NBC’s ‘A.D.’ Star Describes the ‘Daunting’ Task of Playing Jesus

TCA 2015: “It’s a huge responsibility,” actor says of portraying the Son of God

Portraying the Son of God is a high-profile gig that comes with a unique burden — a fact that’s not lost on Juan Pablo Di Pace, who plays Jesus in NBC’s upcoming miniseries “A.D. The Bible Continues.” The project is the sequel to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey‘s hugely successful 2013 miniseries “The Bible.”

“It’s a huge responsibility; it’s a daunting thing to do,” Di Pace told reporters during the “A.D.” panel at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena Friday. “It’s a huge responsibility, and I’m absolutely humbled … it certainly is the role of a lifetime.”

Downey, who with her husband Burnett serves as executive producer on the miniseries, added that the challenge of casting the role resided in finding an actor who could portray the range of characteristics that she believes Jesus Christ possessed.

“We knew that we had to find an actor that could deliver the strength that we believe Jesus had as well as the tenderness and the kindness,” Downey offered.

Portrayals of Jesus through the years have sometimes been met with criticism by those who feel that he hasn’t been depicted with the proper ethnicity. While Di Pace isn’t Middle Eastern — he was born in Buenos Aires — Burnett touted the overall diversity of the cast, who hail from a global array of origins.

“I’m thrilled, especially with the current comments in our industry today on the lack of diversity in roles and nominations, that we have a very, very diverse cast,” Burnett enthused. “We even have an Irish guy.”

Burnett and Downey have made a mini-industry out of producing Biblical projects. During the panel Burnett told reporters that, even when he pitched “The Bible” half a decade ago, he didn’t encounter opposition to producing faith-based fare. He did note, however, that where “The Bible” might have been considered niche material when it was first conceived of, “Now, ‘A.D.’ is mainstream. This is mainstream programming.”

Whereas “The Bible” aired on History, “A.D.” will air on NBC, and Burnett offered insight into the change of venue, noting that a broadcast outlet was required for the scale of what he and Downey wanted to achieve.

“We are extremely ethical and spoke to [History],” Burnett said. “This, I believe, belongs on American network … this needed to be on a network.”

Despite “A.D.” being set 2,000 years ago, Burnett displayed confidence that the story will be relatable to modern audiences, going so far as to compare it to a digital-age hit.

“It’s like taking ‘House of Cards’ and dropping it into the first century in Jerusalem,” Burnett offered. “Two thousand years later, clothes changed, transport has changed, [but] the governments are still doing the same thing as they were under Roman rule, where trying to maintain your power at all costs [was the objective]. It was a very explosive time.”