If you believe in God, the arrival of new drama Paul, Apostle of Christ might seem divinely inspired. Released at our cinemas today – one day before Good Friday – the Hollywood production starring Game of Thrones actor James Faulkner and Jim Caviezel (yes, the guy who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) presents the ripple effects of the original Easter events.
Best known for authoring the bulk of what became the Bible’s New Testament, Paul hunted Christians in the first century before seeing the light of Jesus and giving his life to spreading the “good news” he had sought to destroy.
“It was a life-changing moment.” – Andrew Hyatt
Writer-director Andrew Hyatt doesn’t place himself on any sort of Paul pedestal but Hyatt’s personal encounter with Jesus also inspired his own career choice. Before he felt God “push” him towards making movies such as Paul, Apostle of Christ (which centres on Paul’s final days in prison, as he effects those around him and recounts his life to writer Luke), Hyatt was a long way from the “faith tradition” his parents passed to him.
Unlike the Jewish upbringing Paul experienced, Hyatt was raised as a Christian but “I did what a lot of younger people do. You know, I got to university … and it was a brand new world. There were parties, drinking, drugs. I asked myself, ‘Is my faith relevant to this?’ Unfortunately, my answer was ‘No’, so I walked away for seven years.”
During those years, Hyatt worked in production roles on Hollywood movies such as Nicholas Cage’s Ghost Rider and the juvenile comedy Big Stan. He did describe himself as a Christian but openly admits to “living this very Hollywood lifestyle – again, a lot of drugs, drinking, parties and very career-driven.”
Briefly recapped in Paul, Apostle of Christ, the Road to Damascus is a famous stretch where Jewish zealot Saul became Jesus follower Paul. That blinding moment is a long way from a hotel room in Toronto, Canada. But during the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, Hyatt says he had his own “encounter” with Jesus, unlike anything he had experienced.
“So, I’m sitting in this hotel room in Toronto and I felt this internal voice, if you will, and it said: ‘I’m not going to force you to make a decision; this is your choice. But you need to decide right now – you’re either with me or you’re not, but you need to stop pretending that you are.”
“It was a life-changing moment; full-on and down-on-my-knees-in-tears moment.
“When that happened, and it was a real encounter and palpable, it spun everything around.” It took years for Hyatt to combat “unhealthy things” in his life and he knows he’s still got a long way to go. But what he has not felt is any spurring away from the film and TV industry. Rather, “God placed it on my heart to start using my gifts to tell his stories instead of my own.”
“I never wanted to make a ‘Christian’ or ‘faith-based’ film.” – Andrew Hyatt
Paul, Apostle of Christ’s is the highest profile project Hyatt has steered since his hotel-room “encounter”. Talk about a major release – backed by Sony Pictures, Hyatt’s salute to Paul secured Hollywood stars and a berth in mainstream cinemas around the world. Yet, despite the movie’s title and unashamed anchoring in the Bible, Hyatt maintains his Paul biopic was not made solely for those who share the apostle’s faith.
“I never wanted to make a ‘Christian’ or ‘faith-based’ film,” explains Hyatt whose Easter 2018 cinematic release is showing along with Christian-themed Mary Magdalene and I Can Only Imagine. “I always saw this as an historical drama. This really happened. These people really existed. There really was the Roman emperor Nero, as well as Paul, Luke and a first century [Christian] community. I would love for anyone from any background to be able to watch it and not feel at any moment like, ‘Oh, I get it, this is a Christian film.’ Instead, [I’d like them] to be so moved by the human experience and drama … these things should resonate.”
“These things” include the persecution met by the first few generations of Christians within the Roman Empire, as well as how Christian beliefs and hope caused people like Paul to persevere. Hyatt also wants the everyday nature of key figures in the New Testament to resound with audiences. Far from being holier than me or you, Hyatt aims to present the Christian community in first century Rome as just like you and me.
“As I was growing up, I looked at these individuals in Scripture and I had a tendency to say, ‘Wow, look at them; they’re amazing and perfect and I could never be like that.’ Paul, Apostle of Christ is a reminder that they’re no different to us. Paul … and this first century community are exactly like us and God used them for such great purposes. I think it can be encouraging and inspiring to remember it wasn’t because Paul was this amazing pious person. It was because God looked at him and said, ‘I’m going to use this man.’”
One of the other notable elements of Paul, Apostle of Christ is its evident grounding in New Testament texts. “My prayer is that the heart of the film is completely true to Scripture, and who Paul and the others were,” shares Hyatt, who totally understands if some viewers feel “burned” by recent biblical films such as Noah or Exodus: Gods and Kings. “I’m excited to put something out there that we feel really does capture the Scriptural truths and the historical truths as well. Hopefully, it’s a movie that emotionally moves people and helps them to go deeper in their faith.”
Hyatt enjoyed the seemingly daunting task of putting words in Paul’s mouth. Instead of getting bogged down in theological arguments, Hyatt was buoyed by the opportunity to demonstrate Paul as a bloke who wrote in a real-world context, facing real-world problems. He probably also talked the talk of his soon-to-be-famous letters: “I love this idea that maybe we think that Paul wrote this one thing in this one letter and whoa, it’s amazing and it blew people’s minds. But I think that maybe the truth was he was probably saying those things all the time. Just as any of us would, these things you live by and hold fast to, you don’t just say them one time in a letter. You are constantly preaching or speaking about them.
“I love that idea of turning these letters into something that felt more lived in and part of his daily activities.”