For award-winning actor Antonio Banderas, playing the evil King Herod in the nativity musical “Journey to Bethlehem” not only allowed him to explore a notoriously biblical dark character but reminded him of the heartbeat of Christianity: love.
In an interview with The Christian Post, the 63-year-old Spanish actor and director reflected on the challenges of playing King Herod, who, according to the Gospel of Matthew, ordered the execution of all male infants in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, whom he saw as a threat to his throne.
In the “Journey to Bethlehem” version, Herod orders his son (for King and Country's Joel Smallbone) to find and eliminate the unwed pregnant woman carrying the prophesied baby.
“I tried to understand him from a humanistic point of view,” Banderas said. “I tried to laugh at myself doing this horrendous man who only believes in himself; he doesn’t even believe in his son. He has the power … to do bad. He can snap his fingers and kill somebody. He’s the evil side of the movie.”
Directed by former "Glee" music producer Adam Anders, "Journey to Bethlehem" also stars Fiona Palomo as Mary and Milo Manheim as Joseph, Lecrae as the Angel Gabriel, as well as Geno Segers, Omid Djalili, Rizwan Manji, Moriah and Stephanie Gil. The film follows the origin story of Mary and Joseph as they fall in love and grapple with the challenges that come with God choosing the young virgin to carry His son, Jesus, into the world.
A live-action musical retelling of the story of Jesus' birth, the film weaves Christmas melodies with new pop songs. One of the most rousing musical number is “Good to be King,” performed by Banderas. For the actor, performing in a musical felt natural: He recently founded the musical theater company Teatro del Soho and opened the Teatro del Soho CaixaBank theater in Málaga, which has already produced several musicals.
“This movie gave me an opportunity to sing, which I love,” he said. “I love the genre of musical theater, which is what I'm doing these days in my theater in Málaga. And at the same time, it gave me the possibility to do comedy in a movie where that is actually very necessary.”
Banderas, who has won both Emmy and Tony Awards, said he appreciated the dual tones of the film: the comedic elements that provide relief and the sacredness of the story it unfolds. A devout Catholic, Banderas said participating in a film telling the greatest story ever told impacted him spiritually and reaffirmed to him the central Christian tenet of love.
“I believe in the simple words of Jesus: love. If you practice that, with everybody in everyday life, the world will be a better place.”
The actor shared how the warmth of the set, influenced by the film's Christian director and musician brothers Adam and Alex, served as a testament to the genuine faith that permeated the production. Anders previously told CP how he would open every day with prayer, asking for God’s guidance over the film.
“They’re very committed Christians, and they’re good people,” Banderas said of the filmmakers. “They practice that; it’s not something that they say they are and then they are a completely different way. No, they treat people very beautifully, and the environment in the set was filled with that feeling. And it was a Christmas feeling even if we were shooting actually close to summer.”
Based on his experience with “Journey to Bethlehem,” the actor said he’s open to starring in more films retelling stories from the Bible.
“The Bible is filled with amazing stories of every kind,” he said. “The Bible is one of the most complete books in the world in terms of stories of every color, of every dimension. It talks about hatred, love, betrayal and loyalty. There are a number of different stories in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, so I don’t know if I'm called to do something like that. I am interested in it.”
A father himself, Banderas said he’s proud to be part of a film that not only brings to life the story of Jesus’ birth but gives audiences an uplifting and clean cinematic option during the Christmas season.
“I enjoy this one very much,” he said. “It’s so joyful, so clean. If my kids were 5, 6 years old, I would love to take them to see something like this on Christmas and take them home with a smile on their faces, and then they can ask questions about it throughout the day.”
“Journey to Bethlehem” is now showing in theaters nationwide.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com