Muslim actor says it's an 'honour' to play Jesus in new film

National Geographic Channel

A Muslim actor playing Jesus in National Geographic Channel's forthcoming film 'Killing Jesus' has said it is an "honour" to take on the role.

Haaz Sleiman, an American actor who grew up in Lebanon, told reporters on Wednesday: "In Islam, we believe Jesus is a prophet and respect him and follow his teachings and put him beside the Prophet Muhammad — a lot of people don't know that.

"As a person who was raised Muslim, it's an honour to play that...Personally, I've been heavily shaped by his teachings," he said, according to Entertainment Weekly.

When one reporter told him that some Christian conservatives had questioned the choice of a Muslim actor, he said: "I cannot speak for Jesus, but I can quote his teachings and he said, 'Love your neighbour as yourself'... How would he react to me playing Jesus? He wouldn't judge it. He wouldn't judge his own enemy ... playing this part highlights his teaching in a very nice way."

The film is based on the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, 'Killing Jesus: A History', which charts the political events leading up to Jesus' death.

O'Reilly, who was raised a Catholic, is best known as the presenter of Fox News show, The O'Reilly Factor. He and Dugard also wrote 'Killing Kennedy' and 'Killing Lincoln', which have both been turned into films for National Geographic.

When Sleiman was asked about his initial reaction to getting the role he said jokingly: "Jesus!" He added: "I'm going to sound cheesy right now: The first thing I thought was 'love.' I really just felt love in the moment. He has influenced me heavily prior to getting this part and there's nothing more powerful than that, and that's what's going to lead me through the whole journey... That was the first thing I felt – and then I called my mother, who said, '...bless you for playing Jesus, peace be upon him.' I thought that was lovely."

The film, which was shot in Morocco, is currently in post-production and will be aired this year.

Kelsey Grammer (Boss) plays King Herod and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) takes the role of Pontius Pilate.

Grammer said he thought Christians would welcome the film. "Any time you go and humanize the Bible story, I think it would win praise from every part of the Christian world," he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Other cast members include British actors John Rhys-Davies as Annas, Rufus Sewell as Caiaphas, Alexis Rodney as Simon Peter, and Abhin Galeya as John the Baptist.

The Hollywood Reporter also debuted the trailer for the film.