Actor Kristoffer Polaha is opening up about his journey to Christ, saying he explored the world’s religions and survived six years in a spiritual “wilderness” before God got his attention through a woman who eventually became his wife.
Polaha stars as the lead character in the new Angel Studios film The Shift -- which opens Dec. 1 -- and is perhaps best known for his roles in Jurassic World Dominion, Wonder Woman 1984, and a series of Hallmark Channel titles, including Mystery 101.
Polaha grew up in a faith-centric home under a Catholic father and a Pentecostal mom but says he drifted as a teenager and, around the age of 17, told God he was taking a “break” from praying.
“And I said, ‘So Lord, I'm not going to pray for six months, I'm just going to take a little break.’ And that six-month sojourn turned into the six years, sort of -- I call it my time in the wilderness. I just kind of wandered. I still identified as a Christian, but I wasn't behaving like a Christian.”
As a young adult, he joined a study-abroad program, Semester at Sea.
“And so when I was on this boat, I just wanted to see the whole world, and I wanted to study Shintoism and Buddhism and Islam and Judaism and ... Hinduism,” he told Christian Headlines. “I went to temples, and I listened to their prayers, and I talked to people. I was so curious. I became a student of world religion, because I wanted to understand. I [didn’t] want to just accept Jesus [only] because my parents did, and that was my culture.”
He was sailing across the world but drifting far from Christ.
“I apologize to all the women that met me in those six years of my life ... I was a selfish dude,” he said.
Two events radically changed his life.
First, he was walking down the sidewalk of New York City when an explosion nearly killed him.
“The fire marshal was like, ‘You should have been decapitated. It's a miracle that you're alive.’ And the moment that that happened, my prayer life was activated. And all of a sudden, I had this yearning to go to God. And I would say at night, ‘God, I want to go to You, I want to go to You. I want You in my life. And I was craving relationship.’”
The second event: meeting his future wife, the former Julianne Morris. She was an actress on Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. Before they met, Polaha says, he had been praying, “Lord … will You bring a woman into my life? Will You prepare my heart?”
“It was just an instant love at first sight,” Polaha told Christian Headlines. “... She was just such a smart, beautiful person, and came from this family where faith was the centerpiece. And all of a sudden, it was like faith in action. And that relationship became almost a metaphor for my relationship with God. And it started me on this journey of really wanting to dig in and understand my faith in a real way.”
Polaha’s faith was growing. Even then, though, he said he refused to hand his career to God.
That began to change during a series of conversations with actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) on the set of a series, Backstrom.
“And we would have these deep philosophical conversations about his faith, which is Baháʼí, and the Holy Spirit,” Polaha said. “And all of a sudden, the industry and the work that I was doing started to feel very foolish. And it started to kind of have an ashy taste. And my desire for it went away. And then, because of that, I would go on these auditions, and I didn't want the jobs that I was auditioning for. And then, before you know it, I'm not working. And then, before you know it, the money starts to go. And before you know it, you need to work.”
God was re-directing his career, although Polaha did not yet know it. Polaha would go on walks near his house and fall to his knees and pray, “Lord, whatever You want, I want what You want from me. And if it's a career in this business, open the doors. If it's not, take me where You want me, put me where You want me to go.”
Prior to his spiritual transformation, Polaha said, he had a goal of reminding “people of Marlon Brando when I acted.”
“I was like, that's such a stupid low bar. I would rather remind people of Jesus when I act. All of these revelations started popping [in my mind]. And one night, I was standing in my son's bedroom. ... We did the whole Bible that year. It was 2017. And I just prayed, and I said, ‘You know, Lord, my whole life, I've been able to give my kids' health to you and their lives and their futures.’”
Polaha, feeling selfish, prayed that God would take control of his career.
“What God wants, I've found, are these little tiny decisions in your heart,” he said. “Not big dramatic gestures, but like a heart change, or just a decision that you make quietly.”
Soon, Polaha was offered roles in Wonder Woman 1984 and Jurassic World Dominion. He also was given roles in Hallmark titles, including one -- Dater’s Handbook -- where he starred opposite Meghan Markle, the future Duchess of Sussex and daughter-in-law of the King of England.
“Hallmark was an answer to prayer because I was so desperate for cash,” Polaha said.
His mom, he said, had often asked, “Why don't you do faith films? Why don't you do things that are family-friendly?”
Polaha has starred in such faith-based films as Where Hope Grows and Run the Race.
His newest film, The Shift, is a modern retelling of the book of Job.
“I've always wanted to play characters that speak to the human struggle, and there's nothing more human than our desire to believe in something greater than ourselves,” he said. “... I'm always attracted to that theme because I think it is, honestly, the most important thing in all of our lives.”
Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.