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Interview with "Risen" Star Joseph Fiennes: The Journey to Belief
Interview with "Risen" Star Joseph Fiennes: The Journey to Belief

Interview with "Risen" Star Joseph Fiennes: The Journey to Belief

by Melinda Ledman

Coming from a background in stage performance, Joseph Fiennes has always played compelling roles. His exceptional work in films such as Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Enemy at the Gates, and Luther, continues in the film Risen. With the film due to release on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 24, Fiennes gives us intriguing insights into the character of Clavius and his journey to belief. 

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In Risen, Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman prefect who is tasked with finding the body of Christ during the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection. Having grown up in the ranks of Roman military, Clavius had always aligned himself with the Roman god, Mars, but would soon meet Jesus Christ. Fiennes says of Clavius, “He’s not just a brute. And that’s why I liked him. He has a thoughtfulness which lends itself both to the detective and also to the emotion.”

The film’s entire hook rests on the idea of seeing the resurrection from this nonbelievers point of view. Therefore, the success of the film somewhat depends on how effectively the script conveys and how genuinely Fiennes performs this transformation. Fiennes took the task to heart and asked the questions, “How do I take him from that place to being a witness of events, of irrevocable events? How does he take that on? How does he question? That shaking [of] his foundation.”  Certainly the filmmakers wanted a relatable film that would be respected by any viewer, Christian or not.   

Fiennes said, “I felt that he fell into, like Roman Polansky from Chinatown, this investigation that was a labyrinth. I loved that aspect: that a man was dealing with something that he thought was pretty straight forward, but it just became more mysterious. And he loses himself into a rabbit hole of events…It’s a very attractive journey for an actor to go on – to kill Christ and then and THEN maybe someone might feel some sort of pathos for him. That’s a tough feat to get right.”

Fiennes decided to take Clavius’ journey slowly, despite the fact that the story takes place in just over a week. “Sometimes in films, I don’t believe the transition of characters, especially in a short space of time. So I felt I wanted to just recalibrate,” said Fiennes. “His seeing him [Christ] for the first or the second time, it’s a recalibration of so much in his life… He’s absorbing, and witnessing, and being palpably emotional and not intellectual. I think the intellectual catches up with him. So maybe it’s a delayed response. You could say it’s the Holy Ghost, but it’s everyone’s witness of events calibrating at a different rate.”

Unlike many Christian films where a character has a clear “conversion” moment, Clavius’ character doesn’t play into the stereotype. Instead, Fiennes says, “…the power of just having those events unfold and just letting the repercussions, the distillation of those events occur is more interesting than finding a point in which he changed.”

Clavius does make some decisions along the way that seem to solidify his belief, a point which Fiennes picks up on. (SPOILER ALERT) “What I love is that when Lucius comes in that ravine and doesn’t let them pass, there’s this moment where he ferries these young men with this precious information. He is a man trained in death, trained in killing, and he makes a decision that no one dies today. So he’s going through the transformation. He’s being converted by his actions rather than an intellectual conversion. The fact that in his actions, he lets twelve men pass through the gorge and protects them, is fascinating to me.”

Like anyone who comes to know Christ, the impact on Clavius is both instantaneous and lifelong.  Fiennes comments, “I think the change will continue for all the years to come. What he witnessed is of such magnitude, such gravitas, that it’s not something that the next morning, you’ve converted and that’s it.” Indeed, from the opening scene to the final scene of the film, Clavius is still processing. Fiennes says, “He will live with the shock and ramifications of something that defied all his previous notions and conditions, instantaneously. But that instantaneous moment will take a lifetime to digest.”

That processing, that wrestling with faith, that sense of contending with the facts of the resurrection and the equally miraculous nature of it, is something that the film deliberately purposes to capture. Because it taps into the human struggle with the divine, without spoon-feeding the audience all the answers, the film manages to be relatable for both for believers and nonbelievers watching. 

Perhaps viewers will find a bit of their own journey in the film. Perhaps they might discover what Fiennes observed about Clavius, “I think ultimately the bigger picture is that Clavius is part of God’s plan. He’s embroiled. It’s not like it [the ravine rescue] was a coincidence. I’d like to think that the mystery is so great, that this Roman non-believer was actually instrumental in part of this plan, in the fictitious world that we presented to you. But I still believe that, in a sense, that it’s part of the mystery.”

Risen is available now on Digital and will be available May 24 on DVD and Blu-Ray. 

5 of 5 Stars!
Just wow. Thanks for sharing your story Abby.... [read more]
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"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before."
- Philippians 3:13 (KJV)

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