MEET THE MAN WHO HAS PLAYED JESUS THE MOST ON THE SILVER SCREEN
Different actors have played Jesus in movies and TV series, the most familiar, being perhaps English actor Robert Powell, whose picture hangs in uncountable frames around the world as if he were the real Jesus. That association resulted from Powell playing the lead role in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth released in 1977.
But there’s another actor who has played Jesus more than anyone else; in fact, he has made a career out of it. He is Bruce Marchiano, an American actor, producer and director. Yesterday, I shared on social,media this culled article about how playing Jesus has totally transformed his life.
Here’s the inspiring story of Marchiano’s personal and professional life. Read, comment, share and be blessed!
MEET BRUCE MARCHIANO
The first time I saw Bruce Marchiano was in the movie, Encounter, in which his character, Jesus, appears as the owner of an out-of-the-way diner that 5 strangers are marooned in due to a closed road. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations this contemporary, laid-back Jesus had with the unwilling patrons and how he helped them through their various personal crises.
You see, that’s the problem I had with Powell’s representation of Jesus in the film, Jesus of Nazareth. In that movie, Powell had this mystic man thing going on and seemed to be earnestly channelling the supernatural in order to perform miracles. That didn’t sound like the Jesus of the Bible to me. I figured that that’s what you get when people who don’t have a vibrant personal relationship with the Lord try to depict Him. Jesus, in his earthly days, was not a spiritualist. He was the Son of God. He didn’t have to keep very still and summon the elements or some such practice to heal the sick. The Bible said that God gave him the Spirit without measure and he was so anointed that people were healed by merely touching his clothes.
“34. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
“35. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” – John 3:34-35
“And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” – Luke 6:19 (ESV)
“And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” – Matthew 14:36
In an interview with Sharon Wilharm of Sonama Christian Home, Marchiano explains that that has been his greatest challenge in playing Jesus- “keeping it simple and not trying to over-do it.” He elaborates:
“You have to restrain this urge to make every syllable so big and impacting. But it’s God’s Word, so you need to trust that the power is there already. Another challenge is making it real as opposed to ‘religious.’ These are iconic scenes and you’re SO aware that this is God you’re representing – but 2000 years ago on the day it actually happened it was as practical as a ‘Man’ interacting with other men and women. So yes, I would say the huge challenge is keeping it simple and real, and not trying to over-do the work of the Words that are already packed with life-changing power.”
Marchiano has this understanding because, to the glory of God, he is a born-again Christian. He isn’t just any actor trying to interpret a role according to his human understanding, he is a child of God trying through the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit to bring the Jesus of the Bible home to the viewer. In his words:
“I’m deeply aware that people across the world make decisions about Him based on what I do before the camera. That’s a huge weight on my shoulders even as it is an incredible privilege. And the enormity of the task is so incomprehensible there’s only one thing to do in preparation: go to my knees and deep into His Word, crying out to Him to do ‘immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’ as only He can (Ephesians 3:20).”
He further explains that most people are familiar with the Bible accounts about Jesus but many do not know His heart, His nature or why He said or did the things He did. These are the things Marchiano tries through impassioned prayer and deep study of the Word of God to reveal. No wonder he describes playing Jesus as “the most illuminating, life-changing, humbling, scary, dangerous and yet most exciting experience” of his life.
And that is why whether he’s portraying Jesus through biblical accounts or through stories where He appears as an everyday person, like a diner owner as in The Encounter or a janitor as in Alison’s Choice, the same persistent warmth and deep compassion are conveyed, bringing the characters Jesus meets in each story and the viewers face to face with the reality of John 3:16-17:
“16. For God SO LOVED the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (emphasis, mine)
Did Marchiano always want to be an actor and did he always play Jesus? Yes and no. As an adolescent, he was inspired by a Dustin Hoffman movie and began to act out Broadway musicals in his room. He knew this was what he wanted to do for a living, so he got involved in high school productions and took acting classes later. But as for roles, he was usually cast in villainous roles, he says, due to his ethnic looks (his father’s side of the family is Italian and his mother Syrian). He first played a tiny role in an episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1985 and was also featured in such TV shows as LA Law, Columbo, Days of Our Lives and General Hospital.
Raised as a Catholic, he was aware of God but he wasn’t saved. “In my early 30s I was born again and realized the difference between trying to be a good guy and having a living relationship with Jesus,” he reveals.
However, with faith came some tests. His career tanked and he agreed, after much struggle with God, to join a missions team with a troupe that performed in high schools. That seemed like a huge demotion but it was the team leader that informed him, a year or two later, that a born-again actor was being sought to play Jesus in The Gospel According to Matthew.
His advice: “Whatever the Lord says, rush to do it! Because His plan for your life is WAY beyond anything you can imagine for yourself.”
(Related: I Want To Do Your Will – Poem and Devotional)
You see the same Mediterranean looks that had led to his being cast as bad guys also resulted in his playing the nicest guy ever: the Lord Jesus.
“Jesus was the first nice guy I ever played,” he discloses. And now, “I don’t think I’m capable of playing a bad guy even if I wanted to (which I don’t!) – the Lord has done such a wonderful work inside me that I wouldn’t be convincing – people would
From the point The Gospel According to Matthew premiered, all manner of doors opened for Marchiano. He was launched “into a speaking ministry that’s taken me around the globe many times over. At the same time, I was asked to portray Jesus again and again…
“Before I knew it I was traveling the world sharing Jesus; going to churches, schools, universities, conferences… The Lord thrust me into a ministry that has taken me to everything from African prisons and HIV hostels to stadium crusades. And all of it fueled by what I learned about Him through portraying Him; the depth of His care, the pinnacle of His joy, the hope through His heartbreak. The unimaginable passion, love, desire…for you and for me.
“It has been my greatest honor and privilege to represent Jesus on film – even as it is to represent Him in ministry.”
And so Marchiano has gone on to play Jesus in other movies: The Visual Bible: Acts, Road to Emmaus, The Encounter, The Lion of Judah, Apostle Peter and the Last Supper, The Encounter: Paradise Lost, Come Follow Me and Alison’s Choice. Other movies he has starred in are Final Solution, Faith Happens, This Is Our Time, Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End, For Love’s Sake, Revelation Road 2: The Sea of Glass and Fire and The Black Rider: Revelation Road.
Expectedly, Marchiano’s insistence on godly roles has not gone down well with some. “Yes, I’ve lost agents because of this stance,” he states. But he has set his sights higher:
“The Lord has given me a tremendous sense of responsibility … because these films influence lives. … to quote Pastor Chuck Smith, ‘You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.’ At the end of the day I have to stand before God for what I did with the gifts he gave me.”
Marchiano is also a producer and director. His non-profit, Bruce Marchiano Ministries, based in North Hollywood, California, produces low-budget Christian films funded by donations. In 2017, one of his films, Alison’s Choice, earned him nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay: Feature Film and Most Inspirational at the International Christian Film Festival held from May 4-6 in Orlando Florida. It tells the story of a pregnant teen who finds the love and acceptance of Jesus. His current project which is in preproduction right now is a word-for-word film version of The Gospel of John.
This humble actor, who was born in Orange County, California, on February 5, 1956 is also an author. His books revolve around the life of Christ and his experiences portraying Him on screen. The titles are Bruce Marchiano; Jesus Wept; Jesus, the Man Who Loved Women: He Treasures, Esteems, and Delights in You; Jesus: Yesterday, Today, Forever . . .; The Character of a Man: Reflecting the Image of Jesus; Meeting Jesus and In the Footsteps of Jesus.
Marchiano is married with children and he is on Facebook. May God continue to prosper his ministry in Jesus’ name.
(Related: Do Not Neglect The ‘Little’ Things)
I’d like to end this article with one of Marchiano’s quotes that typify his career since the movie, The Gospel According to Matthew, was released in 1993.
“…any chance to bring ‘Jesus to life’ for people, to introduce people to Jesus, you can count me in.”
May God help us to do the same wherever we are, with whatever gifts He has given us and through whatever medium He would have us work. All of us may not be in the performing arts or have the huge opportunities that Marchiano has had. Still, we can shine the light of Christ in our little corners and help as many as we can to receive eternal life through Jesus our Lord. That is the reason I shared this piece- to encourage us to walk with God as He leads that we may be fruitful on earth. As the Lord Jesus declares:
“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:
“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” – John 15:16,8
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.
Credits for the picture in the feature graphic and the Alison’s Choice poster go to Bruce Marchiano’s Facebook page.
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