Mainstream Monday: Unlikely Choices in Bible Movie Casting


If you think Passion of the Christ is a foreign language film…If your favorite Tom Cruise movie is Seven Samurai…If you think a Carey Mulligan is something you mark on a golf scorecard…If you consider Domino to be Quentin Tarantino’s greatest film, Mainstream Monday is the place for you! In Mainstream Monday we leave the “art” to the critics and discuss what the other 90% of movie fans are watching. It’s everything you love to hate about the movies. This week we’re discussing…Movie stars you’d never expect to play Bible characters.

We all come to be movie fans in different ways. Some of us are practically raised in the seats of a local cinema, and for some the love of film is a family tradition. Then there are people like me, who grew up in extremely conservative Christian homes and had to cultivate their own love and knowledge of film. This meant a lot of sneaking to friend’s homes to watch movies and watching more than my share (or any normal person’s share, for that matter), of “Bible movies” and Christian-made films about the Apocalypse. These were considered wholesome alternatives to some of the more questionable content Hollywood was delivering. Desperate for film in any form I became very familiar with the Bible Story sub-sub-sub-genre and, as my world of movie experience began expanding in my early twenties, I realized some pretty big stars had graced my screen before, often in burlap robes and a pair of sun-beat sandals. The recent news of Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe tackling the story of Noah reminded me of some instances where, either because they were not able to predict the future or because they were willing to turn a blind eye, Christian viewers got to watch their Biblical characters portrayed by some folks who either had been, or would go on to be part of some decidedly unbiblical films.

When I say “Bible Movies” I’m not commenting on some of the classic films like Jesus of Nazareth or The Ten Commandments that were huge Hollywood productions featuring performers like Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner. Rather, I’m talking about the type of films you can only find being broadcast late night on the various Gospel channels. If you find yourself awake late one night, flip on over and see what’s on; you might be surprised what star is staring back at you. For your reading pleasure I’ve formed a list of some of my favorite examples of ‘Unlikely Choices in Bible Movie Casting’ and just for fun with each example I’ve included at least one “Least Biblical Film/Role” these actors had played or went on to play. Read, enjoy, and comment!

Richard Gere - David, from King David

Long before he was exonerating Ed Norton or….”autmning” Winona Ryder in New York, Richard Gere played the Giant-Killer himself in King David in 1985. David is thought to have been a warrior-King, but Gere played up the “wounded poet” angle more with his typical quiet, reactive approach to the character. One interesting note I discovered on IMDB while refreshing my memory on this flick, apparently Rachel Weisz was offered a role in the film but her parents wouldn’t let her. If that’s true, what a pity. She would have made a fine entry on this list. Very fine.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: There are a few to choose from here, as it seems even the “heroes” Gere has portrayed have their lecherous sides, but I prefer to go with his most famous role in Pretty Woman. Nothing screams “unbiblical” like a rich man hiring a leggy streetwalker to keep his mind off his troubles for a week or two.

(Wow…I made it through that without a single Gerbil joke…..wait…..)

Christian Bale - Jesus of Nazareth, from Mary, Mother of Jesus (TV Movie)

That’s right, it’s the Batman, folks. Long before he was sparring with Mark Wahlberg, battling naked CGI Schwarzeneggers, or instructing Taye Diggs in the finer points of gun kata, Christian Bale donned THE robe and sandals in the role of Jesus Christ for the TV Movie Mary, Mother of Jesus in 1999. Bale took a backseat to superstar…[checking notes]Pernilla…August who portrayed the titular Mother. This is one of the few on this list I haven’t seen but judging from the glorious picture on the IMDB title page I just might have to dig it up.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: Not surprisingly I have to go with the film that appears immediately after “Mary” on Bale’s resume: 2000’s American Psycho in which, as you know, he played Patrick Bateman with enough brutality and commitment to insure he never had to work on the small screen again.

Gary Oldman - Pontius Pilate, from Jesus (TV Movie)

In 1999, shortly after trying to destroy the Universe in The Fifth Element as the evil Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zor, and trying to destroy the United States in Air Force One as the evil Ivan Korshunov, and trying to…probably destroy the Universe again in Lost In Space as the evil Dr. Zachary Smith, the awesome Gary Oldman decided to mix things up a bit by playing…Pontius Pilate, the man who ordered God-incarnate to be crucified in the 1999 TV Movie Jesus. Why do you hate us so much when we love you Gary? Why’d he do it? Who knows? Maybe he found the prospect of convicting “that douche from Clueless” (Jeremy Sisto) to death too irresistible to pass up? Perhaps we’ll never know.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: A multitude of villainous options for Oldman (he even has a movie simply entitled Sin), in the end it came down to one of the original bad guys, Dracula. Gotta go with the Count on this one. Ah, ah, ah.

Dennis Hopper - General Tarig, from Samson and Delilah (TV Movie)

Hopper, a relative unknown until his breakout role in 1994’s Speed, followed up on this early breakthrough with two major blockbuster successes: 1995’s critically acclaimed Waterworld and the 1996 TV movie Samson and Delilah, in which he played a character named ‘General Tarig’. A character, I must add, who does not appear in any version of the Bible I’ve ever read. Although, knowing Hopper, he probably had his own personal version of the Bible written to operate out of. Maybe that’s why he agreed to make this movie.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: Choosing Dennis Hopper’s most dastardly doer of evil is about as easy as choosing which Gerbil-themed Richard Gere joke to include in a film column: it’s impossible. But since I have to put something down here, I’ll go with “Deacon” from Waterworld, seeing as immediately after viewing that film is when many people began to question the very existence of God.

Christoph Waltz - Morash, from Jacob

There are two quick ways to learn German: (1) purchase the Rosetta Stone software; (2) read Christoph Waltz’s IMDB page. Judging by the litany of films on his list, he must have been the Morgan Freeman of German cinema before Tarantino splattered his brilliance all over Hollywood with Inglourious Basterds. But back in 1994, way before Shosanna and the most tension-filled milk drinking scene ever filmed, Waltz starred alongside brilliant young performers Lara Flynn Boyle (see below) and Matthew Modine in Jacob.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: As much as I loved Waltz’s blood red baddie in the Green Hornet, it has to be Col. Hans Landa in Basterds, doesn’t it? That’s gonna be hard to top.

Jon Voight - Noah, from Noah’s Ark (TV Movie)

Jon Voight has always had a well-documented love affair with the holy writ, especially with the book of Job. He’s even been known to ‘boost’ a motel Bible or two in his day, which has probably landed him on the Gideons’ most wanted list. Jon Voight’s long career in film has been anything but predictable, ranging from Deliverance to Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Somewhere between being vomited by a giant snake in front of Jennifer Lopez and playing Lara Croft’s dead Dad (awkward), Voight found time to star in Noah’s Ark a made for TV movie that I’m guessing was a little lighter in approach than what Aronofsky’s will turn out to be. (I’m still trying to figure out how he’s going to work ‘heroine addiction’ into the Biblical narrative)

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: There are a few options here, but since I indicted Richard Gere for hiring a prostitute, I suppose I have to be fair and go with Jon Voight’s turn as a man-whore in Midnight Cowboy.

Sean Bean - Esau, from Jacob

Bean first entered my consciousness as “guy who tries to kill Harrison Ford’s family #42” in Patriot Games, and has since gone on to become one of my favorite B-List Actors working today. His unwavering intensity has lent weight to many a feature film, but long before falling on Ford’s speedboat anchor, Bean played the hated brother Esau, in Jacob (making it’s second of three appearances on this list). Esau, like Sean, had every right to be the star but was constantly overshadowed. When will this guy get his due?!

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: I’m tempted to go with Bean’s “Ian Howe” from National Treasure, because what’s less Christian than ripping off America’s treasured history for financial gain? You know what…don’t answer that. Instead I’m opting for Ryder from recent remake of The Hitcher. While not quite as imposing as Rutger Hauer, I thought Bean’s performance was, per usual, underrated. Using a Semi Truck to pull someone in half isn’t exactly biblical, unless of course you consider it to be a gritty Hollywood re-imagining of Jesus’ admonition, “If a friend asks you to walk with him one mile, walk with him twain.”

Lara Flynn Boyle - Rachel, from Jacob

You know what, let’s just get all the Jacob entries out of the way already, shall we? The biblical Jacob worked fourteen years for the chance to marry Rachel, while ignoring her sister Leah who was a genuinely good person, but “tender eyed”, which is Bible-speak for “She’s got a great personality!” Likewise, the 90s/early 2000s infatuation with Boyle also seemed to only run skin deep. While she certainly fits the “beautiful” description, I have a hard time seeing her as anything but cold-blooded and ruthless. But I’m sure that’s based entirely on her onscreen characters, right?

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: Let’s see, there’s Threesome, Speaking of Sex, Insatiable…more than a few choices. But I’m going to go with Red Rock West, the surprisingly good little thriller where she sleeps with the man (Nicolas Cage) whom she believes her abusive husband (Dennis Hopper) has hired to murder her in an attempt to turn the tables. Those are some solid family values at work there.

Max Von Sydow - David, from Solomon

I don’t think this one needs a lot of explanation. He played the aged King David, one of the most revered characters in all of scripture, in Solomon. He also played Father Merrin in The Exorcist, one of the most reviled (by Christians) films in history. Moving right along…

Ben Kingsley - Potiphar, from Joseph

Sir Kingsley has spent his fair share of time in the sand, narrating two biblical films and starring in both Moses and Joseph. There’s also that little Gandhi film he had a part in. I guess that explains why he felt it was okay to make Prince of Persia: he’s very comfortable in sand and sandals. It helps, but it doesn’t make it okay.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: I considered picking Prince of Persia simply because that film is an abomination. But on second thought I decided to go with an equally distressing film/role: that of the “hilariously” cross-eyed Guru Tugginmypudha in the “hilarious” The Love Guru; also an abomination.

Patrick Dempsey - Jeremiah the Prophet, from Jeremiah

Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet”, which seems to fit Dempsey’s puppy dog approach to “hearthrobbing” pretty well. [Apparently according to romantic comedies chicks are all about guys who manage to combine sad eyes with full pocketbooks.] Jeremiah was never appreciated in his time, but in a Monet kind of way. Dempsey isn’t all that appreciated in his time, but I think that’s for different reasons.

LEAST Biblical Film/Role: I’m gonna go with Valentine’s Day because that movie made me want to punch people. Lots of people. And that kind’ve flies in the face of the whole “turn the other cheek rule”.

Michael Gambon - Re Hamun, from Samson and Delilah (TV Movie)
/Richard Harris - “Abraham” from Abraham (TV Movie)

Two incredible actors and I had to include them on this list as one item because they both shared the same “least biblical role”: Professor Dumbledore. I’m sure those that raised a stink about the magic in Harry Potter would not be too excited to hear that the Headmaster of Hogwarts himself played the Father of the Faith, Abraham.


Other Notables:

Elizabeth Hurley - Delilah, from Samson and Delilah (TV Movie) - She played the Devil in the Bedazzled remake so she’s automatically disqualified.
Mary Steenburgen - Naamah, from Noah’s Ark(TV Movie) - The desperate housewife role from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? comes back to haunt her.
Peter O’Toole - Samuel The Prophet, from One Night With The King - The guy was Lawrence of Arabia…he’s above all this.
Daniel Stern - Micah, from Samson and Delilah - I can only see Daniel Stern covered in paint and timidly calling, ‘Harry?….Harry?’
Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister - Hegai, from One Night With The King - The big scary guy from Friday. Oh and he also played the son of the devil in Little Nicky, so there’s that.
Vivica A. Fox - Queen of Sheba, from Solomon - Copperhead from the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad? Solomon better watch his back.
Leonard Nimoy - Samuel, from David (TV Movie) - Live long and prophesy.
Barbara Hershey - Sarah, from Abraham - Remember the Pallbearer?
Johnathon Schaech - Judas Iscariot, from Judas (TV Movie) - The killer from the new Prom Night and jerk from the Oneders? Yeah, I guess that fits well with Judas.
Jeremy Sisto - Jesus, From Jesus (TV Movie) - You’re not a douche, Jeremy. I didn’t mean what I said earlier. You’re cool.
Debra Messing - Mary Magdalene, from Jesus (TV Movie) - Seems like the whole Will & Grace thing might not go over so well with some folks.
Voice of Christian Slater - Moses, from The Ten Commandments (Animated) - Christian Slater as Moses? No.
Voice of Elliott Gould - God, from The Ten Commandments (Animated) - Elliott Gould is god….I knew it!


About Author

Host of Next Projection's ongoing Mainstream Monday series. I enjoy the occasional film, but most of the time I just watch movies. I'm no film student; just an old-fashioned homemade addict of cinema.