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Martin Scorsese’s next passion project is about Jesus Christ

Pope Francis has met Hollywood director Martin Scorsese (centre) three times over the past seven years.

Pope Francis has met Hollywood director Martin Scorsese (centre) three times over the past seven years. Photo: Getty

Shortly after legendary Hollywood director Martin Scorsese premiered his three-hour epic Killers of the Flower Moon at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year, he made a detour via Rome.

Travelling with his wife, Helen Morris, it would be the third time Scorsese met Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church at the Vatican.

In 2016, Scorsese had a private audience with Pope Francis, as his film, Silence, about Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan, screened in Rome; while in 2018 it was to shake hands with the Pope at the launch of a book of interviews, called Sharing the Wisdom of Time.

This time, when Scorsese attended a conference titled the Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination, the Italian-American Catholic filmmaker again met the Pope.

And the outcome?

A decision to make a film about a present-day Jesus Christ.

“I have responded to the Pope’s appeal to artists in the only way I know how: By imagining and writing a screenplay for a film about Jesus,” he told the Los Angeles Times this week.

His previous attempts about exploring religion through redemption, forgiveness and the human condition were in Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ, and even Gangs of New York.

Now, with a completed script based on Shūsaku Endō’s book, A Life of Jesus [Endō also wrote Silence] based on Jesus’ core teachings, the film will be set in the present day and run for just 80 minutes.

“I’m trying to find a new way to make it more accessible and take away the negative onus of what has been associated with organised religion,” Scorsese says.

“Right now, ‘religion,’ you say that word and everyone is up in arms because it’s failed in so many ways. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that the initial impulse was wrong.

“Let’s get back. Let’s just think about it. You may reject it. But it might make a difference in how you live your life – even in rejecting it. Don’t dismiss it offhand. That’s all I’m talking about.

“And I’m saying that as a person who’s going to be 81 in a couple of days.”

With a plan to get the film in the can this year, the next big decision is casting, and it’s unlikely his muse in eight of his films, Leonardo Di Caprio, 49, will make the cut.

“… 33-year-old actors, you better get your monologues ready,” spruiks Vulture.

American actor Willem Dafoe on the set of The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and directed by Martin Scorsese. Photo: Getty

In 1988, Willem Dafoe played Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

The film angered many conservative Catholics for its depiction of Jesus as a man torn between God and earthly pleasures. The film included a dream sequence in which he has sex with Mary Magdalene.

Scorsese is reportedly still banned from entering China after making Kundun in 1997, a biopic based on the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.

In 2002, his Gangs of New York explored a long-running feud between the Catholics and Protestants in the slums of the 1860s and starred Daniel Day Lewis and DiCaprio.

Time for a fresh face?

Let’s see who can play Jesus.

‘Hot Jesus’

A good omen?

At the 81st Golden Globes on January 7, US actor Jared Leto – known for his outrageous full cat suit and extra-head costumes at the Met Gala  – was referred to as “hot Jesus” in a 10-minute monologue by failed host Jo Koy.

“Please welcome Golden Globe winner, star of 911, Angela Bassett, and the Golden Globe winner who I like to call hot Jesus, Jared Leto,” he said, introducing the pair to the stage to announce the first award of the night.

Known for his rock band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and for his method acting – he won a best supporting actor Oscar playing a transgender woman with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club – Leto has to be on the radar.

He has starred in The Little Things, The Joker, Suicide Squad, Morbius and House of Gucci, and is set to play Karl Largerfield and Andy Warhol in separate biopics.

He has time to play Jesus and social media fans certainly thought so.

“They shoulda cast Jared Leto as Jesus Christ, in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of The Christ’ … would have been AMAZING and we all know it,” wrote one.

Another said: “Jared Leto looks like Jesus.”

‘Mesmerising’

English actor Tom Hiddleston’s breakthrough role came when he portrayed the nemesis Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe feature film Thor.

He reprised the character in The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War.

The spin-off series, Loki, about the god of mischief, has the 42-year-old busy, but not that busy to audition as Jesus.

The National Catholic Reporter even wrote a story about Loki titled, What Disney’s ‘Loki’ teaches us about the divine, so there is some practised inner soul searching to perform come audition time.

According to Movieweb, only a handful of male actors have taken on the “colossal role” of Jesus.

“Throughout the decades, many of Hollywood’s brightest stars have attempted to bring the historical figure to life, often [with] polarising results.

“As time has progressed, many audiences have grown tired of the typical blond and blue-eyed depictions of a Christ who would have surely been brown-skinned and Middle Eastern,” it wrote when compiling its Top Ten last year.

Besides Australian-born US actor Mel Gibson in his R-rated depiction, there’s Mel Brooks’ version in History of the World, Part 1 casting John Hurt; English actor Brian Deacon in the 1979 classic, Jesus, and Max von Sydow in the 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.

As to who in Hollywood, or beyond, can fulfil Scorsese’s dream and bring a present-day Jesus to the big screen?

He’s keeping that under wraps, for now.

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