Bruce Marchiano, best known for his portrayal of Jesus in the film The Gospel According to Matthew, but also known as an author and international speaker released a 15th Anniversary edition of The Gospel According to Matthew and talked with us about his experience portraying Jesus and how it has transformed his life forever.
NEST: Why did you decide to do a re-release after 15 years?
Bruce Marchiano: When filming The Gospel According to Matthew, I received all kinds of positive and intriguing reactions from the crew, extras and other actors (most being unsaved), who were all “blown away” by what they were seeing. They would say things like, “Is that really in the Bible?”, “Did Jesus truly say that?”, and “Is this really what Jesus is like?”
Not one day has gone by since the release of the Christian movie in fifteen years that I haven’t received a letter/email from somewhere in the world talking about how much their life has changed. I’m very acquainted with the “power” of The Gospel According to Matthew to draw people to the heart of Jesus, and also how many precious hearts have yet to encounter it. So we are releasing it afresh in celebration of its legacy – and in hopes of introducing it to a whole new audience and generation.
NEST: In your book, “The Footsteps of Jesus”, which is included with the Anniversary Edition of the film, you describe how portraying the son of the living God made man, impacted your personal spiritual journey; would you share with us one such experience?
Bruce Marchiano: “Yes, one specific scene when I was hanging on the cross, suffering like I’d never imagined suffering… and realizing that Jesus had all the power to stop that suffering – but he didn’t. He continued to thrust himself through it – to choose it – FOR ME. Yes, it was as if there was this continual “whisper” inside my heart through every moment of acting that scene, “I did it for you, Bruce… I did it for you.” So yes, my life was dramatically changed!”
As an actor you learn, a man’s heart is exposed by his actions/choices. So, when you “analyze” a character, you examine those things he “does” and ask the question over and over, “Why would he do that?” Yes, I just gave you an acting lesson, ha ha! Well, Jesus is literally God in human manifestation, possessing all the power of the universe and beyond. With that goes having all the choices in the universe – no one forcing him to do anything – everything you see Jesus do, he is choosing to do. So what did Jesus choose to do with all the power/resource/ability… of the universe? HE GAVE IT AWAY. 100% of the time we see him doing one thing, giving himself away. “You’re blind, here are some eyes;” “You’re lame, here are new legs;” “You’re dead (Lazarus), here is new life”… and ultimately, unto us, “You’re born condemned by your sinful nature, here is my life (the cross).” So, for the first time in my life, I truly realized what kind of “man,” this man who was God, was 2000 years ago. The depth of his heart was so big that he gave all of himself away, not reserving even one inch for himself. And in that, discovering the depth of what is his bottom line – his love… for me.
NEST: I am sure you have some incredible stories of lives changed…. Share a few of those.
Bruce Marchiano: So many flood into my mind… There have been many lives that were imprisoned in legalistic kinds of Christian systems just totally set free and introduced to God’s grace through the film. There have been countless lives imprisoned by past hurts and betrayals, angry at life, angry at God… just set free in realization of His love. Yes, I’ve heard many of those stories.
I’ve had letters from Satanists (well, EX-Satanists, ha ha!). In fact I recall one high school girl who was practicing Satanism told me that every time she looked at the screen she would feel a pressure in her chest like her heart was going to explode, which would stop when she turned her eyes away. She told me (in a church parking lot) that because of that she realized it was the devil who wanted to destroy her (not Jesus, as she had believed) and so gave her life to Jesus.
I remember a mother telling me she had a “wayward” daughter who would bring boys home from nightclubs. They would do what kids do, sit on the sofa with the TV on and end up fooling around. Well, they turned on the TV and The Gospel According to Matthew just happened to be on. The boy didn’t care and went about his dirty business, but the girl was watching over his shoulder. She became overwhelmed with conviction, broke down in tears, threw the guy out the door, and gave her life to Jesus that very night. The mother said she’s been walking strongly with the Lord ever since, a radical life-turnaround. And we can only imagine that guy still walking around wondering what on earth happened that night!
NEST: As a result of your portrayal of Jesus in the Christian film, some people who had no previous interest in learning about Jesus, as well as lifelong Christians, found a new friend in Jesus as an approachable, compassionate, joyful Savior. How did you come to portray our Savior in such a unique fashion which has come to be referred to as “The Smiling Jesus”?
Bruce Marchiano: “It came from all the pages of scripture. At the same time, these things like joy, passion and tenderness were all discoveries for me as well. Hebrews 1:9 says about Jesus, “He was anointed with the oil of joy above anyone else,” meaning he was the most joyous man who ever walked he earth. During the last supper he prayed to his father, “That they may be filled with my joy.” Then you just look at the basic reality – he was “the kingdom of God alive,” if I can put it that way. And what is the kingdom of God? It’s where every tear is wiped away, where all mourning is turned into joy. Then you just look at what he did every day – opening blind eyes, raising the dead… this is not a lukewarm, passive occupation.
It is the most joyous day to day experience in human history. The passion and compassion, the care and tenderness…again, all discoveries made from scripture. In fact, all I really did was ‘bring to life’ what Jesus said about himself. In many films, Jesus says, “I love you,” but he sure doesn’t act like it, ha ha ha! All I did was “do it,” and I am so honored that it has meant so much to so many lives. Yes, I have found that a lot of people know the events of Jesus’ life – but we fall so tragically short in knowing the fullness of… HIM. And that love beyond love, care beyond care, joy and tenderness and faithfulness, humility (he was the most humble man to ever walk the earth) and also a man “acquainted with sorrow” who experienced heartbreak and hurt like no one every did – and why? Because he felt SO deeply, because he alone fully understood how tragically short we all live of his father’s best for us – and that undoubtedly tore his heart up constantly.”
NEST: What scene was hardest for you to film?
Bruce Marchiano: You must keep in mind that the film was literally “Word for Word,” so just in the sense that I had zero freedom to make even one syllable mistake, there wasn’t one scene that wasn’t hard! But beyond the practical aspects that made every scene a tremendous effort, the crucifixion was obviously intensely challenging. As much as I was “acting” it, I can’t describe to you the depth of personal horror, trauma, physical/emotional pain. Getting knocked about like I was (we didn’t set up stunts but just “went for it”), hanging from two leather straps literally for hours, flies crawling on my face and not being able to do anything about it, the cold, the nakedness, the spit being hurled at me… Yes, that was quite the day.
But you know which one was the absolute hardest? The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why? Because no actor in the world could come close to portraying that depth of agony, so I had zero confidence that I could pull it off. And on top of that, it was the last scene we shot after three months of eighteen hour days, so I was entirely depleted. And as we set up for the scene, I told the director I just didn’t have any emotion in me. He said, “All we can do is pray,” and as you can see from what was captured on film in those scenes, the Lord “did His thing.”
To this day I can’t tell you how, but I broke down completely, only to rise in strength on the words, “Not My will but Yours be done!” I get lots of testimonies based on that scene also – the scene I most feared to do. So I guess it’s a testimony to His promise that “In your weakness My strength is perfected.” Yes, when the Lord does a thing, He really does a thing. Glory to Jesus
NEST: How has the film industry changed in the past twenty years in its receptiveness to actors who openly profess their Christianity?
Bruce Marchiano: “Maybe it has gotten more acceptable, but I’m not 100% sure. I know that I have been shunned by some, lost work, turned down work, and none of that is ever nice. I remember once, after turning down a TV show because it didn’t honor God, my (former) agent told me, “This Christian thing is getting in the way,” and gave me my walking papers. That sent my career into a real tailspin, and I’m sure many others have experienced similar things.
I can remember Dean Jones telling me how he was blackballed after he did a Christian film back in the 70’s – though I’m sure it isn’t that severe these days, and that’s because many “Christian” films are making a lot of money. And that is what people fail to realize – Hollywood is a business – the bottom line is they want to make money. So, at the end of the day they will endure whatever, whether they agree or not, if they are making money. It’s a sad, cold reality, but I guess it falls under the category of God using everything and anything, as he is so faithful to do!”
NEST: Tell us about your vision to create a new “Word for Word” film of the “Gospel According to John.”
Bruce Marchiano: “Through my experience in MATTHEW and the countless stories of changed lives I’ve received over the years, and continue to this day, I have become acutely aware of the power of the gospel to change lives. So I can think of nothing more important or exciting than to bring that “power” to life on film – literally coupling God’s power to change lives with the film medium (unarguably the most influential force in the world today). That’s why this new vision isn’t “just another Jesus movie,” it’s THE GOSPEL, brought to life on film. The vision is to use the latest and the best technologies/techniques to make a “world class,” state of the art film that will introduce Jesus to millions across the world, not only during a theater run, but ongoing in the hands of missionaries, Bible teachers, churches and individual believers.”
NEST: How can viewers participate in bringing this vision to reality with their prayers and financial support?
Bruce Marchiano: “I am producing this new film titled, “Jesus…No Greater Love,” as a non-profit outreach ministry as opposed to seeking big-pocket investors or going to the studios. For this reason, we are welcoming everyday believers to join together, unifying across America and the globe, with small donations that will all add up to funding “Jesus…No Greater Love.” This will literally make the film “produced by the body of Christ,” and I like to say further, “produced by and for the body of Christ to take Jesus to the nations.” This approach frees the film from business constraints that limit its ability to be given out freely where folks can’t afford it, to be posted on the Internet where people across the world can download it in their language w/o cost, to equip churches to hand out DVD’s (these are the kinds of things we want to do with the film when finished), use it not as a typical film release, but a “film outreach tool,” and so we’re inviting all believers to join together to make it happen. It’s all spelled out at www.newjesusmovie.com. Glory to Jesus!”
NEST: We first worked together on the original release of The Gospel According to Matthew 15 years ago and the infomercial which brought the film to millions of families around the world; what do you remember most fondly about your experiences working with NEST?
Bruce Marchiano: “I can remember the first time I was at NEST offices, and you sat me down to watch the infomercial, and we had a great afternoon together. What I remember most is the quality of people I met at NEST, just precious hard-working people who were excited about the opportunity to introduce life-changing resources to people. From the top down, I could see everyone was working with “higher intent” and a real passion… for people. This blessed my heart so much, and I was so proud to be represented by such a quality company – even as I am equally proud to be working with NEST today! May we all grow old together – changing lives one heart at a time!”
NEST: What is one thing interesting about yourself that most people do not know?
Bruce Marchiano: “Well… I am now blushing to see this question. I tend to be a very private person and shy about myself. I’ll talk about Jesus all day long, but when it comes to me…ha ha! I can tell you that I love to be silly, and just enjoy warm silly humor. Yes, I love a good laugh and it is always the simple and silly things. I say this because when people meet me they are always surprised by this, they assumed I was this very “mega-spiritual,” intense person, who thrives on heavy spiritual discussion. Maybe it’s because in my work it can get so serious and intense – I mean, it’s all about saving lives all the time, and representing Jesus well, so it should be serious and intense – but when I’m just resting, enjoying dinner with friends, out and about…it’s just good fun to enjoy good fun with good-hearted and down to earth people doing simple things and just enjoying God’s goodness.
It’s so nice to just chat with waiters, valets and such because (having been one) I know that no one ever engages the. I like to make nice jokes with them and see them enjoy them. So, if you see me on the street, you may be surprised if you approach me and want to get into a heavy discussion. I may just smile big and give you a nice hug and say, “How about an ice cream and a walk in the sunshine instead,” ha ha!!! Glory to Jesus!
To order, The Gospel according to Matthew Click Here!
To learn more about Bruce Marchiano Ministries Click Here!