By John Carucci
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — With his new role as a Roman tribune in “Risen,” Joseph Fiennes joins Charlton Heston, Richard Burton and Max von Sydow in the long list of actors who have starred in biblical films.
Films like “Ben-Hur,” “The Robe” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” have perennial appeal during the Easter season, so Fiennes now belongs to a special club.
“It’s great to be a part of that legacy,” Fiennes recently told The Associated Press.
Over the years, many films have dealt with the life of Jesus Christ and the crucifixion, but not many go beyond the resurrection. “Risen” plays more like a detective story as Fiennes’ character heads up an investigation into the disappearance of the body of Christ.
“I loved ‘The Robe’ — and this isn’t too dissimilar — with Richard Burton as a Roman that has contact with the robe of Christ,” Fiennes said. His character in “Risen” is part of the death squad that oversees the crucifixion of Christ.
“He goes through a series of interrogations because he’s been charged by Pontius Pilate to find the body of Christ because they are aware that followers of Christ would steal the body and promote the myth that he is resurrected, so they have to find the body.”
But he feels “Risen,” also picks up the plot of a more recent film.
“‘The Passion of the Christ,’ phenomenal film, left us at the cross, and this is where we pick up from. There’s great value in the equation, the final equation — the resurrection,” Fiennes said.
Fiennes cites actors Robert Powell and Ted Neeley as some of his favorites who have played Jesus.
Powell starred in the Franco Zeffirelli film “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Neeley had the title role in the film version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Yet, Fiennes thinks Cliff Curtis, who plays the Jesus role in “Risen” has the edge over the others.
“He looks authentically Middle Eastern, so we’ve moved away from the very typical blond-haired and blue-eyed Christ, and I think that’s a great departure,” said Fiennes, who himself has been caught up in a casting controversy after landing the role of Michael Jackson for an upcoming TV film.
Fiennes said the cast of “Risen,” plus its look and its adherence to the Bible, means this film stands on its own, calling it “a wonderful cinematic feast.”
“First and foremost, it’s brilliant cinema, it’s epic cinema,” he said. “But it adheres in a very respective way to Scripture.”