Finding Joseph in "The Nativity Story"
- Monday, November 27, 2006
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” you hear the refrain, “Oh, he’s a good man.” That’s also a refrain in this film, isn’t it?
Right. The Bible describes him as “righteous” – and that’s it. So how do you, as an actor, play “righteous?” What does that mean? Do you stand up straighter? (laughs) So I had to figure that out, and I realized that it’s actions. And for me, or for Joseph, righteous meant love. He looks at Mary. He doesn’t stone her. He doesn’t humiliate her publicly – because he’s righteous. And when I did the scenes, even though I had the anger and the rage and the fear and the doubt, I just loved her so much that suddenly I realized that righteousness means just unselfish, humble love.
And that’s what took me throughout the rest of the film.
One of the most poignant moments in the film is when you and Mary look at each other and you say, “How will I ever teach him anything?” What went through your mind with that thought? How do you teach the son of God?
That was definitely one of the challenges. When I was reading and working on the script, I remember thinking, ‘How do I play this? How do I play that I’m going to have the son of God?’ It’s such an abstract idea. I just didn’t know what to think about it. Then I realized that that was exactly what Joseph was thinking. He has no clue what that means. He doesn’t know if he’s going to come out a full man, if there are going to be millions of angels – or what. He has no idea what to expect. So that gave me some freedom to think about those things.
Can you talk about some of the resources and experience you drew upon to go into these deep emotions, especially as someone who is very young and, I presume, does not have children.
It’s funny. When we were in Italy rehearsing the film, before I really had my “righteousness equals love” revelation, every time we rehearsed that scene where she told me she was pregnant, I would leave. I couldn’t stay in the room. I’d want to walk out and hit something. I couldn’t figure out how to do the scene. I even said, ‘Maybe we should just change it, because I just can’t get there.’ I called my professor from Julliard and he said, ‘Well, you need to find a reason to stay.’ It’s such a simple thing to say but… It’s not saying that you’re not feeling all those things, or that you’re not wanting to choke her or do something, but why do you stay? I think that helped me figure it out, to think about how you can attack a scene in the deepest way possible.
Why does he stay?
Because he’s completely in love with her. And you can say that love comes from God, but there’s a depth of love that he had.
How much theological discussion was there on set, from changes in script to theology to history?
A lot. For me, that was incredibly important – that this was a young, Jewish man in the first century – and what does that mean? Also, little things. When I do the prayer for the bread, I was told not to say “Adonai” but “Adoshem,” because apparently you don’t say the name of God unless you are in certain circumstances.
How did you get the accent down so well?
That’s also from Julliard. They’re really good at teaching you how to manipulate the muscles in your mouth to do different accents pretty quickly.
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