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Exclusive Interview: 'The Young Messiah' Actress Sara Lazzaro Discusses Playing Iconic Role of Jesus' Mother, Mary

( [email protected] ) Jun 13, 2016 12:24 PM EDT
In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, "The Young Messiah" actress Sara Lazzaro opened up about playing Jesus' mother, Mary, and why she believes the film's message of love, faith, and family is much needed today.
Sara Lazzaro stars in "The Young Messiah," available on Blu-Ray™ Combo Pack and DVD on June 14th. 1492 Pictures

"The Young Messiah," a groundbreaking new faith-based film about the struggles of Jesus' childhood, is now available for purchase on digital HD and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 14.

Released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, "The Young Messiah" stars Adam Greaves-Neal as the 7-year-old Jesus Christ, Vincent Walsh plays his father Joseph, and Sara Lazzaro portrays his mother Mary.

In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, Lazzaro said taking on such a monumental role was "daunting, an honor and a responsibility," as Mary is the most definitive female figure in the history of mankind who carries with her universal meanings and archetypes of what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a mother.

"With this premise, I admit, I was overwhelmed," Lazzaro said. "But that is the point. How do you play an 'Icon'? You don't. You can't. All I could do when portraying Mary, was to focus on leaning on the one thing we do have in common: I am also a young woman. I am not a mother (yet), but still I asked myself : what would I do if I were the mother of this child? How would I go about this journey knowing what she and her family had already been through and unsure of what was awaiting for them ahead?"

She added, "I felt the need to strip down, to rely and access my instincts, my woman nature. Because that is what she is, what she contains, universally. "

Sara Lazzaro
(Photo : Focus Features)
“The Young Messiah” stars Adam Greaves-Neal and Sara Lazzaro as Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary.

The story follows Jesus' journey from Egypt to Nazareth and on to Jerusalem, where His true identity and profound destiny are revealed. The film particularly focuses on the year Jesus was 7 years old and watches as his family deals with the dangers of that world, including a corrupt King Herod (Jonathan Bailey) who orders a Roman centurion (Sean Bean) to kill the Christ-child, civil unrest, and a brutal occupying Roman force.

When the mystery of Jesus' divinity begins to unfold in His early years, He turns to His parents for answers. "The Young Messiah" explores the steps Mary and Joseph may have taken to protect their child, because they were afraid to reveal all they know. The movie demonstrates questions Jesus' parents had about how to determine ways to explain to the world He was their Creator.

Lazzaro said she believes human portrayal of Jesus, Mary, and Jesus allows viewers to connect with the story in a unique way.

"It's the first time ever that we see on film a 7 year old Jesus, so inevitably the Holy Family as a whole takes on a new light, too," she said. "The movie explores 'what could have happened' in a moment of his childhood, when he and his family travel back to Nazareth from Alexandria. I think the humanity it transpires is extremely communicative and powerful."

She added, "What appeared to me as most evident - and revealing to some level - when approaching and portraying Mary in 'The Young Messiah', was that I was reminded of her 'humanity', that she was a woman, and yes, possibly filled with all the heartaches, love, fears that all mothers, all around the world, face every day. For some reason it made me feel closer to her. I felt a more personal connection."

Sara Lazzaro
(Photo : Focus Features)
“The Young Messiah” stars Adam Greaves-Neal and Sara Lazzaro.

The film beautifully depicts Jesus' relationship with his parents, his friends, and his extended family -- all of whom are aware of his divine nature. Filmmakers skillfully portray the child's love and respect for Joseph and his special bond with Mary and desire to feel safe in her arms.

There are several poignant moments in the film where Mary is shown struggling with wanting to protect her son, but understanding she would need to tell Jesus about God's plan for Him.

"I think that this duality you perceived, is the conflict that is at the core, that in some way defines and moves Mary," Lazzaro said. "This was a crucial aspect that Cyrus really focused on and it's something that needed to transpire: the task this young woman had to face, this dual (at times contrasting) role she had in being a mother, but also knowing that this child, in a way, was not 'her own'. It's a constant coexistence of contrasting feelings, of layers and density that had to fill each silence, each word and each action that was going to take place."

The film was shot all over Italy and scored by Academy Award Nominated Composer John Debney ('Jungle Book', 'The Passion of the Christ', 'Iron Man 2'). Lazzaro, who is of Italian descent, said filming in Italy was a "bit like going home."

"It was an honor to film in the prestigious Cinecitta' and filming in Matera was something truly exceptional," she said. "I say this often: that place clearly plays as another character in the movie. It was a crucial location, I think, as it helped us to immerse ourselves completely in the era, in the atmosphere, in the story we were about to tell."

Lazzaro believes "The Young Messiah" will not only entertain and inspire viewers, but encourage conversation surrounding family, faith, and love.

"I hope audiences are able to experience the Holy Family in a new unexplored light," she said. "To witness a story that, at the core, speaks about love and family: two cardinal points that define us as human beings, regardless of our religion, or culture. An important reminder, that is very necessary in the world and in the times we are living today."

In addition to the DVD release of "The Young Messiah," Universal has made available a new Church Study Guide by WingClips to empower pastors and other church leaders to create family-focused conversations around sermons, Sunday schools, vacation bible schools, small groups, and other summer family events. More information is available here.