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  • New film's portrayal of Jesus gains notice for actor's good looks

  • They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can't be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.
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  • They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can't be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.
    But in the popular new film "Son of God," Jesus is so, well, easy on the eyes that some are revisiting an age-old question that has vexed scholars for centuries:
    Did Jesus really look like Brad Pitt, only slightly better?
    OK, that exact question hasn't vexed scholars for centuries. But those who study religion as portrayed in popular culture do note that depicting Jesus on the screen has always been a tricky business, one that balances weighty theological concerns — how divine to make the son of God, and how human? — with more earthly ones, like how best to sell movie tickets?
    "Listen, films are big business," says Steven Kraftchick, professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. "They're probably not going to cast Jonah Hill as Jesus."
    Not that Hill wouldn't provide an interesting spin. But the producers of "Son of God," actress Roma Downey (who also plays Jesus' mother Mary) and her husband Mark Burnett, were clearly going for something different when they chose the strapping, 6-foot-3 Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor who's dabbled in modeling, for "The Bible," their History channel miniseries. ("Son of God" is culled from footage shot for the series).
    Downey won't deny her Jesus is good-looking — not that she'd get very far with that — but explains she was seeking a subtle mix of qualities. "Someone with strength, presence, charisma, tenderness, kindness, compassion and natural humility," she says. "Someone who could be both a lion AND a lamb."
    Not surprisingly, Morgado's looks have been a big part of the conversation ever since. "We not only found Jesus, we found 'Hot Jesus,' " Oprah Winfrey told him in a TV interview, referring to a Twitter hashtag about the actor.
    Jeffrey Mahan, professor at the Iliff school of theology in Denver, notes that "this isn't the first sexy Jesus on film."
    When Jeffrey Hunter played the role in the 1961 "King of Kings," he says, people dismissively dubbed it "I Was a Teenage Jesus," a reference to Hunter's youthful good looks (though he was in his 30s).
    Some films, like the 1959 "Ben-Hur," avoided problems by not showing Jesus' face. Others, says Adele Reinhartz, author of "Jesus in Hollywood" and professor at the University of Ottawa, show a sanitized figure "that could have walked right out of a Renaissance painting."
    One exception was Martin Scorsese's 1988 "The Last Temptation of Christ," starring Willem Dafoe as a Jesus conflicted about his identity and experiencing earthly temptations, like lust. That didn't please everyone — a Christian fundamentalist group hurled Molotov cocktails at a Paris theater where it played.
    Then there was Mel Gibson's 2004 "The Passion of the Christ," starring Jim Caviezel, an enormous hit which is deemed one of the most controversial films of all time, both because of its bloody depiction of the Crucifixion — Roger Ebert called it the most violent film he'd ever seen — and allegations of anti-Semitism.
    Caviezel, Dafoe, Morgado — all give different interpretations, but they all look a certain way. None, for example, are dark-skinned, as some have speculated Jesus was. Others have noted that men of the time were significantly smaller than they are today.
    Downey, asked about the issue, points out that her Jesus is a Latino, and that in itself is groundbreaking.
    Morgado says he's taking the long view.
    "When I was in Jerusalem, I saw a man and a 10-year-old kid praying," he says. "And I looked at the kid and thought, 'Wow, I will be his visual and spiritual reference.' "
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