Q&A: Raymond Arroyo, EWTN host and co-producer of The Word of Promise Audio Bible

On October 2, publisher Thomas Nelson releases The Word of Promise Audio Bible, a 20-plus-hour, 20 CD audio Bible production of the New Testament (New King James version) featuring an original score, sound effects, and a cast of well-known voices such as Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) as Jesus. The audio Bible was co-produced by Raymond Arroyo, award-winning journalist and host and creator of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN)’s international news magazine, “The World Over Live.” Catholic Digest recently spoke with Arroyo about the project.

CD: What was the overall vision for this project?

Arroyo: The Word of God was, for centuries, communicated orally, and I think its power came from that human-to-human contact — you know, the power of the preached word. And I think really, since Gutenberg, we’ve lost a sense of that power, and the immediacy of the word itself. So what we were looking for in this project was really to transport listeners back to the earliest experience, to the early Church, and put them in the middle of the action.

(To achieve this,) we’ve assembled world-class actors and put them in a setting that is evocative and real. When the Apostles are in the middle of the storm and Christ is sleeping in the stern of the boat, you hear the bark creaking on the boat, you hear the Apostles yelping out, you can practically feel the spray coming over the edge of the ship. It’s a very visceral experience of the Bible.

CD: You’re billed as the co-producer. What did that entail?

Arroyo: Well, I was involved primarily in shaping the general direction of how this would be approached. This was (producer) Carl Amari’s brainchild; Carl came to [me and Jim Caviezel] with the project. But Jim and I really contributed creatively, shaping the script, the entire approach, helping out on casting. And then I was involved throughout the recording process. I even recorded the voice of St. Jude; the saint of impossible causes. Type casting. (laughing) I was trained as an actor before coming to journalism; I studied with Stella Adler and Uta Hagen and worked in London for a year or two, so the theatre is in my blood and the project is really, for me, a wonderful coming home.

CD: How did you determine which version of the Bible would be used?

Arroyo: Carl had arranged that beforehand with Thomas Nelson, so that was all pre-determined. And it’s pretty complete. There were no liberties taken. I’ve heard some audio Bibles that are kind of loose translations and paraphrases. It’s like Shakespeare; you don’t tamper with it.

CD: Jim Caviezel was a natural choice for Jesus, but casting God the Father can’t have been an easy task. How was that decided?

Arroyo: Terence Stamp just has one of these voices … he has a magnificent, round, full tone, and we were looking for somebody that had authority, and Terrence certainly had it.

CD: How about the role of the Virgin Mary? That must have been another casting choice that required a lot of thought.

Arroyo: It was, and Kimberly (Williams-Paisley) was someone that I was not as familiar with. I mean, I’d seen Father of the Bride and some of those films, but it was Carl’s idea to cast her. He wanted someone who was very youthful and young. So often we think of Our Lady as kind of a matronly figure; we forget that she was this young girl. And Kimberly does a really wonderful job giving you a sense of authority but in a very young voice. She was also pregnant at the time, so that deepened her take on the role.

CD: Did many of the actors have a faith connection to the project?

Arroyo: A number of the actors. There were some people who actually came to us and asked to be part of the project. Providence kind of brought all the stars into alignment. We’re now working on the Old Testament, and we’ve got folks like Jon Voight already signed on, so it’s really exciting.

CD: How was the acting angle of the project approached? Did any of the actors work with each other?

Arroyo: Jim worked with some of the other actors, but it was very difficult, as you can imagine, assembling a cast like this, with schedules. But it worked out. And if another actor had already done their part, we would play it back for the next person in so they had something to react to. And we had a wonderful director, JoBe Cerny.

CD: What kind of reaction did you get from the actors on their experience with the project?

Arroyo: Some of them had commented on how there were so many nuances and subtleties in the Scriptures that they thought they understood before coming to this project, and really didn’t. And it wasn’t until they immersed themselves in the material (that it all made sense.)

We consulted with various religious leaders and theologians, because we wanted to make sure we were putting the right emphasis on this line or that. I think all the actors came away deeply enriched, and I know I was. Some of what I would call the minor Epistles, like Jude and Titus, those just leapt to life in the context of everything else.

CD: You mentioned the actors talking about nuances and subtleties in the Scriptures that they hadn’t quite grasped — can you give an example?

Arroyo: Jim had spent a lot of time immersed in the Gospels preparing for The Passion of the Christ, and a lot of time researching writings and theological musings on the Passion and the suffering of Christ. This gave him an opportunity to look at the rest of the life. And he said, you know, that Passion experience cast such a long shadow on so many of the parables, and even the lighter moments Jesus enjoys with his Apostles. There is always that grave sense of mission; He knows He’s going to have to go to the Cross. Some of that came up, even in the parables. And we were all struck by that.

CD: What role did faith play for you in this project?

Arroyo: I think faith was central for all of us involved. There is a sense today that the Bible has been relegated to a historical book of fairy tales by so many and put away on the shelf. What we wanted to do was get back to that oral tradition — people traveling from town and town, almost instinctively sharing this true thing because they had nothing else to do with it. They had to share it. It was truly a passion, a burning passion. And I think we brought that to the project — all of us. We wanted this to communicate (the Gospel truth) to a new generation, using the greatest technological instruments at our disposal, to bring these words anew. And to bring them in a way that was as visceral, and as urgent, as the first Christians [experienced]. CD

Favorite book of the Bible and why: “I think Mark is my favorite book, because he was, from what we know, a disciple of Peter; he was there. There are tangible details in Mark that you don’t find in other Gospels. And a real power. You get the sense that this is a real eyewitness. And I like the urgency, and the tautness of his writing.”

Favorite music:
“I’m a total Sinatra groupie. I own everything he recorded.”

A recent great book you’ve read: “I’m re-reading Marshall McLuhan’s work, The Medium is the Massage. It’s kind of a seminal work on the effects of media on us and what it does to our senses. I just read James Lee Burke’s great book, The Tin Roof Blowdown, about my hometown of New Orleans. It’s a mystery thriller, but it’s a very Catholic take on Katrina and its aftermath. But it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Favorite way to relax: “Either going away with the kids and my wife or just puttering around the house and playing fort or knights or cowboys or whatever they want to play.”

Favorite saint: “My patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua, the hammer of the heretics. A wonderful, gentle, loving soul. And he helps me find all the things I misplace every day.”

“The best advice I ever received was from my friend and the subject of a biography I wrote, Mother Angelica. For years she would tell me, ‘You have to start living in the present moment,’ and I didn’t understand what that meant. (And after Hurricane Katrina took our house out, I did understand what she meant.) She put it this way: ‘You have to live in the present moment, and that means asking God every day, not ‘What do You want me to do tomorrow,’ or ‘What did You want me to do yesterday?’ but ‘What do You want me to do now, in this present moment?’” And she said, “God’s will is manifest to us in the duties, the responsibilities, and the events of the present moment. You have only to embrace them and try to act like Jesus.” And I’ve never forgotten that. Life comes at you very quickly, and you have to constantly be attentive to, ‘What is God asking me to do right now?’ And I try to do that. It’s led me down unpredictable and amazing paths.”

The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible is available from Thomas Nelson (www.thomasnelson.com) and select retailers for $49.99 or less (includes zipper case and behind-the-scenes footage). For more information, visit www.thewordofpromise.com.

For a preview of the audio Bible, visit www.thewordofpromise.com.

“My favorite place to pray is usually in a chapel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes I can’t find the large chunk of time that I’d like, but that little recharge is critical to keeping my day in balance. When I covered (Pope) John Paul (II), so many times he would look exhausted, like he was going to fall into the street. And then he’d go away for 10 minutes or a half hour and pray, and he’d come out and look like he was reborn. And that was a great lesson to me.”

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