An Interview with St. Peter
Darwin Shaw talks about
By Alexandra Caulway
Actor Darwin Shaw is no stranger to the role of Saint Peter. He played the role in The History Channel’s series The Bible and took on the challenge with 20th Century Fox’s new movie Son of God, directed by Christopher Spencer. Shaw opened up to us about his experience in the role of the Church’s first pope and what viewers can expect to see on-screen.
Q. You have some experience playing Peter from your role in The Bible for The History Channel. How did you prepare to for that role and the role in Son of God?
“The preparation for this part was a quite long period of time. I, first of all, obviously read scripture and rounded up any sort of information I could get on Peter. I also went for a more spiritual angle and I spent a few days living with some Orthodox monks in a monastery outside of London. And that was an amazing experience. And finally, for some more historical inspiration, I went to Rome and the Vatican and I spent time just immersing myself in anything that could do with ancient Rome, whether it be art galleries or the Vatican or wandering around the city.”
Do you have anything you want to share about what you learned during your research?
"I hope that people will get a sense of that from what they see on the screen. Obviously, the telescope does focus in quite strongly on the Peter and Jesus relationship. But I always felt when I read the script that Peter is the eyes and the ears of the audience. So you do get a real sense, through Peter’s journey and Peter’s reactions, of what is really going on."
What would you say were some of the particular challenges of playing Saint Peter?
“Well, I think one of the challenges of playing Saint Peter is that he has an amazing journey all the way from being a simple fisherman to an apostle when he performs certain miracles. But within that, he also has great setbacks and obviously doubts and failures. One of the hardest things was to work out why someone, despite seeing all these miracles that Jesus Christ performs, would still have moments of failure. It was really connecting to those personal moments of humanity when he falls down. What is also wonderful about Peter is that he is a character that never gives up, and he always gets back and pulls through and he is this incredible figure of the Church.”
Did your outlook of Saint Peter change after the role?
“Yeah, definitely. When you look at DaVinci or any of the other famous paintings, the imagery is of him as an older man. And when I did my research I found out that he was actually born a year before Christ, so he was a contemporary. When you put that together with the idea that he’s a fisherman and he’s a man who spends his whole life in a boat, I got to understand him as a very visceral and dynamic person. And that’s what makes sense in how he moves on to achieve such great things. I suddenly realized that this man was a very strong man.”
What do you think is unique about this particular Biblical film? What can viewers expect to see that may be the same or different from other films telling this story?
“I think what makes this film really special and a real joy to watch is the lens of love as Jesus looks out on the whole of the disciples and all the people that he comes into contact with. I think that a lot of films have concentrated on the inner conflict and turmoil. Although obviously that is there at various points, Diego’s portrayal of Jesus here is so filled with love and mercy and passion that when you watch it, I think you (I certainly do) understand why these men would follow him to their death.”
How was working with Diogo Morgado (Jesus) and Roma Downey (Mary)?
“Working with them was a real privilege. Diogo and myself formed an incredible bond of friendship almost immediately and we just spent the whole of this shoot really together, as friends and fellow actors. Because we were both so passionate about it and we were just constantly working to try and develop a relationship on-screen, that was mirrored by our relationship off-screen. He’s just a brilliant, brilliant actor and brings so much. He’s a great leader, and that was one of the things that really struck us all. He has a certain quality—dare I say it’s a Jesus-like quality. When you’re with him, you do want to listen. He emanates a great deal of love and wisdom as person. So, in a way, it was quite easy for them to follow him on screen, because he brought all these qualities that he also has as a human being.
With Roma, it was another wonderful experience, because she was not only the actress but she was also the producer and she comes with so much experience. What was lovely was that she was able to synthesize both her experience as a producer and as an actor. She created an environment where we could all bring our best work, really. She created an environment which made it like a family, and that brought a certain element of joy and a real commitment."
Do you have any stories of how God was present during your work on the film?
“I think whenever you’re doing anything creative, if you’re opening yourself up, you’re always opening yourself up to allow something greater than yourself to enter into it. And I think all of us, as actors, artists, whether it be filmmakers or performers or the crew, when you’re truly, truly doing something connected, you’re more of a vessel for something else to happen.
There were also certain moments, and the one that I find so interesting was when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit, and just before he said that line, we were in the middle of an olive grove, at dawn, outside this very, very ancient city. It was absolutely still. And in the moment just before he said, “The wind blows at will,” a gust of wind whipped up from round this ancient city built into the rock and just blew through the trees and through his hair. It was just a moment when the hair on everybody’s arms stood on end.”