by C.J. Darlington
Bruce Marchiano Interview
"People tend to be a little shocked at how I portray Jesus, just very passionate, and very loving, and the joy factor. It still continues to surprise to people." --Bruce Marchiano
Bruce Marchiano is an actor, author, and international speaker best known for his actor’s portrayal of Jesus as a Man of joy and passion in the film, The Gospel of Matthew.
Marchiano is also the founder of Marchiano Ministries, a non-profit organization reaching out to people both spiritually and practically in the USA and across the world.
I know you've had an interest in stories and acting since you were a young boy. Was there ever a defining moment when you just knew acting was what you wanted to do for a living?
There were a handful of them. My first was when I was thirteen years old. I remember sitting in a movie theater watching Dustin Hoffman on the screen. I didn't know anything about him; I'd never heard of him before. I remember marveling at him and what I saw him doing. I walked out of the theater, and I knew that's what I wanted to do. I took some comfort in the fact that he wasn't some incredible leading man kind of guy. (Laughs) It gave me some hope for my future. I hate to tell you what movie, because I didn't know the Lord then, but the movie was The Graduate.
You didn't grow up as a Christian, but you met Jesus later in your life. What was it ultimately that convinced you that you needed Jesus?
In an nutshell, my life fell apart. I had a lot of people share the Lord with me. I was starting to do well as an actor after years of struggling. My life was coming together; dreams were coming true. In a heartbeat, seemingly overnight, it all just withered away. I can remember I was sitting in a little mountainous area in the Hollywood Hills, all by myself, where I used to go to just think things through. I remember thinking “I need Jesus. I need something that will not melt or wash away or disappear on me.” I literally got down on my knees that day, by myself in the dirt and said, “Jesus, you've just got to save me.” I think for a lot of people, it's their life falling apart that drives them to He Who is the answer to it all.
Did you feel differently after that?
There was no big, emotional charge or anything like that. Some people experience that, and I kinda envy them. In my memory, I just felt very relieved with a sense of hope. I can also tell you that the Lord began to reveal Himself to me in many circumstantial ways very quickly, and very clearly - like within hours of making that decision. I knew He was very real and very interested in my life. There was no turning back.
In those days my career was everything. I remember just begging God. I needed a job; I needed to pay my rent. We used to carry pagers in those days, and literally in the middle of that prayer, my pager went off and I ran to a pay phone. It was my agent. She said, “You know Bruce, the oddest thing just happened. This casting director called, and he wants you to show up at Universal Studios tomorrow. He doesn't even want to audition you.” I was just going to work one day, and it paid my rent and all my expenses. That's just one small story of the way the Lord just made sure I knew He was very, very real.
Years ago I remember seeing your portrayal of Jesus in the Visual Bible. I loved how you portrayed Him as a fun person. Was that a conscious decision on your part to portray Him that way?
It started with the director. In my very first meeting with him, he pointed to the passage in Hebrews 1:9 that says that Jesus was anointed with joy above anyone else. I'll never forget him shaking his pocket Bible in my face and he said, “Bruce, I'm convinced that the Lord would have us portray Jesus as a man of joy!” That was a bit of a revelation to me. The Lord began to lead me to joy through my study and prayer life. But it was not a premeditated thing. I was discovering the joy as we went along. And it was like, “But of course! How could He be anything other than a man brimming with joy?”
In The Encounter you get to play Jesus again. Would you share with us how you ended up connecting with David White and getting this role?
My phone just rang one day, and it was David. They were looking for someone to play Jesus, and somebody in his office said, “Hey, why don't you call Bruce?” In the years following Matthew I continued to work as an actor, but I also starting writing books and did a lot of ministry. So in David's mind, I'd kind of ceased to be active as an actor. He said, “Can I send you this script?” I was a little bit hesitant. I didn't know David; didn't know anything about him. People tend to be a little shocked at how I portray Jesus, just very passionate, and very loving, and the joy factor. It still continues to surprise to people. He mailed the script to me, and the script didn't have any joy written into it. (Laughs) In fact, Jesus seemed to be very condemning, with snappy answers. So I called David and said we needed to meet. I explained that the only way I'm going to be able to do this is to portray Him in that way, through all that He says and does, this love for the individual has to come through. So we met, and he sat there answering his iphone and many phone calls like a typical Hollywood producer, and I shared this with him. He said, “Well, let's do it and see what it looks like.” The next week we were on the set, and he could see the response of the crew and the cast to what I was doing. They were kind of blown away. It gave him a real sense of excitement about it, and we went with it. He gave me a lot of free reign. He loved what I was doing, and he was very thankful for it. In fact, I just got back from Bangkok and filming Encounter II. That's how excited people have gotten about the love of Jesus, and that's really the bottom line.
So you edited the script, or did they edit it to what you suggested?
Edit is a little too strong a word. I would reword most everything as we went along. David directed, and he gave me free reign to throw away anything that sounded too condemning and to rephrase things in a gentler way. That sounds a little dangerous - I don't mean watering down the Scripture. I'm talking about assuring that what an audience sees, no matter what Jesus is saying, even if He's saying “If you don't repent I have to judge you.” It's about conveying that with a sense of care and compassion. That is the true context and the nature of His heart. Every day we were on the sidelines while they were setting up the cameras saying, “Look, can I lose this paragraph and move this paragraph there?” Large parts of the dialogue were written on the fly. We're getting tremendous testimonies, so I'm thankful for the results.
Sometimes you're looking straight at the camera and not at a person. How do you do that?
It's just a skill you acquire. I will tell you a secret about The Encounter. We shot that film, remarkably, shockingly, in six days. We shot it at night. We'd report to the set at 6pm, and we'd generally get in our cars to go home about 7 or 8 in the morning. It was an arduous schedule. On the very last day of the shooting (you can imagine how tired I am and how tired everyone is). At about 2 or 3 in the morning, David turned to me and said, “OK, it's time to shoot all your closeups.” The thing is that all the other actors lived out of town. Jaci Velasquez lives in Nashville, Steve Borden lives in Atlanta, and they all had to catch planes to go home. So I ended up doing all my close ups, talking to all these stands which look like what you'd hook a microphone onto. Each stand had a different colored piece and represented different individuals. Jaci Velasquez was pink tape, and Steve Borden was fluorescent green! That's what I played to in all my close ups. As an actor you get pressed into extraordinary situations, and it's like sink or swim. I'm thankful God blessed me with the gifts that can keep me afloat.
Was there anything else that surprised you about making this movie? (Spoiler Alert!)
There was one
shot we did where Steve Borden walks out the door. He chooses against
Jesus, and Jesus knows what that means. Just spontaneously as Steve
walked out that door, I broke down and began to weep and weep, and
profusely weep. I had that experience in Matthew, and I've had that experience
in normal life. You just see something and the whole salvation thing hits
you between the eyes and you just begin to weep. That take didn't get into
the film. I don't know why; there was probably some technical glitch, which
happens quite often. I remember you could hear a pin drop. It might have
been a little uncomfortable for people to see a grown man weep like that,
but people just don't know He loves you that much. They just don't get
it. So it was a bit of a shock to people to see Jesus just weep for the
lostness of one of His children.
(End Spoiler Alert!)
I liked that there were answers, but not pat answers. The script flowed and answered a lot about God and why bad things happen in ways that are Scriptural. It was a moving film that you can share with those who don't know the Lord.
There is one moment with the Steve Borden character where he really confronts Jesus. He talks about in the Old Testament how God told them to go kill all the children, the animals, everything. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! I know Christians really struggle with those things. But there are some things where you just have to trust God. Anyway, Steve confronts me with that asking, “Did you really do that?” The first time I was a little uncomfortable, but then I realized, “Yes.” God really did do that. There's Jesus, not trying to candycoat anything. At the same time fully knowing that you're not going to understand it. On every level the film answers a lot of questions for both believers and non-believers.
On the behind-the-scenes footage it looks like you guys had some fun times as well as serious times.
When it gets about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, you're struggling to even stand up. There was another part of the filming when it was freezing. We were in the middle of the night, up in the mountains, in a little building, and you could see your breath at times. There were times when the camera was on me, and it was all I could do to control my shivering. But it doesn't read on film, which is great. A lot of funny things can happen during those times. David is just a very fun loving guy. A lovely, lovely, guy. Just always quick with a joke and light hearted.
Steven Borden is a wrestler, and everyone was so excited to meet him. One time on break he just began working his moves on different crews members and just take 'em down in the middle of the set. But he'd say to me, “No, I'm not gonna take down Jesus!” That was a wild time on the set.
You also had a brand new actor, Madison Gibney, on the set.
It was lovely to have her there. Madison didn't know the Lord, and she was really impacted by some of the scenes. There were a few scenes where I'm holding her face in my hands and just conveying the love of Jesus. Driving home she asked her Mom, “Did Jesus really act like that? Does He really love me that much?” You can't ask for more than lives being touched with the reality of Jesus as opposed to religiosity.
You know it's very difficult to make a Christian film for a lot of reasons, and one of the the reasons is you'd love to be surrounded by believers 100%, but it's like finding a needle in a haystack to find someone who loves the Lord and has the skills you need. So a Christian film set ends up being like any film set, a mix of believers and non-believers. It's really lovely that these guys are just sitting around hearing the Word of God all day.
From the other interviews I've heard you give, it comes across that you have a heart for reaching the lost. You're in the process of raising funds to make a new Jesus movie?
One of the things that has been in my heart for a long, long time has been to make a full scale, blockbuster, state-of-the-art Jesus movie. Our Christian movies are wonderful, but they all tend to be made on very limited budgets with a lot of amateur actors. It's wonderful in the sense that the guys are taking what they have and doing the most they can with it. But it's always been a dream of mine to make a Jesus movie on the scale of Lord of the Rings or Narnia, as big as it gets. A Jesus film for the world of the 21st century. One of the guys on my softball team came to me the other day, he was having trouble with his wife, and he said, “Hey, you won't believe it. My wife wanted me to watch this movie, and it was like the movies you make.” He said, “ The message was good, but I couldn't get past how cheesy it was.” That's what I'm trying to overcome. (Laughs)
So I'm trying to raise funds for a film that will be the Gospel according to John, word for word, on the scale of Lord of the Rings. We've got a 45 million dollar budget, which sounds like a lot of money, but it's actually very little in terms of making a film on that scale. Plan to shoot in Israel. I'm raising the funds in an unusual manner. The movie is a ministry for the purpose of outreach. In other words, you can donate to this film. Every dollar will be given by the children of God joining in unity. If anyone wants to learn more, it's www.newjesusmovie.com
How far are you in the raising of funds?
We're maybe 1% there. It's a tough road. This week I'm taking the whole week off to seek the Lord and find out what is the next step. The script is written; I've got some filmmakers who are lined up and ready to go, all we need is the funding. But therein is everybody's challenge. (Laughs)
You mentioned an Encounter II. Can you tell us about that?
We filmed it in Bangkok. We stepped up Encounter II a little bit in terms of production value. It has a bit of a thriller element. The basis of the story is that there's a tsunami threat coming to the southern coast of Thailand. In the middle of it there's this international drug lord being pursued by a DEA guy played by David White. There are chases through the streets and gun battles. It ends up they all get held up at this seaside resort hotel. They're the only ones there. If you've seen the old move Key Largo it's like that, bad guys holding people hostage at this resort, waiting out the storm as it passes. In the middle of it all there's this man who just seems to show up here and there, and it ends up being Jesus. Jesus becomes one of the hostages and ends up confronting the drug kingpin, his henchmen. The drug kingpin is played by Robert Miano who is a highly established actor, well known guy. His henchman is Gary Daniels, who you'll know from many action movies like The Expendables. We have a tremendous cast. The hotel owner was on the series Jag. In the middle of it all, they're locked in with this storm, and Jesus tries to save their every soul. A little bit of excitement, an international flavor, and we're hoping to take it to theaters. It's going to save souls.
So the very end of The Encounter is a glimpse of the next movie?
But the interesting thing is that wasn't premeditated. When we finished
The Encounter, a
couple days later David called me. Has asked
if we could meet and just do one more shot to show that Jesus is just moving
onto the next soul that needs to be saved. He was just going to play the
other guy. So we did that shot, and totally by coincidence, David ends
up playing one of the guys in Encounter II. But it was a total “coincidence-God-thing” that
was really, really, cool.
Watch the Trailer:
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.