Karla Dial is our talented editor of Citizen Magazine. In this month’s issue she penned a wonderful profile piece on the History Channel’s epic miniseries The Bible. Since its debut on March 3rd, over 68 million people have tuned in to watch this magnificent dramatization of God’s Word. Many of them have been people curious about Christianity. I hope they (and you!) will continue to watch this coming Sunday.
Because I’m so eager to encourage people to watch, I want to share with you a brief excerpt from Karla’s cover story in Citizen about the show. In particular, you might be interested to learn some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories surrounding the filming of this program:
With such a lofty goal in mind, Downey and Burnett found themselves praying even more than usual. With just six weeks left until principal filming was scheduled to begin, they still were missing the right actor to play the most pivotal role: Jesus.
“We had some actors lined up, but we felt we hadn’t found the perfect one,” Downey says. “We put it out in prayer circles to all of our friends and community.”
Not long afterward, Diogo Morgado—a television star in his native Portugal, as well as Spain and Brazil—turned up. When Downey and Burnett saw him walking toward their house, with a kind of grace and none of the self-awareness evident in many actors of his physical pulchritude, they knew they’d found their Jesus.
Most of the cast won’t be familiar to American viewers, though many are well-known in Europe and have resumes studded with awards. Downey herself plays Jesus’ mother, Mary, around the time of the Crucifixion; the score is courtesy of Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King,” “Gladiator,” “The Dark Knight,” “Inception”). Advisory board member Rick Warren, head pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, says it’s the best Bible film he’s ever seen—and he’s seen them all.
“Too many end up feeling like documentaries, with stilted dialog, second-class sets and narration that feels like a lecture,” he says. “In contrast, this series draws you into the story from the start. The key to its effectiveness is that it lets the Bible speak for itself, without commentary, excuse or qualification, which makes it unique.”
The five-month shoot on location in Ouarzazate, Morocco, was full of challenges—from sandstorms that prevented some of the key scenes from being shot until the last day, to other events that seemed like nothing short of spiritual attacks.
Part of keeping the cast and crew safe meant making sure the local snake population stayed off the set and the production rolling along on schedule. And the snake wrangler for “The Bible” was one of the best in the business—a septuagenarian native Moroccan descended from a long line of snake wranglers before him. Typically, he’d collect three or four snakes a day. But when the Crucifixion was shot, no less than 47 of them turned up on the set. The wrangler “said he had never seen so many snakes in one place in his entire life,” recalls Downey’s assistant, Mishy Turner.
But there were moments marked by grace as well.
“As actors, sometimes you sit around and discuss the intention of a scene or the subtext,” Downey says. “Often on a shoot you don’t have the luxury of having a source book available to you, but here we were in Morocco and we always had a Bible nearby. There was many an opportunity to sit down with an actor, and we would just head straight into Scripture. And we often had an opportunity to pray together that grace would be present and they would be inspired.”
There were even a few moments when it seemed a Divine Presence arrived on the set.
“When Nicodemus slips away to come down and meet Jesus in the still of the night, and Jesus says to him, ‘You need to be born again,’ and Nicodemus says, ‘How can that be?’ As if on cue, the wind blew through the camp,” Downey recalls. “It blew across the actors, lifting the hair of the actor playing Jesus and the robes of the actor playing Nicodemus. All of us by the camera looked at each other and had goosebumps.”
“The Bible” airs on HISTORY for two hours for the next two Sunday nights (check local listings for program times). View the full-length trailer here.
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