LOS ANGELES — Generally, there’s no such thing as “just another role” for Joseph Fiennes. Whether he’s playing Monsignor Timothy Howard in “American Horror Story,” Merlin in “Camelot” or Mark Benford in “Flashforward,” Fiennes sees his job as trying to find the best way to bring the character to life.
But “Risen,” directed by Kevin Reynolds, was different than other jobs for the British actor.
In “Risen,” Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman military tribune ordered by Pilate to discover what happened to the body of Jesus after he was crucified and his body sealed in a tomb. Clavius is a non-believer who attacks the task as a typical criminal investigation.
The film is about how Clavius deals with the question of faith when he meets the man he saw die on the cross. The spiritual elements are what made “Risen” a little different for Fiennes.
“Faith wise, I think there is a lot to take away from this film in terms of whether you are religious or governed by faith. For me, redemption is a big theme whether you are religious or not,” Fiennes says. “There is a wonderful moment where Clavius, who is involved in the industry of death and is part of the squad that puts Jesus to death, gets a second chance.”
The fact that Clavius was part of the death squad was the hook for Fiennes doing the role. He liked that the character is analytical at the start and takes a journey where the audience already knows the ending.
Fiennes found the scene where Clavius and Jesus (Cliff Curtis) finally talk just before the ascension as a poignant moment. The actor smiles, saying that he’s always imagined that if he could have a dinner party with anyone, Jesus would be there. He sees “Risen” as a little way of getting to do that.
To make the meeting between Clavius and Jesus as powerful as possible, Fiennes avoided Curtis. The first time they spoke during the two and a half months of filming was their scene together.
“My methodology was that Cliff didn’t exist until we had that moment,” Fiennes says.
Fiennes believes audience members — religious or not — will be able to understand how much we like to philosophize and intellectualize while dealing with new ideas.
He has an idea of how the public will react to the movie.
“Certainly, the more conservative will say, ‘Don’t see it. It flies in the face of Scriptures. It’s revisionist.’ Then you get the other side, which say, ‘It is preachy. It’s Sunday school,’” Fiennes says. “But I get a sense that everyone in the room will enjoy a wonderful film.”
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