Back in 2011, an independent movie I did called Collaborator was accepted into the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic. Martin Donovan, who wrote, directed, and starred (along with me) in it, was excited, because it’s a very big festival in Europe. I had never heard of it—but it turned out to be maybe my favorite festival I’ve ever been to.
A part of the deal with going there was that I could bring two of my children with me. My daughter Eliza and son Ben joined me, and we flew from Philadelphia, where we live, to Frankfurt, and then to Prague. Before driving to Karlovy Vary, we spent a day exploring Prague. We stayed in an old monastery converted into a hotel and did a walking tour of the city, including up to the castle on the hill and to the opera house, where we went out on the roof and looked out over the city. It was fantastic.
The next day, we drove two hours to Karlovy Vary, which is strangely magical. It’s a spa town with colorful buildings like nothing you’ve ever seen, and the festival blew me away. People with no money travel from all over Europe—they hitchhike or take trains, and they bring sleeping bags and tents and camp out in a huge stadium on the edge of the city. If the films aren’t sold out, people can buy tickets for basically a euro. There was a real love of film there.
Martin and I did all of our promotion, everything went really well, and we had this great camaraderie with the security people, who had been Special Forces and served with Americans in Afghanistan. And then my kids and I flew back to Philadelphia. The end.
Except not quite: I’d been home for maybe two hours when Martin called, saying, “I have good news, and I have bad news.” I said, “OK, what’s the good news?” And he said, “You won Best Actor at the festival.” And I said, “Well, that’s exciting.” And then came the bad news: “They want you to get on a plane right now and fly back for the award ceremony tomorrow.” My other son Sam hadn’t been able to go with us before, so my wife said that I could go as long as I took him and Ben with me. The festival agreed, so we headed right back to the airport.
Now, this festival is basically like their Oscars. The ceremony is nationally televised, and in order to get there in time I couldn’t miss my connection to Prague. Of course, I missed my connection to Prague.
At the Frankfurt airport I found a pay phone and called to tell them I wasn’t going to make it. The assistant said, “No, let me figure something out,” and eventually got us on another flight to Prague, but the broadcast began while we were in the air, and I figured there was no way we were going to make it; we still had the two-hour drive to Karlovy Vary.
When we landed, though, the Special Forces guys were waiting for us on the runway in these two huge Audis. I won’t tell you how fast we were going through the countryside, but what they said was, “We’ve only done this three times in our history: The first time was for the pope, and the second time was for Madonna. Now we’re doing it for you.”
Miraculously, the broadcast was still going on when we got to Karlovy Vary. They kept changing when Best Actor would be announced in hopes that I would get there in time. I jumped out of the car and started taking off my clothes, and I went behind some curtains and pulled on my tuxedo. They let me in through a side door, and I slinked into my seat as they were announcing the second-to-last award. I was still catching my breath when they announced my name as Best Actor, and I got up and gave a speech. It was amazing. After the show, my son Ben said, “What’s the point of going to sleep? We have to get up at 4 in the morning to fly home anyway. Let’s explore the town.” So we did. The Special Forces guys even let the two boys—who had just gotten their driver’s licenses—drive the big Audis around. Finally, we headed to the airport in Prague and flew home.
That time, we stayed.
Tony- and Emmy-nominated actor David Morse can currently be seen on Broadway in How I Learned to Drive.