'Killing Jesus' Writer Talks Courting Non-Christians With Political Approach

Killing Jesus Exclusive - H 2014
Kent Eanes

Killing Jesus Exclusive - H 2014

There have been a lot of film and TV depictions of Jesus ... a lot. And this spring has no shortage, with NBC airing the Bible follow-up A.D. and Nat Geo debuting crucifixion telepic Killing Jesus.

The latter hopes to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack by approaching the religious icon from a more historical perspective. Cast and producers of the Scott Free Productions effort, the third collaboration between the company, Nat Geo and author Bill O'Reilly, came out to the Television Critics Association press tour to elaborate on those differences.

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"From King of Kings on, movies about Jesus has basically been from the point of view of Jesus," said screenwriter Walon Green, who adapted O'Reilly's book of the same name. "This is about a man from the point of view of his times. ... In the shortest terms possible, this is the behind-the-scenes story of the life and death of Jesus."

Killing Jesus, which also screened the first trailer for the project, will certainly try to court Christian viewers. After all, that group helped drive History to record ratings when 12 million tuned into Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's The Bible in 2013. But the question of bringing in a secular crowd is more of a variable.

"I think a non-Christian viewer will like this film because they can immerse themselves in the human story of this phenomenal guy," added Green. "There's also the excitement and dynamics of the period and the various people at play."

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Despite the aggressive title, the film's lone controversy — if you can even call it that — was some conservative opposition to the casting of Muslim-raised Haaz Sleiman as Jesus. That fact, brought up by one reporter, along with potential concern about a secular approach to a typically spiritual subject, were dismissed by the cast.

"Any time you go and humanize the Bible story, I think it would win praise from every part of the Christian world," said Kelsey Grammer, who plays King Herod. "I think they find increased modern relevance is valuable."