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March 15, 2014

Casting Jesus

Did he really look like Brad Pitt?

(Continued)

Salvation came from an unexpected place. In Ouarzazate, Morocco, a member of an advance team remembered an actor who'd been there more than a year earlier on a different project. He searched through hotel registries and found the name.

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.

"A hunkier Jesus than necessary," Variety noted in its review of the movie. The Hollywood Reporter called it "Jesus as pretty boy," and noted a resemblance between Morgado and the young Marlon Brando.

But box office is booming. "Son of God" came in a close second last weekend to Liam Neeson's "Non-Stop," beating out the blockbuster "Lego" movie.

To Morgado, it's all good. "Long after I'm gone, this is going to be my legacy," he said in a telephone interview. "So why should I worry about people calling me 'Hot Jesus'? I'm really proud of this movie."

His key acting challenge, Morgado notes, was getting that balance between divine and human: "It's a really tricky thing."

That's always been a problem, says Jeffrey Mahan, professor at the Iliff school of theology in Denver. "Jesus films go back to the very beginning of cinema, and there's always that tension between human and divine."

Mahan 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." But they were always fairly good-looking: "These are marketing decisions."

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