Juan Pablo Di Pace Dishes on the Crucifixion Scene and Playing Jesus in NBC’s ‘A.D. The Bible Continues’
Whatever your religion may be, NBC’s new historical drama A.D. The Bible Continues is a must-see! The show picks up where the successful Bible series left off, at Jesus’ Crucifixion, and takes viewers through the aftermath of his Resurrection.
Playing this prominent religious figure is previous Dallas star Juan Pablo Di Pace (who you might also recall from the musical film Mamma Mia!), an actor who describes the transition from bad boy to religious leader as both thrilling and exciting.
Although we had connection issues midway through the phone interview, the humble and charismatic star was kind enough to laugh through it and continue answering questions as if nothing had happened, showcasing how classy and professional he really is.
In addition to sharing juicy details about the new series, the Argentinian native also dished about fellow co-stars, acting techniques, and what it was like to shoot the Crucifixion scene with his own mother watching!
“She actually painted the crucifixion scene with me as a model when I was 25 or something. She was like, ‘Hey can I use you as a model to paint you for the crucifixion?’ So we did that 10 years ago, and now here we are [again] in that moment,” he revealed.
Getting the role as Jesus was very exciting for Juan Pablo, and GALO was just as excited to interview him about his newest role (and, of course, hearing his amazing accent didn’t hurt!). Read on to find out what he had to say about this action-packed show!
GALO: With more than 100 million cumulative views, The Bible was a wildly successful series, and A.D. The Bible Continues is expected to be just as popular. Do you think it’s important to have a religious show on television — and in what ways has it broken some boundaries or misconceptions on what TV networks can or cannot do, or perhaps on what they should do?
Juan Pablo Di Pace: Well, I mean, of course, it’s important to have any kind of show that is inspiring. I think what audiences are hungry for are shows that make them think — that make them feel, you know? I certainly gravitate toward shows that make me think, and A.D. is certainly a show that shines a light on a story that we all know (or at least people that have grown up with Christianity or Catholicism know), but its somehow told in a way that is slightly different — the point of view has changed. It is not an account of facts, even though it [is based on] the Book of Acts from the Bible after the Crucifixion of Christ.
It actually talks about the point of view of people who are living, breathing and feeling at that time, and how making the decisions that they did was so huge. Someone comes along and says, “this is how you guys should live,” and then he’s crucified, gets resurrected, and goes up to heaven, so the apostles find themselves with this thing that they have to carry over. The description of those moments, of that angst, even the doubt, it hasn’t been documented yet, so it’s actually quite interesting to see what they felt going forward into the building of the church and the building of Christianity. They pretty much took down the Romans. It’s a very political show; it’s a very action-packed show. So, I think, it’s a wonderful time right now to have this [show] on a proper network. Also, when you watch the Crucifixion itself, I wouldn’t say it’s gory, but it’s very poignant. It’s very tough to watch because it really just makes you go, “Oh my God, this is hard.” It’s hard because you can almost feel those nails going in.
GALO: A.D. follows the events after the Crucifixion of Christ, specifically the Resurrection and the growing of the church. How close to the Bible is this story expected to stay, and how much of a creative license should it employ in your opinion?
JP: It’s obviously very, very close to the Books of Acts. I think the writers — well, they’re making a TV show. What Mark [Burnett] and Roma [Downey] have done brilliantly is that they have a team of experts and people who are scholars, so the writers work closely with these people so that the whole story is authentic. And the story is authentic. It doesn’t veer too much from what happened. Having said that, there are moments where they’ve expanded the story. There are conversations between Claudia (Joanne Whalley) and other characters — and who knows if those conversations ever took place? But you need those conversations. I think it’s a brilliant marriage of history and fiction.
GALO: You’re playing arguably one of the most prominent religious figures in history. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far in preparing for the role of Jesus? Have you felt any kind of pressure to get the role just right because of its religious connotations as well as the emergent fan base?
JP: Yes, of course. That was number one, when I got the role, in a way. I mean, I was desperate to get the role. So when I first read the script, I was just in love with [it].
I grew up in a religious family, so obviously that figure has been a super important figure in my life. But besides that, it was just a beautiful script. So I thought, ‘I have to play this role. I just have to!’[Laughs] So once I got the role, it was very daunting and challenging because you’re faced with people — I mean, not even challenging for me, but everyone else asked me what you just asked me, like “Oh my God, is this hard for you? Is this going to be daunting? Do you have a lot of expectations?” And yeah, I do. It kind of dawned on me that way, like yeah, I do. The only thing that I could do is my job as best I could, and to bring life and reality to this person.
There are so many interpretations of this person and so many opinions about him — about how he walks and how he should look, but I just thought, ‘I’m going to go with my gut, and I’m going to make him a guy that I would like and interact with.’ It was very important to me to make him human; to make him humorous; to make him charismatic; and to make him very relatable. I just wanted to make him relatable. So you can spend a lifetime trying to figure out what people want, but ultimately, it’s the actor’s job to find the character within yourself and give it as much truth and as much love as you can. I mean, one thing for certain I can say about playing Jesus was that I don’t think I’ve ever loved playing a character so much as I have with him. I just felt this pure feeling of, “I’m the luckiest man in the world right now to be playing him.”
GALO: Whether it is a religion, a person, or an idea, everyone believes in something. What are your own religious affiliations, and has this experience helped you feel closer to them in any way?
JP: I come from a half-Italian, half-Argentinian family. In both of those countries, the Christian and the Catholic faiths are practiced. My mother is a religious painter; she pretty much has paintings all over Italy and [in] churches everywhere.
GALO: That’s so cool! You must be very proud of her accomplishments.
JP: I know! It’s fantastic! She has one painting inside, not outside, but inside the Vatican. And, you know, I’m called Juan Pablo because when John Paul II visited Argentina where I was born, my parents got inspired by that [laughs]. The experience has definitely made me feel more spiritual. I’m more in-tune with this idea of love and being true to yourself and just being kind in general — playing this role really just meant being in-tune with him, with Jesus. During that time, I kind of had to evaluate my own life and I had to kind of come up to that level. I mean, I would never go up to that level because there’s only one Jesus and there’s a reason [for that], but it definitely just makes you ask a lot of questions about how you live your life. It definitely made me way more spiritual; I spend more time now fostering that spirituality.
GALO: You’re following Diogo Morgado, who played Jesus in the previous Bible mini-series and returned to the role in the movie Son of God. Did you by chance watch Morgado’s performance and turn to it for inspiration when you were exploring your character?
JP: No, not at all. I mean I didn’t think that would be useful for me. Every person has a very different and specific experience of playing such roles. I actually made a point of not watching, not asking anyone else [for their insight] who had played this role before. I wanted it to be a very unique and personal experience because people have completely different experiences. That’s the beauty of it as well; the beauty of approaching something [for] the first time is that you’re actually creating it from scratch. So if you have any references from someone else, it kind of spoils your own enjoyment and your own work of discovering that part.