"It’s kind of funny that he ends up playing Jesus and I end up playing Judas," Schaech says, laughing. "But I wasn’t ready to play Jesus, anyway. I’m not Jesus in my life right now. I still have too much to learn."

Schaech, who was raised a Catholic, credits his experience on the set of "Judas" with a spiritual high that has started him on a new path.

"I got to see Jesus in the flesh," he said. "Just listening to what Jesus was saying in that movie made me question a lot of things I grew up with. Jesus was all about love. So many other things can be diversions."

Executive producer Frank Desiderio of Paulist Productions hopes that the publicity generated for Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" will create a large audience when the movie airs on Monday, March 8.

"ABC has had this movie since the middle of 2002," he said. "And it’s a good move to release it now. We’re hoping that people who don’t go to see ‘The Passion’ will go to see this, and that those who do go, will want to see this, too."

Desiderio serves as president of the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute, which awards the prestigious HUMANITAS Prize to writers whose work in film and television not only entertains but also enriches the viewing public. He is also a Roman Catholic priest who serves the parish of Corpus Christi in Pacific Palisades, located in Los Angeles.

"Judas," which was filmed in Morocco, uses actors with American accents - something that has not yet been done with the story of Jesus. The language is colloquial, with a casual feel – including a few mild obscenities – that Desiderio hopes will be both realistic and accessible to viewers.

"We wanted to portray [the disciples] as rough and tumble characters," Desiderio said. "Especially Judas. But we also wanted people to recognize in our Jesus the biblical Jesus, and for people to hear [the words of the Gospels] exactly the way Jesus said them."

Schaech, for his part, hopes that the film will do exactly what Jesus did.

"Somebody will be sitting out there, sad about their life, thinking that it’s not worth living," he said. "Hopefully this film will change all that. That’s what I hope."

The two-hour, made-for-TV movie "Judas" airs on ABC, Monday night, March 8, 2004 at 9/8 C.T.  Click here for more information.

Photo © 2004 ABC, Inc./Bob D'Amico