Recently, Cheryl Wetzstein, manager of special sections for The Washington Times, interviewed “The Young Messiah” director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh, and Vincent Walsh, who played “Joseph.” The movie was based on Anne Rice’s novel, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.” The interviews were edited for space and clarity.
Q: Why do you work with stories that have to do with faith?
First and foremost, I am attracted to the story … my faith journey is a long one and a gradual one that goes back many years.
When this story fell into my lap, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For me personally, it made perfect sense … this is a story that you should try and tell.
You never know whether you are going to attract an audience or not and when you have material that is outside the Bible, it’s always risky …
I felt there was no guarantee that we would have a ready audience for this because of the daring nature of it. We are exploring a time of Jesus’ life that we really know nothing about, and I felt there were inherent risks but I felt they were worth the journey for me personally and as a storyteller.
Q: I have read that you are less concerned about affirming people’s beliefs and more focused on inspiring people to find faith and look at things a different way …
That’s partly right. I would love to do both — it’s fine to affirm people’s faith … but we’re going into new territory here.
With any Jesus movie, there’s always an element where you are preaching to the choir and you expect those Christians who love Jesus to respond and to at least see the movie and give it a chance.
But you also want to attract and inspire others who may be drawn to a story because it is different than the other Jesus movies that they’ve seen or are aware of …
And this story is “what if” — it presents you with the compassion and love and forgiveness that Jesus represents, without feeling like it is a sermon.
Q: There have been criticisms — e.g., the film doesn’t have a strong scriptural basis. What is your reaction?
I can’t control how people respond …
This story moved me — I felt there was nothing in there that was offensive; we were very careful to do it with reverence and respect … That matters the most — how you do it.
I had many, many people come up to me who said things like, “I wasn’t sure about this, but upon seeing it, I loved it, thank you for doing it.” I had a pastor say to me, “God is happy (with this movie).” And I said, “I think He is, I think God is happy with the movie … and he said, “I think so too …”
So I don’t think there’s anything offensive here … but you never know …
Q: I and others were particularly struck by the portrayal of Joseph.
Yes, the film attempts to take you inside the Holy Family … They are usually portrayed as icons and Joseph is usually given short shrift — he’s usually like wallpaper.
I always felt Joseph had to be strong — he was selected for a reason … and he had to be substantive: He had to be an ideal father in the human sense of the father. I wanted him to have those qualities — strength and sensitivity and relatability — and I am very happy with Vincent [Walsh’s portrayal].
Q: How about the portrayal of Mary?
We were dealing with a fine line — we are portraying her in a way that all denominations can accept her and embrace her … I think we got lucky with casting. We found Sara Lazzaro in Rome; she’s Italian … She has that quality both sweetness and strength …
Q: And the young man who played Jesus?
This was the biggest challenge, as he had to carry the movie and we had to cast characters around the boy …
We looked all over and found Adam Greaves-Neal from London … He comes from a strong family, extraordinary child. I think we have terrific actors
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