TORONTO – ‘If this guy could do it, I’ve at least gotta try.’
That was Josh Cruddas’s motivation in March during the filming of a short biopic on Nova Scotia and Canadian marathon legend Johnny Miles that will be released in the fall.
Cruddas, who plays Miles in the picture, said he didn’t know too much about Miles’s upbringing until he was named to the role by director/writer Michael Melski. He said the more he read about the historic marathon runner the more intriguing the role became.
“It was just that he went through so much as a kid, in terms of working in a coal mine for four years as a child, which is something to me that is incomprehensible,” he said. “I don’t think kids these days in the Western world are accustomed to that, so the fact that he was able to overcome that upbringing – although he had loving parents – just the situation where he was breathing in all this black coal dust for so much of his childhood and then going out to win two Boston Marathons, going to the Olympics and having this natural determination to overcome the physical struggle that he went through in order to do that.”
When he was 11 years old Miles was forced to take a job in the coal mines in Cape Breton, where his family had moved to make a living early in his life. His father had left to fight in World War 1, so this is where he worked for over three years until his father came home.
It was then that he started to pursue running, although according to a Boston Globe report it wasn’t for the fitness or glory, it was for the prizes.
According to that same Globe report his first prizes, for a third-place finish, were a hundred-pound bag of flour and a desk lamp. As he continued to run his passion to be the best and win bigger events grew.
In 1925 he became the Canadian 5-mile champion, but his most shocking victory came in 1926 when he won the Boston Marathon. He had only run 26 miles once before this marathon, but shocked the running world, who expected either Clarence DeMar or Albin Stenroos to win the race.
Three years later he won the Boston Marathon again, making him the only Nova Scotian to win the event twice.
Filming the biopic, which took place in Mount Uniacke and Chedabucto Bay, was somewhat of a challenge for Cruddas, who said that it was his first time playing a real-life person, at least not playing a role based on someone. His biggest role so far in his early career was in “Copperhead,” although he has a minor role in an upcoming episode of “Rookie Blue.”
Melski approached Cruddas for the role because his build and facial features are similar to that of Miles. That made that aspect of the role easy, but knowing the impact Miles had in Nova Scotia and around the world made him ensure he was as true in his emotions as possible.
“Johnny Miles and I have a similar build and facial structure, but just playing someone like that there is no room to be anything less than 100 per cent honest because the camera will pick up anything that I don’t believe in 100 per cent or anything that I don’t inhabit as an actor, the camera will pick it up,” said Cruddas. “You have to be so real and do all your research and all your homework, so that was certainly a challenge.”
Portraying the struggles Miles went through during his training was easy in one regard as the filming in March came with rain, snow, hail and high winds. In another way it made it more difficult for saying lines and being able to remain focused on the character.
“We shot in early March, so it was still quite cold and we were dealing with snow, rain, hail and high winds,” he said. “The physical aspect of trying to say lines, while I’m literally trying to create sweat in a time when it was very cold. We would pour water over my hair and my head, which was another physical obstacle to overcome, but any time I thought ‘oh man, this is tough,’ you just realized that after every shot I could go under a coat or warm up in a car.”
Miles was known for his quirks, which included running in shorts in the winter, using a composite of olive oil and wintergreen to prevent frostbite. He was also known for running behind his horse-drawn wagon when he was working for a co-op store, as stated in a 2003 Boston Globe piece on Miles.
Cruddas said he couldn’t imagine that sort of training, going back to the fact that he was able to take breaks and warm up when the weather became too much.
“Johnny Miles when he would’ve been running at the exact same time of year many, many years ago was running for 26 miles and running straight through,” he said. “There’s no stopping or getting warm. There’s no coffee waiting. Anything that we had (during the filming), he didn’t have.”
There is no official release date for the short biopic, which the production team hopes to show to the public during film festivals beginning in the fall.
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