How do you retell a story that has been told for over 2,000 years? You change the perspective, at least you do if you director Kevin Reynolds.
When Reynolds was approached by LD Entertainment about creating another passion play-type movie, he wanted to bring a fresh approach to the story about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Let’s face it, the story has been told many times before and well from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 film, “The King of Kings,” to the bloody “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson in 2004. Why create a new film? It’s not exactly like God needs a reboot. But then again, maybe his people do.
“We wanted to do something completely different from what had come before, so I came up with the idea that “Risen” would be told as a detective story.” Says Reynolds in recent press release.
Reynolds may be onto something here. Many people, Christian or not, know (or think they know) the whole story about the events the surrounded the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “You don’t know the rest of the story.”
Known for his work on “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and the TV miniseries, “Hatfields & McCoys,” Reynolds says that he “wanted the film to feel big and epic, but seen from a single character’s perspective.” Gibson did that in “Passion” from the perspective of Jesus. Here, the view will be coming from Clavius, a Roman soldier that would not be too easily persuaded. In this story, Clavius (played by Jospeh Fiennes) is searching for Christ’s body not because he wants to, but because he has to.
“When we first meet Clavius … he’s this rigorous, ambitious military man who’s spend 25 years serving the Roman army, so he’s really entrenched in one form of thinking,” says Fiennes. “Clavius [later] arrives at a crossroad where he realizes there might be a life beyond everything he knew before, something outside of previous conditioning. Having put this supposed Messiah out of his misery, Clavius comes fact to face with Yeshua (another name for Jesus) again at the end of the film when he’s resurrected and that’s a big turning point.” Yep. You could say that.
Some actors do a lot of research in order to ready themselves for their role. For Fiennes, he followed a police detective to learn interrogation techniques. Seriously. “My real way into Clavius came from sitting down with a detective and talking about what it’s like to question suspects,” says Fiennes. “Although this is a biblical story, I wanted to be pragmatic about what Clavius needs to do, because I really do see the piece as a noir detective story.”
Jesus will be portrayed by Cliff Curtis who said, “Whether you believe he [Jesus] was the son of God or not, Yeshua was an extraordinary human being. He changed the way humanity perceived life itself, so it’s been an incredible honor to portray him. I could only approach the role with gratitude and humility,” says the actor.
Not only did he approach the role with humility, but he avoided his co-stars as well. Very much a method actor, Curtis avoided eye contact with Fiennes during the four month shooting of the film. “We were often in the same room, but never engaged, and somehow that made it more exciting when we did finally have full contact on screen, verbally and emotionally,” says Curtis.
Of course with the subject matter at hand, “Risen” is very much a faith-based movie, but Reynolds wants the film to appeal to all audiences. “Obviously we want the faith community to feel that they’re represented in the right way. But if you’re not a believer, all the action and great dramatic moments offer so many other reasons to be entertained by “Risen,” says producer Mickey Liddell.
Reynolds agrees: “We don’t really want to tell anyone what they should believe. People can use this film as a vehicle to examine their own spirituality, or just enjoy the story purely from a cinematic standpoint.”
Risen opens on Friday, February 19. In addition to Fiennes and Curtis, the film also stars Tom Felton as Lucius, and Peter Firth as Pontius Pilate.