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Kelsey Grammer and Eoin Macken: The Herods on Killing Jesus

Watch Killing Jesus

PREMIERE:

March 29, 2015, on National Geographic, at 8 p.m.

STARRING:

Haaz Sleiman, Kelsey Grammer, Eoin Macken, Stephen Moyer, John Rhys-Davies, Rufus Sewell, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tamsin Egerton, Aneurin Barnard, Klara Issova, Joe Doyle, Chris Ryman, Joseph Long, Jason Kavan

WRITER:

Walon Green

DIRECTOR:

Christopher Menaul

PRODUCTION CO:

Scott Free Productions

ADAPTED FROM:

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Hannah Goodwyn - Senior Producer

After a very warm morning on the set of Killing Jesus in Ouarzazate, Morocco, actors Kelsey Grammer and Eoin Macken changed out of their heavy biblical garb and met the visiting press in a tent down the hill from the "Temple" to chat about National Geographic's upcoming series and their roles in it, as King Herod and his son, Herod Antipas, respectively.

Both Grammer and Macken shared some fascinating insight on the project, including their thoughts on its central figure, Jesus Christ. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

On playing King Herod...

Kelsey Grammer: He's been doing a balancing act for a long time. His head's on a chopping block with his own people and with the Romans most of the time. So he's probably a pretty bright politician. He does make this terrible mistake of killing all the children, which I think haunts him. These are the thoughts as he dies.

On playing Herod Antipas...

Eoin Macken: I took a lot of how I played Antipas off how Kelsey played Herod because I quite like his Herod.... He was going through pain and I think that was very important because it then created...a connection... there's a certain level of respect.

On visiting Jesus' homeland, Israel, today and in person...

KG: I'd like to visit Israel. I've never had a chance. Some day.

EM: I was going to go at the start of the year.... Wasn't the best time... so I delayed my trip. I've been to loads of bar mitzvahs though. (laughs)

On how Killing Jesus, based on Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's best-selling book, looks at the biblical story from a different perspective...

EM: I though it was quite important and interesting because it kind of removes some of the mysticism of it. This character...look at it from the view of what was going on and at the time Jesus came along. There are an awful lot of people claiming to be the Messiah.... I think it's interesting because you get to look at the characters from a political point of view from Herod's point of view, from Caiaphas, the church and kind of see where they all sit as opposed to this is this big event.

KG: Yeah, it's in retrospect, you figure out how incredible it was, [Jesus'] arrival on this scene. You would think most of these human beings have evolved. Except for Jesus, [they] have no clue what really was happening. He will cast a shadow through the universe, throughout time. As a result, they will too... at some level.

On showing King Herod's perspective...

KG: I like making it human.... We as actors always gotta fill in the blanks. Bad guys, you've still gotta humanize them. They get up in the morning, go to the bathroom, have breakfast, love their children... [in Herod's case] kill them. (laughs)

It's part of my culture. I'm a Christian, so I have a great sense of reverence for all this stuff, but you know you can't play that.

On the costume challenges...

KG: Everybody trips going up the [Temple] steps.

EM: We were concentrating really hard going up those steps...trying to make it look really cool.... It's changed how I view women wearing skirts. It's hard work.

On a touching moment Grammer had with the producers...

KG: A lot of the gals who are producing the show are Jewish. And when I first arrived, they told me, 'we just shot the Sermon on the Mount scene. Oh, It was so moving!' [So I said,] 'Well, imagine what it must have been like the first time!' (Laughs) 'Oh, oh, yeah!'

On Haaz Sleiman as Jesus...

EM: Haaz has this wonderful energy. He's got a great presence, really, really great presence and stoicism about him. He's quite special.

On Jesus the Christ...

KG: The enormity of what Jesus did is still sort of lost on us. By virtue of the fact that the Bible, it's a great book, but it doesn't seem immediately accessible. You know, you really have to study it. And, you know, if you don't, then it's like 'oh it's a bunch of... like it's almost a fairytale bunch of stories. When you get a more in-depth look at what this effected and if you are connected to the idea that God is coming through this man and that he becomes God...of course, originally, he's Jesus but then he's Jesus the Christ and that's an extraordinary thing to happen. And I believe in it. So there you are.

But I think if you deposit human behavior and human emotion and everything on each of these other characters, you actually make the story more profound.

EM: It's also interesting doing this because you appreciate what Jesus had to go through as well, as opposed to looking at it from a fairytale point of view where it's loaves and fishes. [You] kind of got a heightened sense of reality and that's good because you have to really consider and you see what he goes through. It's not just stories.

On Jesus' disciples standing strong in the face of certain death after Jesus' ascension...

KG: If it didn't happen, they would've given up. Not one of them ever recanted. Not one of them ever said this wasn't true. And that's pretty profound.

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