“It’s very different than anything else I’ve done,” said Argentinean actor Juan Pablo Di Pace, who plays Jesus in the 12-episode NBC series “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” premiering Easter Sunday, April 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. “I was talking before about the simplicity of approaching it and stripping everything away, because you owe it to Him. That honesty has to be there. The openness, the way that He communicated these huge concepts in such a beautiful and simple way.”
Produced by spouses Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the series — the followup to their blockbuster History Channel miniseries “The Bible” — begins at the trial and Crucifixion of Christ and continues through (SPOILER ALERT!) the Resurrection and the founding of the Church by Peter and the rest of the Apostles.
“There’s no basis for playing it,” said Di Pace, speaking to me in a corner of a party at a press event in January in Pasadena, California. “No one actually says how He felt. There is no description of what He was thinking at that particular moment, and the thought process and how He felt when they had to crucify Him, and He had to just take it.
“He believed in what He was doing, but of course, he was a man. He doubted it. I love the idea that there is a very small moment when He looks up at the sky, and He says, ‘Why have you forsaken me?'”
Although he began his acting career in the U.K. and has lived there and in Europe, Di Pace is a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, home nation of the current pontiff, Pope Francis.
Asked what is most Argentinean about the pope, Di Pace said, “That he’s incredibly personal. He will hug you. When my mother met him, he gave her a hug, and it was like old friends. I don’t imagine a pope doing that.”
Di Pace’s mother is religious painter Marta Maineri, who named her third son after Pope John Paul II.
“She came to the shoot,” said Di Pace. “She was at the Crucifixion, my own mother. I called her before, and I said, ‘I was auditioning for a part, auditioning for Jesus.’ She said, ‘Oh, Juan Pablo, you couldn’t be Jesus. You’re not ready to play Jesus.’ ‘That’s harsh.’ When I got the part, I said, ‘Mom, I got Jesus. I’m playing it.’ She’s like, ‘I knew it.’ I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ ‘I was preparing you.’
“She came in handy at that moment, because it didn’t feel like I did enough of what it takes to get the role, and I didn’t feel ready until I was. It wasn’t a matter of preparation more than a matter of feeling it, which is not … how do you build Jesus?
“I did not want to be sublime, holy, you know. There is a lot of respect, a lot of honoring the part, but at the same time, I think what I wanted to get out of Jesus was a very real man, a very simple, real man. I had to strip everything away and try to find that focus. It’s all about focus.”
In Part 2 — click here for that — Di Pace discusses what it’s like to shoot the Crucifixion scene.
Image: Courtesy LightWorkers Media/NBC