Talking With "Gospel of John" Executive Producer Sandy Pearl
- Monday, March 29, 2004
Casting the film was undertaken with great care, with auditions held in both Canada and the United Kingdom for seventy-five principal roles. The final tally of on-screen participants, including extras, numbers approximately 3000.
Explains Pearl, “I think casting is absolutely critical to the success of the film, because again it is a word for word, which means there is no opportunity for either the writer or the actors to omit a word, change a word, or for us to edit. We cast actors with strong theatrical backgrounds because they know how to deal with text. They are used to being ‘on the word’ every night and to be unwavering in terms of their performance and their delivery of the same lines over and over. This is especially true for the role of Jesus in the requirement and pressure for him to learn tremendous speeches.”
“I don’t know that there is an actor today or in recent times, who has had as large a role as Henry Ian Cusick playing Jesus. I can’t think of anything, any role that is larger than what he has just finished filming. It was critical to the whole production that we had to feel confident that the actors would know how to approach text and be able to learn it and deliver it without twenty-five or thirty takes.”
The film’s editor Michel Arcand concurs entirely. “I am amazed by the performance of the actors. They are so impressive. Mr. Cusick is going to be a star, that’s for sure. He was so focused. I was really impressed with the way every actor was really focused on his or her character. They were not even blinking … they were ‘there.’ It was so amazing,” notes Arcand.
Continues Pearl, “It’s an ensemble piece, and so in doing that, the challenge was how to create the 12 disciples. How do you make them all distinctive and unique, give them all personalities, and yet, have them band together? Again, because of the way that we cast, and because of hair, makeup and wardrobe, we really created twelve distinct individuals. I think it’s going to be interesting for audiences as this will be one of the first times the disciples really have become their own characters. You get to understand who a Nathanael was; who were John, Andrew and Philip. If you look at movies from the past where the disciples are portrayed, they are all interchangeable. They look the same, they sound the same; there is nothing about them that gives you a sense of them as individual young men.”
“We were very cognizant of trying to create a film that reflects these men; Jesus and the journey at the time it was unfolding. We have the benefit of history now to go back to and reflect upon. At the time, they were a bunch of young guys who really didn’t know what was going on except that they were drawn to this man, his teachings and what he was saying. They were, in some cases, uneducated, rough around the edges and willing to believe. They were fisherman, carpenters and laborers. We tried to make this a very human and natural performance. I think it’s key to the success and truism of this piece.”
Adds Pearl, “For Philip (Saville), the story is about the relationship between a father and son. It is also the story of a man and his group of followers who ultimately become his support and foundation. In casting this, we looked for guys who would come off as authentic and real people, not holier than thou. We wanted real, vulnerable guys who would be convincing in their bond with this man. After all, they agree to follow this person for up to three years.”
Pearl believes that the process of transferring this literal version of "The Gospel of John" onto film had an effect upon the production team and crew, as this was the re-telling of a story unlike any other, one that is imbued with incredible significance and whose messages still resonate today.
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