Blair Underwood's Humbling, Exhilarating, Exciting, Daunting Role

The actor known for roles in 'L.A. Law' and 'Sex and the City' talks about voicing the role of Jesus in a new audio Bible.

BY: Interview by Michael Kress

 
Blair Underwood Photo

"The Bible Experience" features such megastars as Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and Angela Bassett, but it is Blair Underwood who nabbed the central role of Jesus in this audio CD of the New Testament. Underwood is perhaps best known for TV roles on "L.A. Law," "Sex and the City," and "The New Adventures of Old Christine." "The Bible Experience" is the second time he's played Jesus, following his 1992 role in the short film "The Second Coming." Since its release in October 2006, "The Bible Experience" has sold more than 250,000 copies. The Old Testament is scheduled to be released this fall.



Underwood spoke with Beliefnet about how he prepared to play the role of Jesus and about the place of faith, family, and prayer in his own life.



Listen to Scenes from "The Bible Experience":
The Birth of Jesus
John Baptizes Jesus
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Listen to Blair Underwood :
Portraying Jesus in 'The Bible Experience'
His Personal Faith Journey
On Being a Child of God
Sharing His Prayer Life

Can you tell us a more about both your experiences playing the role of Jesus, in the short film and now the audio Bible?



The movie 13 years ago was a movie called "The Second Coming." It was a short film, and what's sad about short films is they don't have much of a life outside of film festivals. But that's okay.



"The Bible Experience" is an audio Bible which has about 300 different voices of entertainers, singers, actors, actresses, clergymen and women, personalities. I haven't checked lately, but I think it's outsold, I believe, any audio Bible in terms of the rapidity of sales.



In the first five minutes of recording it, it just hit me like a ton of bricks that the reason I did the film 13 years ago--which I produced with my brother Frank Underwood, and I directed, as well, so it came from my spirit, or my soul, and my passion in wanting to make a statement--but I realized the reason for that [movie] was not for the life of that project, that 30-minute short film. It was solely in preparation for "The Bible Experience," which I didn't know until "The Bible Experience" made itself known to me.



How does it feel to play Jesus?

Portraying Jesus in 'The Bible Experience'

It is overwhelming, of course. It is humbling. It is exciting. It is exhilarating. It is daunting. But, more than anything, it's humbling, I think, more than any of those. 



I think what I learned 13 years ago was to just release and let go, and not think too much about it. In other words, open up your heart, open up your soul, open up my spirit, and let God use you, as opposed to trying to control it with my head and with my heart. And once I released that angst, I've gotten to the point where it's more humbling than anything to allow God to use you, to [use] whatever gifts he has blessed me with, in this respect, spiritually, vocally, your physical tool that he gives you. Those are all his gifts from him, so to be able to use that and give it back to him is most profound to me.



How do you prepare for a role like that? It seems quite daunting.



It is. A lot of reading, a lot of studying, and a lot of praying, more than anything. The reality is, you can't read all the books written on Jesus. You can't. You can only study but so much. You really have to [look] inward and speak to your soul, and open up your soul and try to connect to that higher being, which I do my whole life anyway. But in terms of preparing for the role, it's really digging deeper inwardly than doing research outwardly.



I'm assuming you don't approach this like just another role. Is it more of an act of faith than a professional endeavor?



It is solely an act of faith. I would not have the audacity to diminish this exercise, if you will, as just another role, as just another gig. It's too personal to me, first of all, and it's too personal to millions of people all over the world.



We live in a day and age with technology. What you do today, what you put on film or on tape, is in cyberspace immediately. And this project, especially, is designed to do just that. It will be on iPods and iTunes, and on the internet. It's designed for that kind of technology. So these performances of all the people on this "Bible Experience"--like anything with technology today, but this, more than anything--will last, and it'll last long, long after I'm long gone.



What does the Bible mean to your life?



The Bible to me is a blueprint of how to live your life and a blueprint of how to treat others and seek that connection to that higher being. But, in simple form, it's a blueprint.



And what is the role that faith plays in your life?



His Personal Faith Journey

Jeez, where do I start? I would not be able to exist without an understanding of faith in my life. I'm married 13 years and we have three young kids, and we teach them all the time about the importance of faith in a higher power. It's not unlike what I was referring to before in preparation to play the role of Jesus. It's all about letting go. It's all about having an understanding, and that's where the blueprint comes in, to understand the structure and the ways and means of how to find that connection. But it is ultimately about that connection and that faith in that connection [to] that higher power, that higher source, that God, that God source.



It releases the weight of trying to do it all for yourself, feeling like you have to understand it all yourself. You can't understand it. And when I say "it," I mean life. You can't understand life, the meaning of life, why we are here, why we're here day to day, what is our purpose, our individual and our collective purpose on earth. Those questions, those huge questions of life, they're too huge to try to understand in its wholeness and also just incrementally, day by day. So, what faith does is, it gives me a connection to say, "You know what? I'll understand what I can understand, and then God will give me the direction to go where I need to go from there."



And how would you describe your relationship with God?



On Being a Child of God

I see it very much as a very healthy, childlike connection to a father who is loving, who is giving, who is consistent, who is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all of those things.



I feel very blessed in my life to have a very healthy relationship with a very loving, earthly father. That's why fatherhood--parenthood, but fatherhood especially--is so important that it's done correctly. Because if a father's not in a child's life in a positive way, and in a healthy way, then that child has no point of reference, no barometer to what a father should be. So if you don't have that understanding, then you have no understanding of what a heavenly father should be.



I say that to say that I feel blessed to have had that in my personal, physical life on earth. So that's how I see my relationship with my heavenly father, with God in heaven--as someone to look to if I want to look for guidance, to feel comfortable with my thoughts, my actions, someone to be accountable to.


Continued on page 2: 'I enjoy going as dark as human nature...' »

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