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What did it take to persuade John Rhys-Davies to star in BYUtv's production of "Winter Thaw"?
Just one word.
"Tolstoy's name alone is enough, isn't it?" said the Welsh actor. "I remember the story. And this is a very good retelling of it. Not exactly the same, but it gets the nut of the truth of what Tolstoy was trying to say."
"Winter Thaw" is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's short story "Martin the Cobbler" aka "Where Love Is, God Is" a co-production of Provo-based Kaleidoscope Pictures and Lithuania's Baltic Film Service.
Rhys-Davies stars as Martin Avdeitch, a elderly shoemaker who, in 1885, has long since lost his faith in God after the death of his wife and his deep estrangement from his son.
"It's one of those great Tolstoy stories of the grinding poverty of imperial Russian," Rhys-Davies said. "The poverty that can lead to the poverty of the spirit as well. He's lost his faith. He's lost his wife. He's lost his son. He's lost any sense of joy. He's spiritually dead."
But Martin has a dream in which his late wife appears to him and says, "Be prepared He is coming to see you."
"It's ridiculous and he knows it. It's absurd," Rhys-Davies said. "And yet that little part of him that wants to believe the impossible is reanimated. That little flame of long-lost deep faith is rekindled."
The actor, whose career has included "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," all three "Lord of the Rings" movies, "Shogun," "Victor/Victoria," "The Living Daylights" and more than 100 other movies and TV shows, had nothing but praise for "Winter Thaw."
"The scenes are brilliantly written," he said of Joseph Clay and Russ Kendall's screenplay. "They're extraordinary, complete and touching, and they lead logically into the next and into the next."
"Winter Thaw" is a story of faith rekindled.
"It is first-rate," Rhys-Davies said. "It touches the heart. It is raw. And it edifies. And, yes, I think this could be a perennial."
It was filmed in Lithuania in February, and Rhys-Davies came to Utah in June to film additional material at Kaleidoscope's Provo headquarters background on Tolstoy and his writing.
"They have been merciless," the actor joked. "They have extracted every jot of creative juice out of me in this one brief day here.
"On a more serious vein, Kaleidoscope is a very good company to work with. They are delightful, they're hard-working, they're very serious, and they are intent on producing a really good quality film. It's infectious.
"I will say that every time I come to Utah, my spirits are uplifted. It's a very, very creative community."
He spoke fondly of his 2013 appearance in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas performance, which included flying on a wire as Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present.
"Those musicians and artists, they are unmatched," Rhys-Davies said. "And I speak as a Welshman who knows a good choir when he hears one."
Rhys-Davies had a similar experience on "Winter Thaw," praising his Lithuanian co-stars and director Adam Thomas Anderegg. And he offered "a little pat on the back of BYUtv as well, because this is a real quality show. It's something that BBC would be awfully proud of, if they'd done it.
"This production and the American component of it, they did themselves proud. They really did," Rhys-Davies said. "I think what we've got is a little jewel of a piece.
"This is one of those pieces that actually you set aside in that special little box and say, 'Yeah, I'm proud of that one.' "
'Winter Thaw' on TV
"Winter Thaw" premieres Thursday at 7 and 9 p.m. on BYUtv.