The Nativity, '100 Percent Without Cynicism'

'The Nativity Story' director and screenwriter discuss the joys and challenges of filming one of the most famous stories ever.

Though the "The Nativity Story" looks to the gospels of Matthew and Luke as its primary source material, someone had to take those passages and forge them into a modern movie. That job fell to screenwriter Mike Rich and director Catherine Hardwicke. Rich's previous work includes family-friendly fare such as "Radio" and "The Rookie," while Hardwicke's earlier movies--including "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," both of which offer edgy takes on teens' lives--made her anything but an obvious choice for this faithful retelling of Jesus' birth.



In separate interviews (combined here), Hardwicke and Rich spoke about what this story means to them, what surprised them about delving into the gospels in depth, and how Hollywood sees faith-focused films since "The Passion of the Christ."



Nativity Story On "The Nativity Story" set: Director Catherine Hardwicke (left) and screenwriter Mike Rich (right) work with actors. Photos copyright 2006, Jaimie Trueblood/New Line Productions.

Why tackle a story this huge and this familiar?

Catherine Hardwicke:

In a way it seems familiar, but it's not that familiar. I grew up in the First Presbyterian Church, McAllen, Texas, and I went to church every Sunday, every Christmas. But I never really thought very deeply about the story. I loved the mythical, gorgeous, mystical elements of it. But I didn't really think these were real people, with real emotions and problems and issues. And that's what I thought was so interesting about Mike's screenplay, that it drew you into the story. And it made you think about things that connected it to our lives now.



Mike Rich:

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I was foolish enough to [take on this story]. The reason I say that is it's a pretty daunting project, because it's held with such reverence by so many millions of people. I was looking for a new challenge as a writer, and I'm a person of faith myself.



In December of 2004, when Newsweek and Time both had cover stories on the Nativity, and I said, "Wait a second, the Nativity story? I grew up with that story." It was a childhood story for me. Still to this day I put the Nativity set up on the fireplace mantel. But in reading those accounts, it dawned on me that we never look at the story from a character standpoint. We always look at it from what happened instead of who these people were. And that was really of interest to me. So I started this combination of biblical and historical research to find out more about these individuals. And that put me on the path to writing the script.



Why did you choose to go the route of such a faithful adaptation--especially in this day and age, where even a lot of Christians would say they believe in a figurative reading of it or metaphorical one?

CH:
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