Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Jesus, Peter and Paul. Yesterday I posted my conversation with producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey at an event earlier this week promoting A.D. The Bible Continues, their new NBC series about the early history of the Church (premiering his Easter Sunday at 9:00 PM ET). At that same event, I also got to talk individually with Juan Pablo Di Pace, Adam Levy and Emmett J. Scanlan, the actors respectively portraying Jesus, Peter and Paul.

JUAN PABLO DI PACE (JESUS)

JWK: I see you’re wearing a cross. So, I gather you’re a Christian.

JUAN PABLO DI PACE: Yes.

JWK: That must make the role of Jesus the most intimidating role you could possibly play.

JPD: Yeah, for sure.

JWK: How do you go about preparing for that?

JPD: To try to not listen to anyone — and find Him within — and just start from scratch as if I hadn’t ever heard anything about Him. I didn’t want to be influenced by opinions because Jesus is such a huge, iconic figure. Everyone has an amazing, genuine opinion of Him. They know Him. So, for me,  it was important to have that same experience and to do justice also to the man — to find that vulnerability in the man. Because we start in the last hours of his life. So, it was tough. It was a very hard moment. It was the most horrific moment.

JWK: It must have been physically challenging for you.

JPD: Oh, yeah, physically it was hard but I’m not complaining because I loved it. The crucifixion was two days (of shooting) and it was hanging on a cross up there and sweating buckets under the sun with the flies and the blood. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change it for anything and I would do it over and over again because it was amazing.

JWK: Obviously, it was just an inkling, but it give you a sense of what the actual experience was like?

JPD: Of course. I mean I got a glimpse of what He was looking at in Golgotha — looking out onto the people down there and up to the sky and to His Father. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing that they did because the built the set on a rock, on sort of a hill. So, He’s looking down to the desert and the dunes. It was really incredible to have that experience for myself and to have a glimpse of what He was looking at.

JWK: What do you hope the audience will take from this?

JPD: I think they will take away something new, something they haven’t seen before of this beautiful epic story. It’s the Book of Acts, so it’s what happens after the Resurrection and the battle that the Apostles went through.  So, yeah, it’s exciting.

ADAM LEVY (SIMON/PETER)

JWK: What was it like playing such a flawed saint?

ADAM LEVY: I think that it’s always great for any actor to play somebody who breathes and lives and is just a regular guy and has faults like we all do. And I think that nobody — certainly in this world — can say that they don’t have the human denial element about them or fear or whatever it is as juxtaposed with faith and hope and freedom and love.

JWK: You’re a Jewish actor. Did that make telling this particular story more of a challenge or did it, perhaps, help you see the story with fresh eyes?

AL: I think it was perfect in many respects because Peter was born and died a Jew. So, I think it was actually inspired casting in many respects to cast a Jewish actor in this role. Certainly, I’ve been going on the journey of finding out who Peter was and how he became “the rock” of the Christian church and the foundation stone. It’s been an extraordinary six months of discovery, really.

JWK: What surprised you most about Peter?

AL: That he has the capacity and, I suppose, the simplicity to cope with the fact that the Holy Spirit can actually travel through him and he has those powers that come out of him. And I suppose it was nice to play (that) — and, again, I keep going back to it — from the human point. He’s not like a superhero. He doesn’t just have the power to, like, just hold out his hand and everything is healed. It takes a piece of him every time he’s visited by the Holy Spirit…I think that was the most surprising element, how he copes with that and finding the reality through that.

JWK: I know there are hopes and plans for a season 2. What do you think a second season will look like?

AL: A.D. The Bible Continues is what it says….It continues and it could go up to now when I’m talking to you. It can go and go and go. As far as Peter is concerned, were doing (chapters) one to ten in the first season of the Book of Acts. Peter was illiterate. He couldn’t write anything down he’s spoken about and written about (quite a bit). So, his story is mapped out for him in many respects. So, now we just carry on with the story of the Book of Acts and, yes, Peter’s obviously (a) lynchpin  of the Christian faith.

JWK: Why do you feel audiences are showing such support for faith-themed movies and TV programming?

AL: I think it’s a global need for understanding the world we live in today which is very, very diverse. It has extremism on one side, it has incredible liberal aspects to it on the other. I feel it’s just a self-discovery thing. I don’t think this is a show just for Christians. I think it’s a show for everybody who is human. I think we can all engage in it and open up the discussion. We have the Zealots, we have Roman Empire, we have the…rabbinic Sanhedrin in the middle of it all as well and the disciples fighting for peace in the middle. These are topics that are relevant today.

EMMETT J. SCANLAN (SAUL/PAUL)

JWK: How did you prepare to play Saul/Paul and, doing your research, what surprised you most about him?

EMMETT J. SCANLAN: It’s interesting because when you do a job like this you do as much study as you can. You read up on Scriptures. There’s a plethora of information on the internet. You have your scripts. You get on set. It’s a very visceral, very real set. So, you have all these things help you give flesh to the character. What I found interesting was that through all his bravado, through all his passion, there was an underlying deep-rooted vulnerability with the character Saul that I didn’t anticipate when I got on set. So, that was remarkable for me. I love finding the vulnerability in characters. There’s truth there. There’s beauty in vulnerability. So, I guess it doesn’t matter how much homework you do. When you’re on set, you gotta forget it and throw it out the window and, hopefully, some magic happens.

JWK: Did you grow up in a religious home?

EJS: Yeah. I’m an Irish-Catholic boy. You know, I went to church every Sunday…I understood Christmas and what Easter was about. I understood the persecution of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ. I understood all that but I have to say that beyond that…for me, my knowledge after that was quite vague. So, to be able to tell a story like this…which follows these 12 remarkable man spreading Christianity — and then Saul comes into it — this was great. It’s reinvigorated my thirst for the history of it  and the religion of it. I love it. I mean we’ve wrapped on the first season. I’m still reading.

JWK: I find it interesting that this is conceived as an ongoing series. You are planning on coming back for season 2.

EJS: You always plan for season 2. You have to have fearless faith. As St. Paul said he walks with faith and not sight. That’s what you hope is going to happen — assuming you guys all tune in and assuming that you like it week after week, well then, yeah, season 2, why not?

JWK: What was it like portraying Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus?

EJS: Wow! That was remarkably draining and, as we talked about, quite a vulnerable experience. I know how I felt. Whether that translates (we’ll see). I hope it does. I haven’t seen much of it. I’ve seen little bits and pieces…but I know that the day was incredibly challenging.

JWK: There’s an amazing character transition.

EJS: There is. I was blindfolded for it. I had these contacts in which blocked out my vision. I insisted that I really wanted to keep them on for the whole day — and take them to and from set without sight when he (Paul) was in Damascus…I’m not saying that it worked for my character. I’m just saying that how I felt was quite childlike. I was getting scared of the dark, almost — the longer I stayed behind this blindfold. It was tough. When we wrapped on the scene, I wept like a child really when the camera stopped. It was tough going, I have to say.

JWK: Is there anything about the character of Paul that you admire and would like to emulate?

EJS: He’s got an unquenchable thirst, an unapologetic nature and a hunger to (put forth) what he believes in. I can relate to that. Who wouldn’t? In fact, if anything, I’m charmed by him. I just love how unapologetic he is.

JWK: Did that surprise you?

EJS: Yeah…Every day I’m on set I learn. We’ve wrapped on the first season and I’m still reading, I’m still learning and that surprises me. That’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s the point.

Note: My review of the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues will be posted tomorrow.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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