Chris Columbus wrote “Gremlins.” He directed “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the first two “Harry Potter” films. He even helmed the 2006 movie version of “Rent.” None of these suggest he’d be involved in a movie about the seven-year-old Jesus Christ. And yet the filmmaker is a producer on “The Young Messiah,” a drama based on a novel, “Christ the Lord,” by another unexpected player: “Interview with the Vampire” maven Anne Rice.
“Trust me, I’m not going into the business of faith-based films,” Columbus tells us. “I just responded to the story.”
"The Young Messiah" follows the boy Jesus (played by Adam Greaves-Neal) as he and his family return to Nazareth, avoiding detection by King Herod’s minions. He also starts to realize he might not be an average kid.
Columbus says he’s always been fascinated by Jesus. Along with 12 years of Catholic school, he was in college during the period, in the early 1970s, when Christ was absorbed by a certain hippie faction. It was the time of rock operas like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.”
“He was like a rock star,” he remembers.
He was also fascinated with him growing up. “Imagine me as a kid reading Marvel comics and being taught about Jesus. It was like he was almost part of the same world, a little bit, only he’s the best one,” he says. “He was like the first superhero.”
Columbus was a movie freak, so inevitably he would see all the biblical epics, including the ones about Jesus’ life, like 1961’s “King of Kings” and 1965’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” But he always took issue with them.
“All the guys who played Jesus were blond-haired, blue-eyed surfer guys,” he says, referring to actors like Jeffrey Hunter and Max von Sydow. “When I went to film school I would say, ‘Someone someday should make a movie that’s representative of who he was.’ That’s always been in my head, and I’d still like to see that movie, because I don’t think it’s been made.”
He says “the Gibson movie” (aka Mel’s “The Passion of the Christ”) came close to the gritty movie he’d long hoped for. “But with that I felt like I walked in on the third act of a movie,” he says. “I wanted to see the first two acts of Jesus’ life.”