, or like our lead light hanger, works on all of Oliver Stones films, our Director of Photography, went around the world with YouTube, did well at home, and has this incredible resume of feature films.

“And I think, the way that the market is, the industry, you’ve got a lot of people who had huge, long, big careers in cinema, and now they’ve decided to do television because television, like with streaming and this ‘golden age of television,’ where really there are no boundaries anymore between film and television.”

They filmed on a real, functional, working barbecue place, and Kristoffer remembers walking into it for a scene with Angie that was lit with pinks and purples so beautifully. “It was like being on a movie set, like a real big-budget movie set. You expect television films to be a little quicker, a little cheaper, a little dirtier, just running down our nine scenes in a one-day shot.

“But it was a different attitude with this, and we’re still breakneck pace. We’re still getting a lot of stuff done during the day, but we were taking our time with really beautiful shots. And, I think, tell a story that’s surprising. So I think, aesthetically, a part of what you are seeing and feeling is just that it was shot so beautifully.”

Kristoffer also has Jurassic World: Dominion coming out this month. “You know what? That’s gonna be a fun movie to be a part of. I can’t wait to see people’s reactions to that. It’s going to be cool.”

But if you want to know more about Ryan Huntley, Kristoffer’s character, you’re going to have to see the movie.

“If I told you who I was, it would ruin a storyline. You’d be like, ‘Oh, I knew that,’ and all your readers will know. So, unfortunately, I’m bound to an NDA.”

But he did share a little bit to whet our appetites. “It’s a smaller role. But it’s this cool little part that plays an integral role.

“In the movie, it’s the old guard. So it’s all of the Jurassic Park actors like Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. And they’ve got one storyline. And then there’s the Jurassic World cast, which is Bryce Howard and Chris Pratt. They’ve got a storyline. And then those storylines intersect. If it’s a five-act movie, in the fourth act, they intersect.

“And so my character is a part of Chris Pratt’s storyline. So I have up into the intersection, you see me at the beginning of the film up into the intersection. And yeah, what I will say is that we shot it during the pandemic.

“And I think I spoke to you about that and my family; they got to live with me in London while we filmed it. And it was just a really cool experience. It was a really fun, like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Kristoffer and Pratt have a lot in common, from their families to their charity work, with Kris calling him an “incredible human being” and “so much fun.”

It wasn’t only the movie stars on set that were impressive. Kristoffer also had wonderful things to say about Colin Trevorrow and his direction on a set with so many special effects.

“Watching him function on set and just have $250 million at his disposal, which is so weird because you sit there and special effects technology is so advanced now that you’re not looking at tennis balls, you’re not looking at a green screen. You’re just looking into space.

“And he’s like, ‘Okay, now react. There’s a dinosaur coming at you,’ and you’re like, ‘Well, where is it?’ ‘Fourteen feet high,’ ‘Yeah, that looks great.’ ‘Okay, now you’re like, it’s wonder, it’s fear, now smile,’ with you kind of reacting to nothingness. And so I give a lot of credit to the people who have done that a lot.”

“I think it’s gonna be the biggest movie in the history movies, in my humble opinion. I think the world is ready to get back into theaters. And I think that the box office is going to prove that.”

When it comes to summer blockbusters, Kristoffer is personally looking forward to Elvis because he worked with Austin Butler on Life Unexpected. “He’s come a long way. That’s a really exciting step for him,” he said.

As always, Kristoffer and his family are working together to help change the world, and they ran a 6K for World Vision on May 21st.

Kristoffer is also sitting on the board of a grant tank called the Jensen Project. “We are talking about human trafficking and the sex trade industry. And we’re trying to put caps on legalizing prostitution.

“And it’s a really interesting conversation about abuse, about spousal abuse, about sex trafficking, about pornography, and women’s rights, frankly, and we’re helping women, and I say, we, there’s a board. A woman named Janet Jensen, made a lot of money in her lifetime and has dedicated her time to giving it away to grants.

“And so far, she gives anywhere between $2 to $4 million away a year. And the grants are for people who were trafficked. Like, if you were a young woman who was trafficked, this was a really heavy thing, and it’s dark horrible stuff. But if you were groomed into the sex trade as a little girl, then oftentimes you’re not registered; you don’t have any identity.

“Whether you were a young girl, and you had a credit card or a driver’s license, they steal that information, ruin your credit. And so when the women are kind of kicked out on the other side of the sex trade industry, they’re oftentimes without any credit, without any identity.

“And they end up becoming prostitutes because there is no other way; they are just stuck. It’s basically a slave trade. And there are more slaves on the planet today than there were back in 1865, during the Civil War; it’s a real thing, and no one’s really talking about it.

“What the Jensen Project is doing is trying to highlight very small and grassroots organizations. But incredible things are being done. There’s this thing, an organization called The NOCSE, the National Outreach Center for Sexual Exploitation, I believe, that is pursuing places like Twitter and Google and Amazon.”

Kristoffer noted that catfishing children could ruin their lives forever. It happens when someone poses as a child and gets other children to send them photos with nudity. He relayed one specific story about a young boy who got caught up with a grown man pretending to be a little girl.

“They sent material back and forth to each other, and it really was a grown man. And he’s using all that material and sort of blackmailing the kid. The kid finally, on his own, kind of pulled out of the whole situation, and was like, ‘Oh, my Gosh, I thought it was done.’

“And then what happened was, this predator then downloaded all those images onto Twitter. And his classmates saw it, and he, a high school student, went to school. And Twitter wouldn’t take it down.

“They showed information that he was underage when it was taken, and it was not consensual, but then no one would take it down and there’s a fair amount of front of the FBI, and the FBI got involved and Twitter removed it.

“But there are so many cases of young people — men and women — who are making stupid choices that are now affecting them for the rest of their lives because we live in a different world. And Amazon or Etsy? They sell sex dolls right next door to party favors.”

Kristoffer says they’re not trying to say none of this should exist but that “it just needs to exist within its proper place; it shouldn’t be readily available. And it certainly shouldn’t be a big business for people, which it is right now. And there’s got to be more. So we’re just trying to pull awareness. So that’s the Jensen Project in a nutshell.”

Kristoffer worries that the wrong people are on the hook for the sex trade, especially since the first group to really capitalize on the freedom of the internet was the porn industry, which is normally flying under the radar.

“But if you’re in Louisiana and you’re a prostitute, you’re the one getting arrested, not the Johns. So there have to be legal ramifications for both ends of that transaction. So I think that’s what we’re trying to look at, like, how do you just make it tougher to buy another human being?”

Kristoffer continued, “I’m from Nevada, and Nevada is famous for legalizing prostitution. And there’s a huge movement right now with a trend to legalize prostitution in 50 states. And there’s the argument of, ‘My body, My choice,’ which is true. And that argument is valid, 100%. But what people aren’t aware of is what prostitution is really like.

“It’s a really sad, dirty game. And once you get locked into that and the moral ramifications — I mean, it’s a really big conversation that isn’t just about, ‘My body. My choice.’  It’s about, ‘Yeah, but did you have a choice when you were 13? Did you have a choice when you were a young person and groomed into the industry by these predators?’

“It’s a really dark industry. And I know, for the state of Nevada, they’re being sued right now because what seems to be a freedom is actually a far more complicated issue. I don’t know; it’s a big undertaking. So I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

“And we’re such a small part, but we’re about to ramp up, getting attention for the Jensen Project and try to throw some coins at it to make a difference.”

It sounded to me like a perfect opportunity to work with Lifetime again on a future project, and Kristoffer said that part of his role in the Jensen Project is to “help them craft narrative because they need to tell stories that show all sides of the issue, like, what does it look like for our young men who are trapped in lust, and they don’t know how to love anymore because they’ve objectified and sort of ruined themselves.”

Kristoffer said it’s so dark and difficult to discuss, but he’s already used the Polaha Chautauqua to highlight some stories. “I dedicated April to sexual abuse awareness month. And I did three shows where women just came on and told their stories.

“And it’s amazing how many women have either been molested or raped or abused on some level. And whether it was that, they were babysitting, and the dad that they trusted was like, ‘I’ll give you a ride home,’ or, even worse, family. It’s amazing how many people it’s affected.

“It’s amazing, the emotional and spiritual snares that come along with that kind of experience, where there’s shame, and there’s guilt, and you feel like it’s your fault, even years later. And how it transcends generations because these women become either ultra-protective of their kids or history possibly repeats itself.

“So having women come on and tell their stories was amazing. And the whole point of a mind-boggling jigsaw is how do you tell your story? How do you get your story out there?

“How do you take a narrative that doesn’t really belong to you and take possession over it and find strength in it and, ultimately, power and the ability to prevent it from happening again and arming other people with a positive story that you’ve risen from the ashes?”

“And you’re able to do this with your life, and you’re able to turn one thing into another thing for good. It’s real stuff, and Janet Jensen herself, the one that is in charge of the project, has an awful story, and she turned all that rage and shame into this really powerful foundation. And again, we’re just getting millions of dollars every year to fight this.”

It’s easy to throw your support behind someone like Kristoffer Polaha, and we’re here to follow him wherever he may lead. Be sure to follow him on Instagram with The Polaha Chautaqua, A Work of Art, and on his personal feed.

Jurassic World: Dominion is released in theaters on June 9, 2022, and Buried in Barstow premieres on Lifetime tonight at 8/7.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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