Fiennes: I think there are a number of answers to that question. Firstly, Kevin Reynolds, a veteran director, we had a long conversation and after that conversation he very kindly offered me (the role) – which is one of the rare times, if maybe the only time, a director's been in the room and said: 'Would you like to do the film?' And I knew there and then: yes I did.
(It was) not only after having spoken with Kevin, but also because, for me, the two interesting things about the script is that, (first,) we begin at the Crucifixion.
Pretty much all films I've seen that depict the life of Christ end with the Crucifixion, almost like the filmmakers don't know what to do after. And, it's a very heavy place to end. It's a very upsetting place to end, believer or nonbeliever. It's a very powerful image. So, we start with the Crucifixion, and we go to the Resurrection and the Ascension. As the title Risen (implies that it) might explore the theme of resurrection, it also I think imbues the film with a sense of uplift.
Maybe we need more dialogue in terms of our faith, in terms of those who are believers, or even nonbelievers, about that aspect, and what that might mean if you were interpreting. You don't have to believe it; maybe you could draw a metaphor from it. But, I think there's a positivity here which for me is fresh in the telling of Christ.
The other thing is it's true to Scripture, or respectful of Scripture. Some films in the past have not been. I like that it has a balance between being very creative cinema – it's a beautiful, epic, big film, it's a Hollywood blockbuster in that sense – but at the same time it's respectful of Scripture. So that's a first time balance as well.
CNA: Could you talk about the journey of your character? And, how much of your own personal life and faith journey contributes to the journey of Clavius?
Fiennes: As you know, my character is a nonbeliever. He believes in the law of Roman gods, in particular Mars. He views Yeshua (Jesus), his followers, and all that they stand for, as Zealots and terrorists.
I came to this from a completely different angle. It's nothing to do with me. I had to go the other way. I had to invent and articulate the research I had found. The historical research that gave me great value to making the character was how a man, military tribune, would think and act in that time and age.
I didn't bring my self to the part. I invented Clavius. And when he goes on a change, maybe I could come closer to him, but for me, in my mind, I wasn't myself. I'm this Tribune.
CNA: As an actor in Hollywood, you've said this film has an appeal for believers nonbelievers alike. Are we perhaps at time when there's more receptivity to films about faith? Specifically, to films that don't have an agenda, or that aren't seeking to change the story?
Fiennes: The Biblical narrative has played a part in the history of cinema for a long time. There's always been a hunger, I think.
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Now, they've always been films for their age. Maybe they've been over-the-top old fashioned, Evangelical, and now maybe they've gone the other way – they're too revisionist, and too original, and don't adhere to Scripture. I think we've got a nice balance here, and maybe it is a film for the time and age.
I think less about religion, and I think (about) the word "conditioning": that we're all conditioned, whether we know it or not. To have a dialogue and a self-observation of one's conditioning is important, because we're only going to come up against another person's conditioning, and that might bring tension and conflict.
The more that we can understand our conditioning, the more that we can invite ourselves to look at someone else's culture and belief through their eyes, the less conflict there will be.
I see Clavius as a man who's deeply conditioned in death, in killing, in warfare. He is challenged through a series of interrogations to look at and examine himself and his own conditioning.
It's less about religion for me. I like to use the term, it's a more neutral term, conditioning for me. I think religion might throw up a kind of resistance, but I think if one talks about conditioning we can all kind of understand that.
Conditioning can be not a big heavy thing. (For instance:) I've got a brand new pair of shoes, by mistake you step on it and you make them muddy and dirty, I'm conditioned to go "Hey, what are you doing?" That's my conditioning, I have a response. So, maybe we have to learn to find the pause before we react, because reaction is our conditioning.