In the Sony/Affirm Films release Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman soldier on the hunt for the body of Christ, actor Cliff Curtis (Fear the Walking Dead, Training Day, The Last Airbender) plays the source of the investigation, Yeshua. Currently starring in the television series Fear the Walking Dead and recently announced as the lead in the Avatar sequels, Curtis reflected on the “blessing” of participating in the film with Reel Faith’s DeWayne Hamby.
You are the second “Jesus” actor I’ve interviewed, the first being Jim Caviezel. Your Jesus was very different, not somber, but warm and inviting, and smiling. Was this your own interpretation?
Yes, that was pretty much my interpretation. I took a practical approach in that He had been through a huge experience of suffering on the physical body and the fear that we all live through day by day, the garden, the betrayal. I figured to be released from the pain and the suffering, to be free of that would be a really beautiful feeling. He would feel elated and in love with life. I think my interpretation is that this is the hope that He wants to bring to the world. It’s a happy feeling, it’s a warm feeling, that there isn’t anything to be afraid of, that there is life beyond our fear. There was something very beautiful and human about that. I also wanted to do something that I could understand because I can’t pretend to know what it is to be a divine being, because I’m certainly not. I’m a normal guy. But I wanted to relate to that time, something that I feel confident I could portray.
The way you portrayed him definitely was someone that people would be drawn to. He was a friendly person who had charisma rather than stoic. Your version definitely showcased His personality.
I wanted to relate to Him as a human being in that His feet touched the earth and He ate here and lived among common man and women. He lived among ordinary people and He had affections for the working class, the fisherman, the builder, the tax collector. Those were the people He embraced. He wasn’t wining and dining with kings. He wasn’t looking for the wealthy and the powerful and a life of luxury. I come from the working class and I wanted to portray that.
I heard from Joseph Fiennes and producer Paul Aiello about the way you got into character and the vow of silence you took while filming.
I didn’t know to approach the role. I sort of figured that I needed to approach it with humility and respect. I didn’t want to bring my ego to the role. So I thought it would be appropriate to do some type of ‘cleansing,’ a vow of silence. I’m a pretty normal guy. I talk about nonsense most of the time and pretty normal affairs. I didn’t think that was appropriate for the role. I needed to be respectful of what the role was. For me, it was a cleansing process to be in a state that was more spiritual, more finely attuned than I normally am. I hope that would be conveyed, that I wouldn’t be pretending in front of the camera, that I would really have a different state of being.
When you approach someone like Jesus, was there any fear or hesitation about portraying such a central figure?
To be honest, the fear came after the casting. When the role came along, I was so excited, because I grew up Christian and I always thought one day I would play Jesus and wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. I was so excited and I didn’t really have a moment to be fearful. I was just so happy. But when I completed the film, I thought I hoped I didn’t mess up. I thought about Jim Caviezel and the other actors who have had different interpretations that are very beautiful, amazing. It’s a supporting role in the movie in terms of time on screen. I guess I wanted to make the most of enjoying it. It was something special and I was very, very blessed, just reflecting on Christ. It was an amazing time for me spiritually to have that time allocated. I wish I could do another one. I was so abundantly blessed.