Christians know that an encounter with the risen Lord can change your life forever, and apparently that’s also the case when you’re doing a movie about him.
Pete Shilaimon is a Chaldean Catholic and one of the executive producers (with Paul Aiello and Mickey Liddell) of “Risen,” coming to theaters on Feb. 19. Kevin Reynolds (“Hatfields & McCoys,” “The Count of Monte Cristo”) directed from the script he wrote with Aiello (which was adapted from a story by Aiello).
A production of Affirm Films, a faith-based division of Sony Pictures, and distributed by TriStar Pictures, “Risen” stars Joseph Fiennes (“Shakespeare in Love”) — who was just cast as Michael Jackson in an upcoming British TV comedy short — as Clavius, a pagan Roman military tribune under the command of Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth).
In the handsome drama, shot with top-notch production quality in Spain, Clavius witnesses the Crucifixion, seeing the face of Christ (Cliff Curtis) as he dies, but when the body later goes missing, Pilate orders Clavius, with the help of his new aide, Lucius (Tom Felton), to turn Jerusalem upside down to find it.
Clavius does eventually find Christ, but not in the way Pilate anticipated.
In essence, it’s the story of the Resurrection, told from an unbeliever’s point of view, with a “CSI: Jerusalem” twist.
“Everything happened to me on set. I became a better person, I became a better version of who I was,” said Shilaimon during a press event last fall about his experience working on the film. “It changed the way I thought about making movies, changed the way I treat people.
“Definitely, definitely just started to do this a lot” — he paused to make the Sign of the Cross — “I started to do this a lot on set. It did change me. It just did. You can see it in my eyes.”
Regarding his faith, Shilaimon said, “I wear my cross; I love it. I’m Catholic; I’ll never change. This is who I am. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
Those who know co-executive producer Mickey Liddell from this TV work — especially the WB series “Everwood” and “Jack & Bobby,” and from a variety of horror, thriller, historic drama and comedy movies — might be surprised to find him producing a faith-based film.
But, said Liddell, “This is my faith. So, I had no problem at all jumping into this. Obviously, I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to do a good job with it, so that was my biggest fear.”
According to Liddell, he’s made many movies over the course of his career, and he plans to make a lot more, but “Risen” is a film he’s particularly proud of.
“If this were any genre, I’d be really proud of the actors and the director and the writing,” he said. “It’s great, but, that it has a faith-based element really excites me.
“I’m so proud to have my name on it in any way,” continued Liddell. “I don’t know why [Hollywood] stopped making [faith films]. I don’t think filmmakers and creative people and producers and studios should be afraid of that anymore. There’s a huge audience for it. And if they’re really high quality, people want to be in them.”
Shilaimon, along with Liddell, Joseph Fiennes and actress Maria Botto — who plays Mary Madalene, who is inaccurately depicted as a prostitute — headed to the Vatican to be in the receiving line for the pope’s weekly Wednesday audience Feb. 3, in advance of a screening of the film there scheduled for Feb. 5.
In an email on Feb. 5, Shilaimon wrote about meeting the pope, “It was the most incredible moment EVER!!!”
Apparently actor Cliff Curtis, a Maori from New Zealand, took playing the role of Christ very seriously, including not speaking to Fiennes until they exchanged lines in the script.
“We didn’t have any communications,” explained Fiennes. “When we finally did meet, and we finally did share eye contact … we’d been filming together for two months. … When that moment happened, we saved it for the camera.”
“Risen” is a fictional take on the Crucifixion and Resurrection, so obviously it’s not perfectly biblical — and there is the problem with the portrayal of Mary Magdalene, although it does form a basis for one of the film’s funnier moments — but it’s a muscular, confident story that manages to make strong points about faith and miracles without ever preaching, getting sentimental or resorting to clichés.
A lot of the credit goes to Fiennes, who manages to take Clavius from resignation to revelation, without missing a beat.
And, of Clavius, Fiennes said, “He can’t go back; he can’t go back. Does he go forward?”