Former Eagle Jeremiah Trotter never wanted to star in a movie - even after he had agreed to do so. But a friend of his working on The North Star, the story of two escaped slaves who make their way to Bucks County, was persistent, and Trotter found himself in front of the camera.
Director Thomas K. Phillips, a Bucks native, also is launching an educational component to the film. Phillips, who makes his feature debut with The North Star, is writing a young-adult novel with Central Bucks West High School teacher Katherine Good as a companion to the film that will have a lesson plan for students.
"Our children need to know where they came from," Phillips said.
In The North Star, Trotter plays Benjamin "Big Ben" Jones, who escapes with his friend Moses Hopkins (Thomas C. Bartley) to make his way from Virginia to Buckingham.
Phillips, who wrote the screenplay based on a story he heard as a kid about Doylestown's role in the Underground Railroad, was looking for an actor who had not only the 6-foot-10 frame necessary to play Big Ben (Hollis Thomas had been in talks), but the personality of the sweet hero as well. Trotter, too, saw himself in the "humble, Christian" Ben.
The North Star shoot took 24 days, at 14 locations. Phillips said he could not have completed it without the generosity of the people of Bucks County, who jumped at the chance to donate equipment and shooting locations, much in the style of those who aided Big Ben and Moses on their journey.
"I was nervous," said Trotter, 38. "When you finish football, you're always looking for things that will push you to compete. Taking on this role allowed me to compete every single day to bring out the character or help the team."
(Despite his hesitance, Trotter considers himself quite a movie buff. His favorites? The classic Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America and - surprise - Pretty Woman. "It's how I fell in love with Julia Roberts.")
Trotter said he got to use some of his football skills on the set. He studied the script like a playbook and put his considerable heft to work when it came to the more physical scenes in the movie.
"It seemed like the entire movie I was carrying someone," he said, laughing. "I asked the director when someone was going to carry me."