Actor Scott Goes the Distance with 'Saint Ralph' He's played Robert Benchley and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. He's been cast as an introspective dentist, an atomic scientist, a cop and Hamlet. Now, in the film Saint Ralph, Campbell Scott takes a turn as a priest coaching an unlikely marathoner.
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Actor Scott Goes the Distance with 'Saint Ralph'

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Actor Scott Goes the Distance with 'Saint Ralph'

Actor Scott Goes the Distance with 'Saint Ralph'

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The new movie "Saint Ralph" is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Ralph Walker, who sets out to win the 1954 Boston Marathon. Ralph's father is dead, his mother is in a coma and Ralph, not the least bit an athlete, is convinced that winning the marathon will be the miracle needed for her to recover. The story is set in a strict Catholic school in Hamilton, Ontario. The headmaster has ordered Ralph to run with the cross-country team as penance for his sins of self-abuse. The coach of the team is a young priest, Father Hibbert, played by actor Campbell Scott. Scott is in our New York bureau.

Thanks a lot for your time.

Mr. CAMPBELL SCOTT (Actor): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: How was the role of Father Hibbert described to you?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, not described, but the script I read, you know--and you always get your first impressions from that. And not only did I like--I mean, I've never played a priest before, that's for sure. And I did not go to Catholic school and was not raised under that faith or anything like that, so--but I'm always looking for things that I haven't done before, so that was--that's what intrigued me.

HANSEN: Hmm. And why did you want to play him? What did you see in his character?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, I mean, you--not only do you get the exoticism of playing a period priest, which is kind of intriguing to begin with, but also I like the coach-mentor position, too, the educator position. And I've never played that, either.

HANSEN: Do you run?

Mr. SCOTT: I ran here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: Actually, the writer-director, Michael McGowan, a Canadian man, in fact, won the Around the Bay, which is one of the big marathons up there in Ontario. So, yeah, he was writing, I think, from a little of his experience.

HANSEN: About the character itself, Father Hibbert, how much of himself do you think he sees in Ralph?

Mr. SCOTT: Probably a lot. There's a danger, of course, of living vicariously through young people who might be like you or have the same goals as you, but I think he had a pretty healthy attitude about it. And there's something great about a guy who can be in that position but not be a total authoritarian, be an encourager. Plus, for my money, when I first read it and when I met Michael and everybody involved--that great kid, Adam Butcher, who plays the lead--you know, has this great sense of humor to it, as well. It's less intense than it is funny, I think.

(Soundbite of "Saint Ralph")

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) You're wasting energy. Sit down.

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) Father Hibbert, when did you get here?

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) Just now. Do you think I'd miss the greatest upset in Boston Marathon history? Sit.

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) What about Father Fitzpatrick?

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) Yes. Well, we'll worry about him later. Are you ready?

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) Mostly.

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) Do you have faith you can win?

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) I do. I'm still not pure and I can't pray.

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) Well, if you promise not to take the lead until at least halfway, I can solve your purity problem.

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) How?

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) Do you promise?

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) Yes.

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) All right. All I have to do is hear your confession, then I can absolve you of your sins. And guess who's pure?

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) Father Hibbert, why didn't I think of that earlier? I could have been sinning all along.

Mr. SCOTT: (As Father Hibbert) That's not exactly in the spirit of reconciliation. Shall we do it now?

ADAM BUTCHER: (As Ralph) No. Let's wait until the last moment possible. Who knows what sins of thought might go through my head.

HANSEN: What is it--I mean, you said you liked the idea of the coach role and the mentor role and--I mean, in the 2002 movie, "Roger Dodger," you played kind of a smooth-talker who helps his teen-age nephew get girls. And Father Hibbert is a mentor, but obviously his goals are quite different.

Mr. SCOTT: Well, but I'm glad you said that. I mean, they're kind of the same role, but you know, obviously, "Roger Dodger's" the inverted version of it, you know, where in fact you kind of figure out that the young man--Jesse Eisenberg in that movie--is the adult of the two, you know, and Roger, my character, had a lot to learn. And in this one--you know, there's something always about those kind of authority figures. They're classic roles, you know, and I'm always looking for ways to undercut or approach that in a slightly different way than I think I've seen before.

HANSEN: How did you prepare for the role as a priest?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, once you put on the cassock, Liane, that about does it all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: No, I know nothing about, certainly, Catholic education, although I have some friends who went to Catholic school and etc. But part of that is what is attractive about the role. You know, you actually go in kind of wanting to surprise yourself, wanting to learn some things. And the fact that it's in the '50s, as well, again removes it in a way that makes it kind of like a research project, you know.

HANSEN: What's it like off set? I mean, if you're working with these teen-agers on screen and, obviously, you know, there's a life once the camera stops rolling, you know, do you two just part ways and go to your dressing rooms, or do you start playing, you know, Xbox together?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: I'm laughing because, first of all, I work on these movies that, A, there are no dressing rooms. Everybody goes and sits, really, 20 feet away from where the action is. And, B, there's very little time when the camera's not rolling because, you know, you're shooting it in 28 days.

But having said that, I've worked with young people a lot lately. You know, I had three daughters in "Secret Lives of Dentists." I had the great actor in "Roger Dodger," Jesse Eisenberg. I mean, for some reason, lately--and Adam in this movie--I have been exposed to working with the younger set a lot. And I have to say I've been incredibly lucky and I've also learned that sometimes it's better when they don't have any preconceived notions, 'cause then they feel like they're just doing this cool job, and the best thing to do is not treat them any other way but how you would another actor.

HANSEN: Do you still think acting is a cool job?

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah. Yeah, I do. But I think I'd rather do some other things most of the time. Yeah, I'd rather direct and produce things. There's no doubt.

HANSEN: How cliche is that, right?

Mr. SCOTT: I know. Isn't that terrible?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Campbell Scott plays the role of Father Hibbert in the movie, "Saint Ralph." He joined us from New York.

Thanks a lot.

Mr. SCOTT: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

HANSEN: And there are real-life stories of marathoners who overcame the odds at our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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