Six Actors Known For Playing Jesus

Six actors who'll only ever be known for playing Jesus.

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Jan. 28, 2009

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Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings (1961): Playing Christ requires a certain magisterial blandness; people prefer to project their own ideas of the would-be savior onto a hollow (and Caucasian) mannequin. That's one reason why Willem Dafoe, an actual actor in an actual role, has had a beefy career post-Last Temptation of Christ and why Jeffrey Hunter, of this quirky biblical epic, did not. Hunter (The Searchers) is referred to as "the James Dean Jesus," partly because Kings director Nicholas Ray also did Rebel Without a Cause and partly because his Christ is a scruffy youth with a red, Dean-ish cloak.

Enrique Irazoqui, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964): There's a reason you've (probably) never heard of Irazoqui: He wasn't an actor. Pier Paolo Pasolini's socialist retelling so roots the tale in gritty realism that it stars all non-actors, most prominently Irazoqui, a 19-year-old Catalan economics student.

Ted Neeley, Jesus Christ Superstar (1973): Less an actor than a husky-voiced singer and musician, Neeley was brought over from the Broadway mounting of the J.C. rock opera to star in its bizarrely anachronistic movie version. Neeley nicely fit the Jesus bill: bland, wooden, humorless.

Robert Powell, Jesus of Nazareth (1977): Some people know the Brit actor from Ken Russell's typically phantasmagoric 1974 biopic Mahler, which dramatized the composer's religious conversion via Nazi garb. Everyone else knows him for headlining Franco Zeffirelli's billion-hour, all-star Jesus miniseries.

Brian Deacon, Jesus (1979): Another English Jesus in another Christian movie fave, Deacon has only one other notable film credit: Peter Greenaway's masterful A Zed and Two Noughts (1985), in which he and his brother Eric play twin zoologists frequently going the full monty.

Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ (2004): In which a monstrously unexpressive actor and energy vacuum rides to glory solely because he looked convincingly tortured for two-plus hours. And now he's fighting alien beasties alongside Vikings. He deserves no better.

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Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Sheila said... on Jan 27, 2009 at 08:06PM

“Then you've never seen him in Frequency. He's a wonderful actor. ”

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2. Schnellart said... on Jan 28, 2009 at 05:42PM

“Nor have you seen Thin Red Line and the Count of Monte Cristo....Mr Caviezel is a very talented actor but underappreciated....”

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3. Leonard Pollack said... on Jan 29, 2009 at 07:56AM

“Here is a perfect example of a critic, Matt Prigge, giving wrong information . Never once in Ken Russell's film MAHLER does Robert Powell wear Nazi Attire. Get your facts right.”

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4. Ben Trout said... on Jan 29, 2009 at 10:45AM

“Prigge is not indicating that Robert Powell wears Nazi attire. He is stating that Mahler's religious conversion - through Ken Russell's nutty head filter - *includes* Nazi Garb. The Nazi helmet is worn in a dream sequence - along with the dominatrix's outfit - by Cosima Wager. Get your reading skills right.”

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5. James said... on Jan 30, 2009 at 07:04PM

“ok, don't take it so seriously. Caviezel will only be known for this because every other rol is such a drag!!!! He's dull!”

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6. Debby said... on Feb 12, 2013 at 08:10PM

“How about the guy who played Jesus in Greatest Story Ever Told, Max von Sydow?? I think he was marvelous!! Not to mention Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth, no matter what anyone else says...and I also heard that James Caviezel was a devout Christian, so that's probably why he took the role...”

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7. carrie h said... on Mar 29, 2013 at 11:55AM

“I have enjoyed each actor & film I think it takes great courage and a love for Jesus to actually step up and play our savior. Jim is right we all must carry our own cross or be destroyed under the weight of it. Thank you all for making these films...I hope & pray that more of them will be made..god knows our society needs more of them with so much immoral tv programs being aired for our families to watch thanks again...”

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