• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    From Jesus to Judas
    Mawle given lead in Last Days of Judas Iscariot

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    Joseph Mawle, shortly to be seen on our screens as Jesus in the BBC's take on The Passion, will play Judas in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Mawle has always switched between television and the theatre, so in many ways his stint at the Almeida is nothing new. Yet at the same time it's a fascinating choice for his next role. The Almeida's website describes The Last Days of Judas Iscariot as a "hilarious and extraordinary court-room drama where history’s most infamous betrayal is dissected by the forces of good and evil."

    It will be interesting to see how this turns out given the fate of other actors who have played Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth's Robert Powell struggled to find any more serious work and ended up being Jasper Carrott's sidekick in The Detectives. Ted Neeley decided to make playing the lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar his career, and James Caviezel hasn't exactly done a great deal since starring in The Passion of the Christ. So is this an attempt to make a clean break from The Passion by playing the opposite character straight after? Or did he find the subject matter so engaging that he immediately sought to explore it from a different angle? Either way, whilst it may be precisely the thing that enables him to have a decent career post-Jesus, I suppose there's a risk that he might end up being type cast.

    The most notable example of the same actor playing both Jesus and Judas is John Drew Barrymore who played both roles in 1962's Ponzio Pilato. Other notable oddities are in Godspell where the roles of Judas and John the Baptist are often played by the same actor, and I seem to recall that the aforementioned Ted Neeley was originally planning to audition for the role of Judas rather than Jesus.As for the play itself, there's a good preview at Indie London which describes it as
    ...a time-bending, serio-comic drama in an imagined world between Heaven and Hell that re-examines the plight and fate of The New Testament’s most infamous sinner. In a trial of "God and the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth versus Judas Iscariot", figures ranging from Pontius Pilate to Sigmund Freud are called to testify.

    Guirgis’ distinct and utterly contemporary voice uses the violent, chaotic energy of modern America, and particularly of New York, to explore timeless questions of free will and responsibility, of faith and fate.
    One last connection here is that the original version of Last Days was shown at New York’s Public Theatre in 2005, and was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman, of course, had previously featured in Along Came Polly as an actor who is playing the roles of both Jesus and Judas in an am-dram version of Jesus Christ Superstar.

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    • At 10:24 pm, February 19, 2008, Blogger Kevin C. Neece said…

      Very interesting! I missed Hoffman in "Along Came Polly." I might have to check that out.

      You are correct. Neeley was originally going for the Judas role and was cast as Jesus.

      Another interesting Jesus crossover is Max von Sydow from "Greatest Story" who, in 1993, played the devil in "Needful Things."

      It is also reported that H.B. Warner - after following up his performance as Jesus in DeMille's "The King of Kings" with a string of roles as doctors, royalty and lawmen - particularly relished the opportunity to play the drunken, embittered druggist, Mr. Gower, in "It's a Wonderful Life".

    • At 5:30 pm, February 29, 2008, Blogger Dianne said…

      Douglas Henshall, who is to play Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, once played Jesus or 'the Son' in a production of Father and Son, Son and Father for the RSC.


    • At 5:50 pm, February 29, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Kevin, Diane, interesting stuff.


    • At 11:23 am, March 08, 2008, Blogger Leighton Johns said…

      Didn't Zeffirreli once say that when casting for Jesus of Nazareth he originally had Robert Powell in mind for the role of Judas? He then realised that Powell's eyes were so piercing that he would have trouble finding an actor with a more charismatic 'look' for the role of Jesus and so gave the role to Powell. I think Robert Powell denied all this as a bit of mythologizing on the part of Zefferelli however.

      I wonder if the original inspiration for this was a story I heard when I was at school. The story goes that DaVinci when painting the Last Supper was looking for suitable models for the key figures of the painting. After an arduous search he finally found the perfect model for Christ. Some years went by and he still could not find a suitable model for Judas. He eventually came across a convicted murderer who he felt had the right malevolent look. It was only after finishing the painting that this man revealed himself to be the same person Leonardo had used years earlier as the model for Jesus. Interesting but probably has even less truth to it than the Zeferelli story.

    • At 9:30 am, March 10, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Leighton,

      I vaguely seem to recall hearing both stories before. The Zefferelli one came to mind when writing that piece but I had no idea where I'd read / heard it from so I didn't include it. The DaVinci one is less familiar. It's not in that book is it?



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