Are the actors who play Jesus getting older?

Are the actors who play Jesus getting older? May 10, 2016

jesus-40s-2

The Bible says Jesus was “about thirty” when he began his earthly ministry, and most of the actors who have played him onscreen have been in their 30s as well.

To cite some key examples (note: the numbers indicate how old the actors were when the films came out; they might have been younger when the films were shot):

  • 1912 — From the Manger to the Cross — Robert Henderson Bland — 36
  • 1916 — Intolerance — Howard Gaye — 38
  • 1954 — Day of Triumph — Robert Wilson — 35
  • 1961 — King of Kings — Jeffrey Hunter — 34
  • 1965 — The Greatest Story Ever Told — Max von Sydow — 35
  • 1969 — Son of Man — Colin Blakely — 38
  • 1971 — Johnny Got His Gun — Donald Sutherland — 35
  • 1976 — The Passover Plot — Zalman King — 34
  • 1977 — Jesus of Nazareth — Robert Powell — 32
  • 1979 — Jesus — Brian Deacon — 30
  • 1980 — The Day Christ Died — Chris Sarandon — 37
  • 1985 — A.D. Anno Domini — Michael Wilding Jr. — 32
  • 1988 — The Last Temptation of Christ — Willem Dafoe — 33
  • 1993 — The Visual Bible: Matthew — Bruce Marchiano — 37
  • 2003 — The Gospel of John — Henry Ian Cusick — 36
  • 2004 — The Passion of the Christ — Jim Caviezel — 35
  • 2013 — The Bible — Diogo Morgado — 32
  • 2015 — Killing Jesus — Haaz Sleiman — 35
  • 2015 — A.D. The Bible Continues — Juan Pablo di Pace — 34
  • 2017 — The Shack — Aviv Alush — 34

Occasionally the actors have skewed somewhat young, and were in their 20s:

  • 1964 — The Gospel According to St. Matthew — Enrique Irazoqui — 20
  • 1973 — Jesus Christ Superstar — Ted Neeley — 29
  • 1999 — Mary, Mother of Jesus — Christian Bale — 25
  • 1999 — Jesus — Jeremy Sisto — 25

But lately, it seems casting directors have been gravitating towards older actors:

  • 2015 — Last Days in the Desert — Ewan McGregor — 43
  • 2016 — Risen — Cliff Curtis — 47
  • 2016 — 40 Nights — DJ Perry — 45
  • 2016 — Ben-Hur — Rodrigo Santoro — 40

And the producers of Mary Magdalene are thinking of casting Joaquin Phoenix, who turns 42 this year and could be 43 by the time the film is actually released.

Admittedly, none of these actors have set any records. The oldest Jesus in a major film that I know of is H.B. Warner, who was 51 when The King of Kings came out in 1927.

And then there is The Visual Bible’s Bruce Marchiano, who has kept on playing Jesus in other films — two of which came out last year, when he turned 59.

But still: it seems like there’s a curious pattern here in this year’s Jesus movies.

P.S.: Ten years ago I took a look at the ages of actresses who have played Mary, too.

May 13 update: Many thanks to Mark Pedro for tracking down Robert Wilson’s date of birth. Wilson may look fairly old, but he was 35 when Day of Triumph came out.

— The pictures above are from Ben-Hur, Risen and Last Days in the Desert.

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