John the Baptist is arrested.  ¿¿(photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)
John the Baptist is arrested. ¿¿(photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)
Kelsey Grammer as Herod the Great in National Geographic Channels Killing Jesus.��(photo credit:  National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)
Kelsey Grammer as Herod the Great in National Geographic Channels Killing Jesus.��(photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a tale as old as time. But one that never tires, as is evident in the making of Killing Jesus with Kelsey Grammer as King Herod and Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman as Jesus of Nazareth, writes Debashine Thangevelo

KELSEY Grammer is synonymous with comedy. From Cheers to Frasier, this multi-faceted actor, writer, director, producer and voice-over artist has been entertaining fans with his flair for comedy.

Amid the troubles in his tumultuous personal life, he bounced back with another compelling and morally bankrupt character in the critically-acclaimed political drama, Boss. His silver tongue saw him pull it off with panache. Then again, it also helped him pull in four wives.

Now he is back on our screen – donning the robe of King Herod in National Geographic’s Easter special, Killing Jesus, which is based on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s best-selling book.

On how this version differs from other interpretations á la The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ, Grammer noted: “Gosh, I wish I could tell you. My understanding of the film in terms of its comparison to other storytelling to this particular story is kind of a journeyman’s understanding. I read the script and thought, ‘yeah, this is it. There are some nice touches’. My hat is off to Bill O’Reilly on this thing. I mean, he’s this historian and has this teacher history thing in him in that he wanted to update these stories and make them contemporary, and give them intrigue and lay out the political ramifications of what was happening at the time.

“I’m a student of the idea that your fantasy and imagination are probably more powerful than anything you’ve ever seen. If you loan yourself to that performance you will probably come up with something pretty extraordinary.”

While he wasn’t swayed to read the book after bagging the role – not that he is unfamiliar with the tale being raised as a Christian scientist, which has informed a lot of his life – he did happen upon a copy of a book that featured his character just before starting the movie.

Grammer shared: “I was in a London hotel and I grabbed one of the books sitting on the shelves which are there for decoration. I opened it up to a picture of King Herod’s palace. It was a rather remarkable construction. I think he spent 20 years building it. In the context of that picture was some information about how he had ruled this area for 40 years. How he had several dozen children. How he killed some of them himself, which certainly brought him more to life for me. It at least provided a way into him. He was a man of his time. And, politically, any day you could be in serious trouble. When the wise men came to visit him and declared they were off to see the king of kings, he thinks, ‘well, anybody under the age of two has got to go’.

“I didn’t realise there was a sense of intrigue about him being in a balancing act between the Hebrews and the Romans and him being the appointed ruler of those people. The resentment that surrounded him…”

Interestingly, this movie was shot in Morocco, on the standby sets from Ridley’s Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Grammer adds: “For my character, I did a kind of Hebrew accent. He’s a king, so I can’t walk around sounding like an Englishman. I took some tips from some friends from Tel Aviv.”

While his character’s lifespan is brief, it is potent nonetheless, especially with it interwoven into the intense political and historical fabric of the tale.

• Killing Jesus airs on National Geographic Channel (DStv channel 181) on Sunday, April 5 at 7.10pm.

PLAYING JESUS

BORN and raised in Lebanon, 20-something Haaz Sleiman was pleasantly surprised when he got the lead role.

To date, he has found himself mostly typecast as an Arab billionaire (Company Town), a terrorist (NCIS) and a Muslim (Nikita).

Best known for his role as a Syrian immigrant in The Visitor, he did cause a bit of a stir with his Killing Jesus role.

On the overall experience, he said: “I was affected by what Jesus stood for, which might sound cheesy. I think doing this film has taken my personal teachings and beliefs to a whole other level.”

For the role, he had to grow his beard, but that didn’t go as planned. So he ended up with a fake beard and a wig.

He added: “I’m still pinching myself that I played Jesus. I love the fact that I did that.

It was important for me to honour Chris Menaul’s (director) vision. He wanted to tell this story as humanly as possible.”