7:00pm PT by Natalie Stone
'A.D. The Bible Continues' Premiere Postmortem: Jesus' Disciples Doubt, Live in Fear and Danger
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the April 5 episode of NBC's A.D. The Bible Continues.]
A.D. The Bible Continues took viewers back in time to where Easter began on Sunday's premiere episode.
The NBC historical drama, executive produced by husband-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, began with an introductory voice asking audiences, "Truth. What is truth?" as disciple Peter (Adam Levy) ran through the streets in an effort to find Jesus the Nazarene (Juan Pablo Di Pace) as he is being questioned by Pilate (Vincent Regan), who decides that Jesus should be crucified at the demand of high priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle).
As the episode unfolds, the Old- and New-Testament writings of Jesus' crucifixion come to life — Judas betrays him, Peter denies him three times, he is nailed to the cross and buried in a tomb and the temple is destroyed, among others — as audiences witness the personal feelings, conflicts and outlook on Jesus of each character in the episode.
Burnett and Downey go into great detail to address the tensions between characters who have opposing views of Jesus, including Pilate and wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley), Caiaphas' wife Leah (Jodhi May) and high priest Joseph of Arimathea (Kevin Doyle), Caiaphas and Pilate and the disciples versus one another. At the end of the episode, viewers are left watching a heaven-sent angel warrior begin to roll the stone away from the tomb, which is beaming with light from the inside, in front of fearful Roman soldiers.
A.D. executive producer Downey talked with THR about expanding each character's story, life unfolding for the disciples after Jesus' death and the show premiering on Easter.
Why did you choose to focus more on the characters' individual perspectives versus the crucifixion in the premiere episode?
The first episode deals with the crucifixion of Jesus and, three days later, the resurrection of Jesus, so, for most of the series, it will play out by how that has impacted the world in which they live. We follow the disciples in those early days: tumultuous days, dangerous days following his death, where they lived in fear of their lives. There's chaos and confusion all around them while they regroup. Of course, when Jesus resurrects, hope is born again for them. The series draws upon scripture: the book of Acts and also from the historic writings of the time, Josephus and others, to create a historic context and political context so that the story will have a fullness and that the audience can come to it and understand. On one hand, we show the Romans led by Pontius Pilate: ruthless and cruel, and is a regime of oppression. The same regime, of course, that destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D., which is why the rebels fled to the hilltop of Masada. We have the Romans and the political maneuvering of Herod, of zealots, who believe that the only way to freedom is by lifting of sword. The temple authorities, led by Caiaphas, and then, of course, at the heartbeat of it are the disciples that are moving forward as a persecuted people with courage and strength.
Jesus is crucified and buried by the end of the first episode. What will the focus of A.D. be in the coming weeks?
With the Bible series, we had the opportunity to start at the beginning of the Bible and tell the story ambitiously until the end. We only had 10 hours, and we wished we could have taken a deeper dive. With A.D. The Bible Continues, we have been able to use the death of Jesus as the starting point because, really, it's the journey of what happens next. It was a moment that changed the world — it changed world history. The title of our show shows that it changed how our calendar was measured. It had resounding impact and, again, with the 12 remaining disciples, eventually they brought down the Roman Empire. That's historic. It's a story of faith and of courage, and I don't think that you have to be of Christian faith to enjoy this story. It's a broad story, and we're excited that it's on broadcast TV. We're so grateful to NBC and our partnership with them that on Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection, people will be able to gather around their television sets and experience the story together.
Was Easter Sunday the desired airdate from the start?
It's no accident. We had originally thought that we would deliver the show for a September launch, and Bob Greenblatt [NBC chairman] called us and said, "Guys, it's a wiser choice to launch the show Easter Sunday. Can we get it by then?" We started principal photography in September, and we just finished principal photography on St. Patrick's Day, so the pressure has been hard on our postproduction team to edit it quickly so that we are able to make the delivery date. But it's all come together so well. [Viewers will see] the special effects and the amazing set that we built down there: We built a minicity in Morocco with a labyrinth of streets. For us, it's just about telling these stories in a very human way. These characters didn’t know they were in the Bible. They didn't know the outcome from the Bible. They're humans; they're flawed humans, and we wanted to show it with grittiness and authenticity in a compelling, surprising way to draw the viewer.