Creating a character – Jesus of Nazareth, part 1
How fast the acting career is starting to ramp back up!
I’ve accepted a role in an upcoming Christian mini-series, in which I will be playing Jesus Christ. I have to say, coming off of the role of Leroy Jenkins in Bad Seed, this was literally swinging from one side of the pendulum to the other in pretty short order.
As a lifelong Christian, I guess I could say it’s the role of a lifetime, but it’s also one I’m very nervous to do. Not because I think I lack the ability to portray Jesus in some passable way, but because I want to do it with the utmost seriousness and gravity, and as much as I can infuse into such a titanic character, authentic humanity. It is no small matter to be asked to portray the founder of the Christian faith, the savior and messiah to literally millions of people, and the source of so much controversy.
Oh sure, it can be done in a stereotypical way, but that isn’t going to cut it here. For one thing, this series is set in the present, and Jesus is coming to people in each episode at a very dark moment in their lives. But he doesn’t arrive on a cloud or with angels blowing trumpets. In fact, at first, they don’t recognize him as Jesus, but come to see who he is during their encounter. So the Jesus I am asked to play has to be a mix of Godly and human; one of otherworldly power and majesty, but also just another face in the crowd. In many ways, just like he really was (and is), for those of us who believe.
I have to say I am surprised that I was cast in the role in the first place, because I’m not really the type to play Jesus. I’m 6’1″ and a pretty muscular 230 pounds right now. I’m 10 years older than Jesus was at the time of the crucifixion, and my hair is graying and thinning (not to mention how much white is in my beard already). Originally I auditioned for a smaller part, that of a pastor, but just like the role I tried out for in Bad Seed, the director had other things in mind. Now, instead of being in one episode in a minor role, I am the only cast member to appear in all six, and am basically the “lead” of the series.
(As a quick aside, the fact that I think I’m right for a certain role, only to have directors take me in entirely different directions than I expected, might need to be examined a little. I may have a wrong impression of my “type” of part, which could limit my success going forward, if I put myself up for the wrong roles.)
This will also be the first time in more than 20 years that I have acted for the camera, so I will likely post about the prep for that task, and about my experiences with movie making as compared to stage work.
Anyway, how does one play, authentically, the Son of God? How does one even go about getting started? I plan to use this space to write out my character study and my choices as an actor.
This role will force me to make some pretty drastic physical changes, too. The easy one, growing out my hair, has already started. (I’m still not sure it’ll work, though, but we’ll see.) The beard will start in two weeks for an anticipated first shoot in late April. But I also want to slim down before the project starts, so I’ll detail a little of that process, also.
In some ways, I’ll approach this character just like I would any other, but because I have so much history and literature upon which to draw, plus the obvious global view of how he looked and acted, creating a back story isn’t going to be my job this time. I also don’t intend to lean toward one denomination’s view of him over another. He won’t be necessarily the Catholic Jesus any more than he will be the Mormon one. There is no way to win that argument. Instead, I want to get, as much as is humanly possible, into the head of the real historical Jesus – the one who walked the streets in Jerusalem, labored along with Joseph as a carpenter, who saw the sick and poor and felt overwhelming compassion, and who saw and despised the religious hypocrites in his day. And as much as possible, I want to find it in me to play a man who loved the world’s people so much, he was willing to lay down his life in a truly horrific way to save us all.
In many ways, this character study will be a Bible study and a historical journey; a chance to deepen my own understanding of the carpenter from Nazareth, and perhaps, to grow my personal relationship with him along the way.
I look forward to the challenge.
In Part 2, I will detail my initial decisions, as well as the resources I’ve decided to use to help with my understanding of the man that Jesus was.