Bruce Marchiano spoke to me about playing Jesus in a touching new film called “The Encounter.” A group of stranded travelers come to the “Last Chance Diner” out in the woods. The man behind the counter tells them he is Jesus. It takes some of them longer than others to hear him. He has also played Jesus in “The Visual Bible.”
It’s quite a challenge for an actor, isn’t it?
It is in the sense of the responsibility, but it isn’t in the sense of the simplicity of it. When you’re Jesus, what you do is you just LOVE people! No matter who they are, what their circumstances, their arguments against you, you just pour love into their lives, along with all the truth and the holiness and everything.
That relates to my favorite part of the performance — the way you listened. Not all actors can show that, but for Jesus, I think it is very important.
If anybody listened, it was Jesus. We think of him as talking all the time but there is nothing more fundamental than his ear for people’s hearts. A woman once asked me if I get tired of playing Jesus. No! I’d do it all day long every day.
How did you come to this project?
As a hired actor it all happened very quickly for me. I had played Jesus before. Out of the blue I got an email from the director, who I had never met before, asking me if I’d be interested in playing Jesus in this film. He sent me the script and we met for coffee. I always have to say, “I have a different angle on this thing.” For me, it’s about all the love and heartbreak over people’s pain, that’s the most important thing to get across. David said, “Amen” and the next thing I knew we were working together. So often we get a man who’s detached and a little bit aloof. But as evidenced by the choices He made in his life, there’s nothing aloof about Him.
I laughed when one of the characters said it was like a “Twilight Zone” episode because I was thinking the same thing.
That was David’s concept, to make it almost “Twilight-Zone-ish” — so it worked!
Movies like this are like modern-day parables, a different mechanism for delivering the same message.
You’re exactly right. As Christian movies often go, we’re all working for pennies on the dollar but with a passion for bringing the gospel to people in new and savvy ways. One of the things I appreciated about it was that unusually for Christian movies there was a grittiness and realness to the setting. I don’t like it when they look Hallmark card-ish and not real. And Jesus was a blue collar guy with a scruffy beard.
And Jesus serves in it, too. Does it spill over into your daily life?
I sure hope so! When I did the first one I had remarkable experiences, not weird and supernatural, just understanding His heart in a new and unique way. And the same thing happened with “The Encounter.” At the end of the film when the guy makes the choice to go his own way, I just spontaneously broke down weeping, profusely. It was a little uncomfortable for a lot of the crew! Some of them had a hard time picturing Jesus being affected like that but it helped me to understand the depth of his heart in a fresh and unique way. There were two projects I turned down. Jesus has to be loving people and crying tears over their pain. If people don’t understand that, they’re missing the point. In another one they hired a director who didn’t know the Lord. How can someone direct that story if he doesn’t have access to the spirit of God?