From Page to Screenplay: About The Young Messiah

Rice has gone on record to say that Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is her favorite book that she's written, so the Nowrastehs were unsurprisingly nervous to hand over the script draft for her to read. "We showed her the script and she couldn't have been more enthusiastic and effusive. It was a huge relief," Betsy laughs. "For all of the changes we made, she saw that we understood the story. All the themes were intact and all the basic moves were from her material and the characters. We were faithful in all the ways that I think she hoped we'd be faithful to it, knowing that there would be changes. It's very personal to her — and it is to us, too. We all felt a kinship and there was something very devotional about it in a way. We wanted to respect that."

Cyrus adds, "I want this to be a faith-affirming movie because I have been touched by the experience of working on this. Telling this story and what it has to say and what it's about are things that I think are very dear to many, many people, not just Christians. Family and faith are universal. Each of us brings something different to it and will take away something different from it. I just hope the audience thinks it's a beautiful story and that it was worth the experience to go and watch it."

Casting a Famous Family

"This movie really hangs on a young child," says director Cyrus Nowrasteh. Knowing that his producing partners at 1492 Pictures — Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe — had cast children very successfully in some of the biggest family films of all time including Harry Potter, Home Alone, and Percy Jackson, Nowrasteh was keen on their participation in the process.

"Whenever you have a child at the center of a movie, the greatest challenge becomes finding that actor," says producer Michael Barnathan. "We had casting directors in the U.K., Italy, Jordan, Israel, the United States, and one that was looking everywhere else in the world. We knew that we had to find that child who instantly — by looking at him, hearing him — captures the innocence and the intelligence that the character should have. This is a child who is a product of God and man so the child had to be special, had to have a spirit in his eyes. You know it when you see it."

Nowrasteh estimates that including self-tapes he looked at 2000 boys for the part. "Then I got a call from our casting director, Suzanne Smith in London, who told me that a little boy, Adam Greaves-Neal, had just walked in who made the hair stand up on the back of their necks." Nowrasteh flew to London to meet with him. "When he came into the room, it was immediately and powerfully evident to me that he was a very special young boy," he reflects.

Nowrasteh decided to send Chris Columbus a tape of Adam, along with tapes of four other boys that he thought were pretty good. The response was immediate: "He said that no one else came close to Adam."

"Adam leapt off the screen," Barnathan recalls of seeing those initial tapes. "He has this ability to focus and that quality where he seems like he's been here before. He's older than his years and he embodies that beauty that we imagine Jesus would have had as a child."

Adam, just nine years old at the time he was cast, approached this monumental role the only way he could without feeling overwhelmed. He explains, "To me, I don't think about it being 'Jesus.' I just think, I'm a boy that can do good and surprising things."

With the role of the young Jesus finally cast, the filmmakers looked to the rest of the family. They felt strongly about casting relative unknowns in order to immerse the audience in this world and to give the feeling that the people on screen are this family. They started with Mary and Joseph and faced the arduous task of finding actors who could embody one of the most famous relationships in history.

"You want to make sure that the people you're picking for this incredibly iconic couple are going to fit, that they'll be a good match," says Nowrasteh.

Sara Lazzaro, an Italian actress raised in both Italy and the U.S. was cast as Mary. "She's the most important female character in the history of mankind so it was a bit daunting," she says. Lazzaro found herself immediately thinking, "How would people imagine Mary?"

She notes, "I grew up in Italy and I have an art degree, so I grew up seeing all of the Madonnas. There's a part of you that wants to fulfill an image of what people perhaps would like to see, but at the same time with the script I was entitled to step away from that. In this period, she does not know what is coming next. I see her as a young mother, just trying to do the right thing, as much as she knows what right is for herself and her family."

When it came to the casting of Joseph, Nowrasteh says that he always wanted to find a strong Joseph, something that traditionally hadn't been portrayed before on-screen. He found that quality in Irish-born actor Vincent Walsh. "Joseph is the rock. He's been misportrayed I think in a lot of movies in the past. He was just wallpaper; the guy hanging around pulling the donkey," Nowrasteh laughs. "In The Young Mesiah, we wanted someone who you could believe was this man, a carpenter who's been given this task, this journey with Mary to raise and protect this special child. Vincent Walsh looked to me to be both protective and accessible. At the same time he has to have a very sensitive, very human side as well as the masculine iconic side."

3/7/2016 5:00:00 AM
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