The Nativity Story follows the journey of Mary and Joseph from Mary's pregnancy through to the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. Bringing such a revered story to the big screen was quite a task for screenwriter Mike Rich (Radio)and director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen), who went into the casting process with producer Marty Bowen determined to give the film an authentic Middle-Eastern feel.
Oscar Isaac, a recent graduate of Juilliard who was born in Guatemala and moved to the United States at the age of four months, landed the key role of Joseph after Hardwicke saw his audition in New York. Hardwicke says Isaac caught her eye because she found him to be "so soulful and alive."
The Appeal of The Nativity Story: At first [when I learned] they were making this movie about the Nativity story I was like, Is there really anything to say about the Nativity? Don't we all know the story? And then I read the script and it was so obvious to me after reading it, of course, that there was so much dramatic value in the story," explained Isaac. "These are people going through life and death situations, and really interesting character studies. For instance, what is it like for a man that loves God and is completely in love with this woman to have to share the woman he loves with God? It's a strange idea, a strange concept, so how do you wrap your mind around those things?
The Nativity Story was a Real Learning Experience: Isaac says reading the script was a real eye-opening experience. I didn't know anything really about him. He was kind of behind some sheets in the back, trying to get his face in the picture. He was always in the back, you know? You never really know what his role was, or really how integral his role was and how it almost wouldn't have happened had he made a couple of different choices. So it really kind of brought him to the forefront for me - playing him."
Playing Joseph Had Quite an Impact on Oscar Isaac: As an actor, when you dive into something, how do I figure out how to be this devout Jewish man in the first century? You know, for Jews at that time, there was no separation between God and them as individuals. And also the connection with the land So of course trying to figure out how to have that kind of piety, that deep relationship with God, affected me. I think about that. I think about how I can be more humble.
Working with Keisha Castle-Hughes: She was fantastic. She has this kind of gravity, profundity of spirit. She's very still. But in between takes she's really funny. She would crack jokes and would keep everything very light and was such a good sport about having to ride a donkey for nine hours a day. Thankfully she could have such a great sense of humor, for I can get very caught up in the moment and here you're dealing with so many issues
Filming in Morocco and Italy: Italy was a lot hotter than Morocco, actually, which was very strange. It was just gorgeous to be there. I'd never gone out of the country before this so the whole thing was new for me. We were just flying over those Atlas Mountains and suddenly the whole thing felt more spiritual.
They're very in touch with God, as well. To stand out there in the wilderness in Morocco, you know, and there's that moment in the movie when I'm asking God for a sign. We're out in the middle of nowhere and we're down to our last piece of bread, and behind me the sun was setting, and literally right in front of me I wish there had been a camera there to catch what I was seeing the full moon starts to come up over those mountains, the Atlas Mountains. In the film, Joseph asks for a sign and one doesn't come. For Oscar it was, This is a sign that you are doing the right thing. You're on your way. It was such a humbling moment, too, but I was just in awe. Like (whispering), What am I doing here? It was amazing.
Getting to Know a Donkey Named Gilda: Isaac laughed when he recalled working with Gilda. Gilda the diva. She was actually so much so that I really kind of championed her to be flown to Morocco, because we got along with her so well. But then when she got to Morocco, she wasn't crazy about the hot sand. I think she caught on that people liked her so she kind of said, I've got some power here. I'm not walking on this sand until you cool it down.
On the Set with Director Catherine Hardwicke: Isaac feels the choice of Hardwicke to direct The Nativity Story was an interesting one. I remember when I found out, I was like, Catherine's doing the film, huh? And then suddenly I realized what a brilliant choice it was, because of what she's done. She's done films with adolescent people going through incredibly difficult times, and this was most famous people going through incredibly difficult times, so it was great.
You know, the film has kind of a poetic quality to it, yet she's incredibly energetic, really energetic, frenetically so. What that allowed was to help infuse the scenes so that they weren't passive. People were emotionally active and driven, and wanting things and desiring things. She had a great way of communicating with Keisha because she just knows how to speak to adolescent people.