“Drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”: Esquire looks at what happened to Benedict Fitzgerald and his proposed prequel to The Passion of the Christ

benedictfitzgeraldThe Passion of the Christ was such a huge hit ten years ago that many people wanted a sequel. Mel Gibson never showed any interest in making one, but his screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald certainly did — or, to be more precise, Fitzgerald proposed making a prequel about the mother of Jesus, which he initially called Myriam, Mother of the Christ.

I have been keeping tabs on this film ever since it was first announced in January 2007, but the film itself has never been made. Instead, there have been persistent rumours and reports — the title has changed a couple times, and different actors were rumoured to be up for the part of Herod the Great, etc. — and now comes the wildest, craziest report of them all. Esquire magazine posted a story yesterday with the headline ‘How the Mother of All Sequels Crashed and Burned’, and it explains in some detail how Fitzgerald’s ambitions were derailed by “drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”. It also gets into his lawsuit against Gibson.

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The Battle of the Bible Films — the article’s up!

My article on the Bible-movie revival is now up at the Christianity Today website; it will also be in the print edition of the magazine. The article looks at the fitful attempts made by the studios to cash in on the success of The Passion of the Christ since it came out a decade ago, it looks at the three Bible movies coming out this year — Son of God, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings — and it looks at what might be next if Noah and Exodus are big-enough hits. It also includes soundbites from publicist Jonathan Bock, director Darren Aronofsky (Noah) and screenwriters Stuart Hazeldine (Paradise Lost, Gods and Kings) and Barbara Nicolosi (Mary).

Noah news round-up: the studio executives speak, what it all might mean for other Bible movies, and early Oscar buzz?

So, Noah had a great first weekend in North America and many other territories. How did it do so well? What are the film’s prospects going forward? And what does this bode for other possible Bible movies?

First, Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore — who attends a Vineyard church in Los Angeles — has given a few interviews commenting on how his studio beat some of the controversy that some people had whipped up in the months leading up to the film’s release.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he said a key “turning point” came when the studio openly admitted that the film was “inspired by” the Bible story but was not a “literal” version of it, whatever that would mean. He also commented on how the film has been received by different communities:
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Ben Kingsley as King Herod? Judi Dench as Anna?

Three months ago, the producers behind Mary Mother of Christ — a sort of “prequel” to The Passion of the Christ co-written by that film’s Benedict Fitzgerald and my fellow Patheos Movies blogger Barbara Nicolosi — said they were thinking of casting “one of England’s most famous Academy Award winners” as King Herod.

At the time, I noted that there are currently nine actors alive who are both (a) British and (b) Academy Award winners — and although I didn’t say so at the time, I had a feeling that the filmmakers might be talking to Ben Kingsley. For one thing, he is still quite active, unlike, say, the retired Sean Connery; for another, he has been involved with a number of modestly-budgeted Bible movies before, from the two-part TV-movies Joseph (1995) and Moses (1995) to the animated version of The Ten Commandments (2007).

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Peter O’Toole announces his “retirement” from acting

Peter O’Toole announced his retirement from acting yesterday, and I must admit I’ve been dwelling on Bible movies enough these past few days that my first thought was, “Well, I guess that’s another part that the makers of Mary Mother of Christ will have to re-cast!” O’Toole had been attached to play Symeon, the old man who was informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah (as per Luke 2).

It wasn’t the first time O’Toole had agreed to play a small part in a Bible movie. In the early days of his movie stardom, he played the angels who bring condemnation to Sodom and Gomorrah in The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), which I’ve always been inclined to see as sort of a meta-sequel in which O’Toole gets revenge for the rape his character endured in a similar Middle Eastern town in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). More recently, he played the prophet Samuel in the prologue to the Book of Esther adaptation One Night with the King (2006).

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Was going to play Joseph, now playing Jesus

Deadline.com reports that Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado will play Jesus in The Bible, a five-part mini-series being made for the History channel by Mark Burnett, a producer who is better known for his “reality TV” projects such as Survivor, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?.

Interestingly, Morgado was attached to another biblical project a few years ago, when it was announced that he would play Joseph in Mary Mother of Christ. But that film has gone through a few personnel changes in the last few years, and it’s possible that Morgado is no longer attached to that film either.

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