Actor Joaquin Phoenix entered into a time of in-depth Bible study in preparation for playing Jesus in the new movie, “Mary Magdalene.”
In a recent interview with Christian Today, Phoenix shared that after carefully studying the four New Testament gospels and immersing himself in Christ’s experience in the garden of Gethsemane, he discovered a “heart-wrenching” example that inspired him “to be more empathetic and considerate and forgiving.”
Phoenix explained that he was profoundly moved by the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, and was moved to be gracious toward others as a result.
“Partly the message of this film is that these qualities are something that we all have access to and can possess,” he said. “It is not easy; in fact it is the most difficult thing to do as a human, but that is our goal–or at least that is my goal, to be more empathetic and considerate and forgiving.”
Phoenix articulated some fascinating thoughts on the human battle between the “spirit and the flesh,” noting that it was Christ who so gravely suffered through this agonizing battle as he asked God to “take the cup from me” and spare him the cross. His humanity was tugging at his heart, and his instinct for survival was as strong as ours. But even so, he went the way of the cross, taking our sin upon his shoulders.
“Of course Jesus felt that very strongly,” he explained. “I guess I have always thought of him–which I think sometimes is typical–as the Spirit. And I realized for the Crucifixion to be what makes it such a sacrifice is that there was the human also that didn’t want to leave.”
“The courage in saying ‘Not my will but thy will,'” Phoenix added. “There is something so powerful about that and it really resonated strongly with me.”
The actor, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of legendary singer-songwriter Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” spoke reverently of the immense compassion of Jesus, a man who did not turn away anyone, regardless of their physical or emotional need.
“Here was this man that not only didn’t shun you, but embraced you and validated you and looked into your eyes and touched you, and that was the healing, that is so powerful,” Phoenix said.
“You can imagine the word spreading–this man who approaches the leper or the disabled and is right there with them and that is so beautiful to me, because we still see that in our society, the homeless, disabled, we put away, out of sight, out of mind, and here was this man who saw their worth.”
Phoenix also explained Christ’s extraordinary forgiveness in a beautiful way:
“He is constantly talking about forgiveness and he is really challenged by his own teachings when they come to take him away and he knows what’s going to happen, he knows he is going to be crucified and he doesn’t fight back and he was even able to forgive them–’Forgive them Father for they know not what they do’–and he was able to forgive those who were taking away his own life.”
Check out the full interview here.