Casting Jesus: Did He Really Look Like Brad Pitt?
They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can’t be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.
But in the popular new film "Son of God," Jesus is so, well, easy on the eyes that some are revisiting an age-old question that has vexed scholars for centuries:
Did Jesus really look like Brad Pitt, only slightly better?
OK, that exact question hasn’t vexed scholars for centuries. But those who study religion as portrayed in popular culture do note that depicting Jesus on the screen has always been a tricky business, one that balances weighty theological concerns - how divine to make the son of God, and how human? -with more earthly ones, like how best to sell movie tickets?
"Listen, films are big business," says Steven Kraftchick, professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. "They’re probably not going to cast Jonah Hill as Jesus."
Not that Hill wouldn’t provide an interesting spin. But the producers of "Son of God," Roma Downey (who also plays Jesus’ mother Mary) and her husband Mark Burnett, were clearly going for something different when they chose the strapping, 6-foot 3-inch Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor who’s dabbled in modeling, for "The Bible," their History channel miniseries. ("Son of God" is culled from footage shot for the series).
Downey won’t deny her Jesus is good-looking - not that she’d get very far with that - but explains she was seeking a subtle mix of qualities. "Someone with strength, presence, charisma, tenderness, kindness, compassion and natural humility," she says. "Someone who could be both a lion AND a lamb."
Casting came down to the wire. A few weeks before shooting was to begin in Morocco, there was still no Jesus. Downey fired off an email to church and business contacts with the urgent header: "Looking for Jesus."
Salvation came from an unexpected place. In Ouarzazate, Morocco, a member of an advance team remembered an actor who’d been there more than a year earlier on a different project. He searched through hotel registries and found the name.
Not surprisingly, Morgado’s looks have been a big part of the conversation ever since. "We not only found Jesus, we found ’Hot Jesus,’" Oprah Winfrey told him in a TV interview, referring to a Twitter hashtag about the actor.
"A hunkier Jesus than necessary," Variety noted in its review of the movie. The Hollywood Reporter called it "Jesus as pretty boy," and noted a resemblance between Morgado and the young Marlon Brando.
But box office is booming. "Son of God" came in a close second last weekend to Liam Neeson’s "Non-Stop," beating out the blockbuster "Lego" movie.
To Morgado, it’s all good. "Long after I’m gone, this is going to be my legacy," he said in a telephone interview. "So why should I worry about people calling me ’Hot Jesus’? I’m really proud of this movie."
His key acting challenge, Morgado notes, was getting that balance between divine and human: "It’s a really tricky thing."