I attended funeral services this weekend at the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles. At one point the choir sang a hymn that was a favorite of the departed, and a video played on a screen behind them. It was outtakes of a movie about Christ’s life.
I watched the person playing Jesus and thought, as I always do, about what its like for an actor to play that role. I also noticed he was, as is common, a white guy, and was off thinking about what Jesus would really have looked like when something struck me about the actor.
I turned to my wife and whispered, “Is that Desmond?” She stifled a giggle and nodded her head.
The actor playing Jesus in the video at the funeral services at the Church of the Nazarene, was the same actor who plays Desmond on Lost. I tapped the shoulder of my sister-in-law in front of me. “That’s Desmond” I whispered. She did nothing for a beat then turned around with her hand over her mouth trying not to bust out laughing.
Of course I couldn’t watch the video in the same way after that. If you don’t watch Lost you probably don’t quite get it, but Desmond is a Scottish castaway who says ‘brother’ a lot and drinks a lot of Scotch, Wine and whatever else he can lay his hands on. He also was once a monk.
So this got me thinking about what actors have taken on the charged role of Jesus. A quick trip to IMDb yields an enormous list. Counting appearances as baby Jesus, 220 actors are listed.
One oddity of combing through this list is that a full half of the credits come after 1991, with 80 of them since 2000. It seems portrayals of Jesus have been increasing in frequency over the last two decades.
Henry Ian Cusick
Aside from Desmond on Lost, Cusick has also been on 24, Casualty, and starred in Hitman and After the Rain. His shot at Jesus came in The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John.
He was fired from Heaven’s Gate in 1979 but rose up to perform maybe one of the most famous portrayals of Jesus, in The Last Temptation of Christ.
He only voiced Jesus in the 2000 movie The Miracle Maker. But he also starred in Maid in Manhattan. And some other movies.
The pride of Vision Quest, now Sullivan Groff in Weeds, was not so long ago, Jesus in the film Mary.
The original Hawkeye Pierce from the 1970 movie MASH, got the calling to play Christ one year later in the 1971 filming of Johnny Got His Gun.
This Emmy award winning long-time cinematographer is best known for his work on science programming. However, a few remember that in 1973, he not only Directed “Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus” but also gave himself the starring role.
Oakland-born singer Claude Heater was ‘discovered” at a concert in Rome and cast as Jesus in the 1959 epic Ben-Hur. He had only one other film role as Tristan in the 1970 Tristan und Isolde.
Talk about typecast. The only role Wilson ever played was Jesus in four films from 1951-1954. And no, Illuminati fans, it’s not Robert Anton Wilson… or is it?
No, no, not that Woz, a different one. You’re thinking of the savior of home computing. This Woz has done indie films, commercials and TV appearances. Star Trek fans may remember him best as Alien Latia in an episode of Enterprise. His big crack at the son of man came on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2005.This probably prepared him to play Avraham in Color of the Cross.
Best known as a singer/songwriter. Warren Zevon fans know him as the guy you’ll see shooting Rye in the Rattlesnake Cafe when you’re dead and in Denver. Waddy got a turn at playing Jesus in Richard Lewis’s “The I’m Exhausted Concert” in 1988.
As far as I can tell from IMDb, he’s the only guy named Jesus to play Jesus. It was in the 1995 Spanish film, AsÃ en el cielo como en la tierra.
The earliest listing of someone playing Jesus comes from the 1897 “The Horitz Passion Play. The Passion Play was from Czechoslovakia, and was presented as part of a lecture series in the US delivered by Professor Ernest Lacy.