Film brings Mary, Joseph to life

12/5/2006

By Phil Boatwright

The Movie Reporter

 

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Mary and Joseph as it appears in the Bible.

Many have probably also wondered how these icons dealt with the responsibility God handed them.

 

 Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, through their production company Temple Hill, began giving movie audiences a glance with the release of The Nativity Story.

 

  “We feel you really get to know these people as real people, not just icons,” Godfrey said. “We used the scripture to make sure we had those parts of the story correct, and then we filled in the blanks where you can imagine human behavior,” Godfrey said.

 

The film, Temple Hill’s first project, opened Dec. 1.

 

 “When we formed our company we said, ‘let’s make a movie that our parents would be proud of.’ It’s not always going to be Christian-based entertainment, but hopefully the themes of the movies we make will reflect well on our own Christianity. We want them to be uplifting or patriotic or hopeful because certainly there’s enough lack of hope in the world,” Bowen and Godfrey said.

 

Screenwriter Mike Rich (The Rookie, Radio), a Christian, began writing a script concerning the aith journey of Mary and Joseph. “There’s very little source material on Mary and less on Joseph. So what I had to do was really delve into the socio-political and cultural dynamics of the time,” he said.

 

Bowen and Godfrey searched for the director and found Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, The Lords of Dogtown), who jumped at the opportunity to tell Mary and Joseph’s story. Turns out, the talented director has a solid place in her heart for Christian values.

 

“We had spoken to several people about directing the film, but Catherine was the first person we felt was emotionally connected to the story and this journey of faith,” says Bowen. 

 

“What made it even more of a dream for us was that when this script was originally conceived Mary was the one with the least character arc in terms of her journey of faith.  Then Catherine suggested, ‘Let’s take Mary off her pedestal and show her as the 14-year-old girl who’s been thrust into all this responsibility. Let’s see how she handles it.’ 

 

"Literally she goes from playing in a field with other children to discovering her father has a husband lined up for her, then discovering she’s having not only a child, but the son of God. Then she has to go back to this environment where her condition is incredibly taboo.” 

 

“Obviously, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. It was important for us to portray that reverence. After all, that’s where the Christian faith came from,” said Hardwicke. “But I also wanted to see Mary as a girl, not perfectly pious from the very first moment. I wanted to see another side of her life. I wanted to see that moment when Joseph saw Mary pregnant. I thought that would be a powerful moment.”

 

Then came casting. Hardwicke and the producers needed someone who could portray a young maiden who is suddenly thrust into a miraculous turn of events. They found that ability in Keisha Castle-Hughes, the youngest Academy Award Best Actress nominee in history for her work in Whale Rider.

 

In New York the filmmakers quickly chose a recent Julliard graduate, Oscar Isaac, for being what Hardwicke calls “soulful and alive.”

 

Said Isaac: “Reading over the scene after Joseph learns Mary is pregnant I couldn’t figure out what to do. I called my professor at Julliard and told him I just can’t figure out this scene. He said you need to find a reason to stay. Suddenly I realized that Joseph’s whole being is one of humility. And that was one of Christ’s major teachings. I think for Joseph, righteous meant love. So when I did those scenes, even though I had the rage, the fear and the doubt, I just loved her so much that I realized that righteous just means selfless, humble love.”

 

Bowen said he’s proud of how the movie shows the love between the main characters and the realistic look at their lives.

 

“The first two acts present a very gritty, difficult way to live and we wanted the film to feel of that time and place,” Bowen said. “We wanted to show you a few layers of the individuals and show you the journey of faith and then have that faith rewarded at the place of His birth. I know that if I’m sitting with my family watching this movie on Christmas Eve I want to be at that point reminded why Christmas is such an important event in our lives.”