Christian Living


Joseph Fiennes on Risen and Retelling Jesus' "Unsettling" Story

Joseph Fiennes in Risen
Movie Info


PG-13 for biblical violence including some disturbing images


Action, Adventure, Drama


May 24, 2016


Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto


Kevin Reynolds


Columbia Pictures

More on this movie at IMDb.com

Editors Note: Fresh from $46 million dollars of box office success, Risen debuts on DVD and Blu-ray home video this week. The home release features a wide variety of bonus content including three featurettes. Among them is The Mystery of the Resurrection: Making Risen, an in-depth look at how director Kevin Reynolds brought the ancient settings of the early New Testament to life.

If you ask Joseph Fiennes why he's in Risen, he'll say it's because of the film's fresh take on the story of Jesus Christ. It's historical fiction within the context of the biblical accounts of the Son of God's death, resurrection, and ascension. That appealed to the British actor, as well as, its mystery-solving plot.

What you might be surprised to know is the lengths to which he went to play the role of Clavius, a non-believing Roman tribune who's tasked with tracking down the body of the crucified Yeshua. Though Fiennes was on set for more than two months with Cliff Curtis (who plays Yeshua), the two did not speak to each other. Both felt silence between them would lead to a more organic first encounter on film. Fiennes also went to gladiator school, where he built muscle and learned the Roman art of war. Walking around in sandals in the heat of the Spanish sun for months was also trying. But, it was worth it, all of it, according to Fiennes.

Recently, the esteemed actor sat down with CBN.com for an in-depth interview about Risen, sharing what impacted him most as he filmed Jesus' "unsettling" story. Here are excerpts from that enlightening conversation:

Hannah Goodwyn: Some actors slip away with something from set, a prop or a part of a costume. Speaking now of the intangible, what will you walk away with from Risen?

Joseph Fiennes: It was a wonderful experience, doing Risen. I guess the couple of things I came away from with this experience was the sense of the Roman military mind, the way they work and the way they fought. That was a big learning curve for me. I also came away with the idea, and I think the film settles on this, in terms of second chances. Clavius, the character I play, is a Roman tribune who's asked by Pontius Pilate to ensure that Christ dies on the cross, and he does that. Towards the end of that movie, he enters the room and there is an irrevocable happening. His world is shattered by what he sees. So he's challenged, and in that moment of being challenged, deep down he's crying for a second chance. It is his second chance, and you'll know what I mean when you see the movie. So I guess I take away that sense, that there is a second chance and how blessed we are if we get it.

Goodwyn: We've seen Jesus in countless films portrayed in different ways. Who is Jesus in Risen?

Fiennes: Jesus is played by a phenomenal New Zealand actor called Cliff Curtis, and he brings such dexterity, a warmth. There's a sort of mercurial aspect. There's a hidden strength there. This is a fresh take on Christ, I think, in terms of casting Curtis…. There's nothing kind of whimsical. He's a sort of alpha male in many senses, but there's something else that he brings. There's a wonderful spirit and lightness at the same time. He's a special actor and he's done a wonderful job.

Goodwyn: The first moment Clavius sees Yeshua is during the crucifixion. What went through your mind as you filmed that scene?

Fiennes: From my character's role, it's another day in Judea. It's another uprising. It's another zealot that needs to be put down, from the military Roman standpoint. There are insurrections on a daily basis. This is one guy who's being hailed as a Messiah, but there have been lots of them. It's just another day in the office.

But from my personal perspective going into where we shot in Malta, this gully where the three crosses were, and seeing those actors, it's a very visceral and powerful experience. The extras, and the heat, and the noise, and the cameras kind of disappear, and you feel like you've been picked up by the scruff of a neck and dropped right back in time. So from a personal point of view, it's very impactful.

Goodwyn: You've said that when you learned the story of Jesus as a child, it was unsettling. How is that?

Fiennes: I see it with my children in relaying the story. It's the same impact. It's unsettling in a wondrous way, I mean, it's arresting, if that's the word. It's not disturbing, but it's incredibly powerful. And it's interesting how as a child you take it on without question. When I see my children, there's no question. I guess that's what it is. We take it on, but it's huge. For me, it's one of the most powerful stories that I've ever known or have come to hear. I can see that with my children, that same impact. But I think it's of such kind of other worldly proportions, that idea in terms of our sense of the world today, that it stays with you.

Goodwyn: This is such sensitive material. How do you balance the creative with the biblical?

Fiennes: Good question. ‘How do you balance the creative with the biblical?' One could pick up the scripture and read it to oneself and you would be communing directly with that information. As soon as you go into film, as soon as there's a camera, and there's an angle, and there's lighting, and there's editing, you're into the adaptation. So getting that balance between what is honoring scripture and the Word and also acknowledging the fact that by the virtue of putting it on film there's going to be a variation and adaptation, I mean, it's a fine dance and a balance. Our producers and directors have worked so hard to get that right and I'm really proud. I think it's a pretty good job.

Goodwyn: You've pointed to a scene when Jesus disappears, saying it's interesting to think about faith and doubt in the context of that moment. How can His presence or lack thereof speak to faith?

Fiennes: Some people I guess need Him in the room all the time to feel that their faith is strong. The others might maybe need just a glimpse, and carry that. So you could say that's a metaphor for everything that we carry in terms of how much do you need to see and witness to believe. It's interesting. Each of the disciples reacts in a different way. Some are terrified to be left alone. Others are strengthened by the experience. So yeah, it's an interesting one for discussion.

Goodwyn: How important was it to show Jesus performing a miracle?

Fiennes: There was a lot of discussion, whether we should see that or not. For certain audiences, it would be too much. For certain audiences, they would want it. So again, it's striking that balance. It's honoring, but at the same time not becoming a sort of Sunday School lesson. There's a momentum in the film that you have to be clear on. But, I think they got the balance right. You feel it's kind of what the audience wants to see. If you're going to introduce us to Christ, then introduce us, rather than shy away from it. But again, it's getting that balance right. Of course, it's a seminal moment; and the filmmakers held it really well.

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