NatGeo’s ‘Killing Jesus’ Tells the ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Story of Christ

Jesus Christ has been portrayed on both the big and small screen many times. But those involved with National Geographic’s adaptation of the Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard book Killing Jesus say their production is different.

“This is a film that’s really placing a man in his times,” said screenwriter Walon Green, during the panel for the film at NatGeo’s portion of the TCA Winter 2015 Press Tour Wednesday.

Green explained that the point of view in Killing Jesus is from Jesus’ contemporaries as opposed to Jesus himself.

”This is like the behind-the-scenes story of the life and death of Jesus Christ,” added Green.

The screenwriter was joined on stage by executive producers David Zucker and Teri Weinberg and actors Kelsey Grammer, Haaz Sleiman, Joe Doyle, Stephanie Leonidas, Alexis Rodney, Chris Ryman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Eoin Macken.

“I think part of the relationship we’ve enjoyed so much with NatGeo and with Bill and these books is to take that [the history] into perspective on these types of stories and to do them in as credible a way as possible,” said Zucker.

Additional highlights from the panel include:

—Grammer on trying to understand his character King Herod: “He [Herod] was always worried about being killed. That I thought was fascinating. That humanized him to me in a lot of ways.”

—Green fielded a question about how the movie will appeal to non-Christians. “I think a non-Christian viewer will really like this film because they can immerse themselves in the human story of this phenomenal guy Jesus and what he is and what he comes from…and also the kind of excitement and dynamics of the period and the various people that play.”

—Sleiman, who plays Jesus, addressed his Muslim upbringing and how the religion views Jesus, saying that Islam believes Jesus is a prophet and they honor him highly. “For me, as somebody who was Muslim it is an honor to actually play Jesus just because of that,” he said, adding that he has personally connected with Jesus’ teaching.

—The film was shot on location in the Moroccan desert and the actors described the experience as “hot” and “dusty.”

—Leonidas said on playing Salome that she wanted to make her real and relatable. “Always the aim is to make every character something that people want to watch and with Salome I felt like, apart from her being this seductress with obviously the Dance of the Seven Veils that she is most known for. It was about showing her innocence as well and showing that she is just this young girl making horrific decisions.”

—Chriqui said that she had to get past Herodia’s (her character) faults to truly play her. “Playing Herodia, one of the biggest things for myself was that I had to stop judging her in order to get to the truth of her.”

Killing Jesus, which is slated to premiere on the network in spring 2015, is the third adaptation from O’Reilly and Dugard’s books. The first two came from Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy.

Jessika Walsten

Jessika is an analyst for TVREV and Fabric Media. She previously served in various roles at Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV, working with the brands since 2013. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects in the media and entertainment space, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.