Casting Jesus

Did he really look like Brad Pitt?
Associated Press
Mar 7, 2014

They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can't be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.

But in the popular new film "Son of God," Jesus is so, well, easy on the eyes that some are revisiting an age-old question that has vexed scholars for centuries:

Did Jesus really look like Brad Pitt, only slightly better?

OK, that exact question hasn't vexed scholars for centuries. But those who study religion as portrayed in popular culture do note that depicting Jesus on the screen has always been a tricky business, one that balances weighty theological concerns — how divine to make the son of God, and how human? —with more earthly ones, like how best to sell movie tickets?

"Listen, films are big business," says Steven Kraftchick, professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. "They're probably not going to cast Jonah Hill as Jesus."

Not that Hill wouldn't provide an interesting spin. But the producers of "Son of God," Roma Downey (who also plays Jesus' mother Mary) and her husband Mark Burnett, were clearly going for something different when they chose the strapping, 6-foot 3-inch Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor who's dabbled in modeling, for "The Bible," their History channel miniseries. ("Son of God" is culled from footage shot for the series).

Downey won't deny her Jesus is good-looking — not that she'd get very far with that — but explains she was seeking a subtle mix of qualities. "Someone with strength, presence, charisma, tenderness, kindness, compassion and natural humility," she says. "Someone who could be both a lion AND a lamb."

Casting came down to the wire. A few weeks before shooting was to begin in Morocco, there was still no Jesus. Downey fired off an email to church and business contacts with the urgent header: "Looking for Jesus."

Salvation came from an unexpected place. In Ouarzazate, Morocco, a member of an advance team remembered an actor who'd been there more than a year earlier on a different project. He searched through hotel registries and found the name.

Not surprisingly, Morgado's looks have been a big part of the conversation ever since. "We not only found Jesus, we found 'Hot Jesus,'" Oprah Winfrey told him in a TV interview, referring to a Twitter hashtag about the actor.

"A hunkier Jesus than necessary," Variety noted in its review of the movie. The Hollywood Reporter called it "Jesus as pretty boy," and noted a resemblance between Morgado and the young Marlon Brando.

But box office is booming. "Son of God" came in a close second last weekend to Liam Neeson's "Non-Stop," beating out the blockbuster "Lego" movie.

To Morgado, it's all good. "Long after I'm gone, this is going to be my legacy," he said in a telephone interview. "So why should I worry about people calling me 'Hot Jesus'? I'm really proud of this movie."

His key acting challenge, Morgado notes, was getting that balance between divine and human: "It's a really tricky thing."

That's always been a problem, says Jeffrey Mahan, professor at the Iliff school of theology in Denver. "Jesus films go back to the very beginning of cinema, and there's always that tension between human and divine."

Mahan notes that "this isn't the first sexy Jesus on film." When Jeffrey Hunter played the role in the 1961 "King of Kings," he says, people dismissively dubbed it "I Was a Teenage Jesus," a reference to Hunter's youthful good looks (though he was in his 30s).

Some films, like the 1959 "Ben-Hur," avoided problems by not showing Jesus' face. Others, says Adele Reinhartz, author of "Jesus in Hollywood" and professor at the University of Ottawa, show a sanitized figure "that could have walked right out of a Renaissance painting." But they were always fairly good-looking: "These are marketing decisions."

The deeper problem with portraying Jesus, Reinhartz says, is that "to make a compelling movie character, you need flaws. And that doesn't fit into most conceptions of Jesus."

One exception was Martin Scorsese's 1988 "The Last Temptation of Christ," starring Willem Dafoe as a Jesus conflicted about his identity and experiencing earthly temptations, like lust. That didn't please everyone — a Christian fundamentalist group hurled Molotov cocktails at a Paris theater where it played.

Then there was Mel Gibson's 2004 "The Passion of the Christ," starring Jim Caviezel, an enormous hit which is deemed one of the most controversial films of all time, both because of its bloody depiction of the Crucifixion — Roger Ebert called it the most violent film he'd ever seen — and allegations of anti-Semitism.

Caviezel, Dafoe, Morgado — all give different interpretations, but they all look a certain way. None, for example, are dark-skinned, as some have speculated Jesus was. Others have noted that men of the time were significantly smaller than they are today.

"The fact is we just don't know how Jesus looked," says Kraftchick, at Emory. "How big was he? Did he have a speech defect?"

Downey, asked about the issue, points out that her Jesus is a Latino, and that in itself is groundbreaking. (The film is also being released in Spanish.)

What troubles Mahan is that heartthrob Jesus portrayals ignore that "Jesus was an outsider. And this 'pretty Jesus' is an attempt to make him sort of a celebrity. That isn't accurate according to the tone of the Gospels. "

Morgado says he's taking the long view.

"When I was in Jerusalem, I saw a man and a 10-year-old kid praying," he says. "And I looked at the kid and thought, 'Wow, I will be his visual and spiritual reference."

That's what producers are hoping.

"I think people who don't know Jesus will fall in love," Downey says. "And those who do know him will fall in love all over again."

 

Comments

From the Grave

He looks like everyone.

slightthroat212

@from the grave.....your post is the one that is right on....exactly!!!!! As he should

From the Grave

And, everyone looks like him.

DickTracey

Why would God let a movie about his son, only get a 24% rating?

thinkagain

Jesus Christ is the clearest picture of God revealing himself to us.

Jesus is the Word who was God.

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God"

Christians who have been spiritually born-again know that God is real.

Those with open-mindedness to the world’s ways are closed minded to spiritual matters. Christians have a tough call of revealing truth in love to a world that hates God.

If you want to have a personal relationship with God, He’s waiting.

44846GWP

thinkagain: If YOU want to get to Heaven you better change your ways. God does not like bigots. Ever hear "those who are without sin, cast the first stone". You cast plenty of stones. Don't be an ignorant bigot.

Truth2u

Sad that you don't know more about the bible before you spew your venom, zip code. Its obvious you have never read that passage or you would not have used it in this incident. I challenge you to read it and discover what Jesus was conveying to the crowd when he said that. At least you didn't misrepresenting the 'beam in your own eye' text, most leave out the rest of the paragraph which explains the topic.

Dr. Information

zip code has zero clue.

Contango

Nah. Everybody know that Jesus looked like Jeffery Hunter. :)

"The Real Face Of Jesus":

http://www.popularmechanics.com/...

holysee
SamAdams

Yeah, yeah, keep debating. Might as well discuss what Zeus looked like. In fact, I'm guessing that being a Greek god and all, Zeus was pretty hot, too...

coasterfan

Love love love Contango's and Sam's comments :)

Jesus, if he did exist, certainly would have looked like everyone else in that part of the world. He could've passed for a modern-day Saudi, Syrian or Palestinian. He most definitely would not have had blue eyes and Anglo features.

Re: thinkagain's comment... Those with close-mindedness to science and logic are open-minded to spiritual matters. That which can be believed without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

grumpy

Re: " That which can be believed without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

That is how many of us feel about what you put out as "facts" in many of your comments.

swiss cheese kat

LOL.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Jesus looked like whoever way paying to have him painted for their castle or cathedral. In the case of western and northern Europe, he was as you described. But as that became the global hotbed of culture, religion, politics, and colonialism...

The modern incarnation of this example of Jesus through the eye of the culture/beholder is with the memes of:

LOL Jesus: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/lo...

Raptor Jesus: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ra...

In order to convert Chinese to Christianity he has even been portrayed as someone from that region as well. Whatever is the best medium to carry the message since that is what is most important.

Google Image Search "Chinese Jesus": https://www.google.com/search?q=...

Contango

Re: "Jesus looked like whoever way paying to have him painted for their castle or cathedral."

IOW: "Jesus" is a metaphor.

My metaphor is better than your metaphor, and if you don't believe me, there will be consequences! :)

DickTracey

The next big Biblical movie is NOAH.

But get this, they are running a disclaimer at the start of the movie, that says, "not exactly the same story portrayed in the Bible". Wow.

At first I was like, WTH? Then I was like, Oh that's what the Catholics have been doing for years.

So Hollywood just ripped a page out of the Catholic directory. Glamorize your story, with a bunch of smoke and mirrors, spend a fortune and fill those seats.

slightthroat212

@DT....just think, we get a fat Russell Crowe as Noah I just can't imagine what this will be like. I didn't know he could count to 2

The Big Dog's back
Coram Deo

One thing we do know about Jesus' appearance is that he looked very, very ordinary. No hot Hollywood Jesus.

"1Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." Isaiah 53:1-3

Truth or Dare

My guess, he looked much like the people of his time. Certainly not fair haired w/blue eyes let alone anything physically special, at least to set himself apart from others, which is Scriptural. It Could explain why it took the "kiss of death" by Judas to identify Christ? Just a thought.

Truth2u

"For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." Isa 53:2

Jesus was a Jew, so He likely had dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair.

The more important question is what will Jesus look like when we stand before him at judgement day, torches in His eyes as described in Daniel or one of pleasure. It certainly wont be long until we all find out.

deertracker

Sammy Davis Jr. was a Jew too. Your point?

Contango

Davis was a convert.

Learn something:

http://www.geneticliteracyprojec...

Truth2u

.

Truth2u

The article is about what Jesus may have looked like, and my post shed some light on the fact that He probably didnt have blond hair or blue eyes.

And Davis wasn't a Jew by birth but by conversion. He was born a Catholic. Im not surprised he didn't also become Italian since he hung around so many of them.

Dr. Information

Jesus was a jew. I know plenty of Jews from the homeland and most are fairer skinned and dark hair.

He definitely was not black as some like to say.

Nevertheless, its a movie. God does not control mans free will or there would be no wrong in this world.

Contango

Re: "God does not control mans free will,"

Speaking of "free will":

Adam was a wuss who ratted out his lady.

http://www.kingjamesbibleonline....

Little wonder that Jesus had a messiah complex; he was raised by a single mom who doted on him.

SamAdams

Re: "Little wonder that Jesus had a messiah complex; he was raised by a single mom who doted on him."

...and was obviously of mixed race; had a well-obscured childhood; wandered around with no real citizenship; spent his life community organizing and telling others how they ought to live, all while he himself was making and breaking rules willy nilly; professed great love but threatened hellfire for any deviations or transgressions from rules to which he himself thought he was immune; and though he knew how it was going to end, seemed afraid, disappointed, and all but unbelieving when it all DID end badly.

Hmmm...sound like anybody ELSE we all know? Except for the ending, of course which hasn't yet played out in the present day but which is also certain to be very, VERY bad! Unfortunately, though only one man was truly punished in the original story, we'll be awfully lucky if it's only the instigator who suffers this time around!

Contango

Re: "though he knew how it was going to end,"

The Church and the scribes couldn't sanitize the whole Jesus story:

"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves." (MT 21:12)

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (MT 10:34)

"For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--" (MT 10:35)

"He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'" (LK 22:36)

Any wonder that he scared the sh*t outa the Romans and that they executed him?

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