Was there any kind of spiritual experience for you, making this film?  Was it just work or were there moments where you were alone, and maybe thought about things that you wouldn’t have thought about had you not made this movie?
Absolutely.  I did read a lot in the Bible.  When I picked up that thing about love, I had started to read about love – what’s biblical love.  I was reading about that, and the power of humility.  It had never really hit me before.  When I saw the film, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh.  This is the greatest act of humility.’  This is how God decides to come to Earth.  That’s a really powerful message.

So you have had a bit of a faith walk yourself?  Can you tell us a bit like what that was like, both before and after the film?
Yeah, definitely.  I definitely grew up in a very devout Christian home.  Then, as Joseph, you know, you kind of go through this journey of asking yourself questions, wondering if you’re listening to God in the right way. You rebel in some ways against what your parents teach you, and it’s definitely been a revolution of how I think.  During the film, I didn’t want to get into it in my own head, you know, but doing the film forced me to think about those things – my own spirituality.  Having to play a pious Jewish man and not knowing what that was like. Because I think the Jews in Israel during the first century, there was no separation between them and God.  God was integral to their lives, and to have to play somebody who was that devout, you have to put yourself in that place.

During a part of the journey, Mary prays, ‘Lord, help us.’  Did you ever find yourself praying in the midst of filming, even for a scene to be over, or an animal to cooperate?
Well, even the most non-religious people, the dire circumstances, I think, say, ‘God, help!’  But I would.  I did.  In almost every scene, I would pray for some kind of illumination.  For instance, the Gabriel scene was a hard, hard scene.  How do you play seeing an angel?  So I prayed.  Then I literally just opened the Bible and it opened to Jeremiah, where it talks about this guy and how he reacted when he saw the angel. I thought that was kind of funny.

I loved the scene where you paid off the Roman soldiers for the donkey that belonged to Mary’s father.  It was so touching, and so humble.
Right, yeah.  And it’s not like this guy was loaded. 

It was also brave.  There was a risk.  These were armed soldiers who could have just as easily killed you for asking.
Yeah, exactly.

Then again, maybe he just wanted an excuse to talk to Mary!
Yes, but all those things are happening simultaneously.  He does want to just talk to her.  He wants to be in a room with her, even if he doesn’t have anything to say, even if it’s awkward.  But that’s what is really special about “The Nativity Story.”  It treats them as real people, but yet you’re still able to get all the power of the story.

I understand that you actually made the staff that you use in the film.  Why did you decide to do that?
Well, first of all, [Joseph’s] hands were key – physically. After figuring out what he was going through emotionally, I had to figure what he was like.  I had little dainty actor hands, so it was important for me to have the carpenter, first-century, person-of-the-land hands.  So, for a month, with technical advisors, we worked.  I worked with first century tools. And every day I’d go and I’d make something.  I’d do masonry work. So by the time shooting came, those hands were calloused and swollen and scratched.  It gave me something less to think about – to be self-conscious about. 

Do you still have the staff?
(Nods) I take it with me on the subway! (laughs)


Rated PG for some violent content, “The Nativity Story" opens Friday, December 1 in more than 8,000 theaters worldwide.  

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