• FEATURES \ Jun 05, 2001
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    Millions of people came to know Jesus through Brian Deacon
Millions of people came to know Jesus through Brian Deacon Christianity.com - Brian Deacon stepped into the role of Jesus Christ on over 20 years ago on location in the Middle East.

?Everyone get down!? came a shout.

Like a reflex action, the Israeli actors and film crew knew what to do. They groveled into the soil and covered their heads. Englishman Brian Deacon, dressed like Jesus Christ, joined his fellow actors.

Only minutes before, they had been filming the Jesus film with Campus Crusade for Christ. They were on the northern border of Israel. During the filming, Deacon pointed to the lilies of the field and taught his disciples the Lord?s Prayer.

Now in the middle of the filming, suddenly a second missile from Lebanon sailed over their heads, then exploded in a nearby empty schoolhouse. The two Arab missiles brought modern-day life into focus, while the crew filmed the life of Jesus Christ as depicted in the Gospel of Luke. After the initial scare, Deacon continued his role as Jesus.

The missile attack had happened during the filming 21 years ago, when Deacon was 30 years old. He was the only British actor among a totally Israeli cast. A member of the prestigious New Shakespeare Company, Deacon was chosen from thousands of actors who were interviewed and more than 260 who were screen tested.

The second son of a mechanic and nurse from Oxford, England, Deacon had performed in theater and film before accepting the role of Jesus Christ. ?My agent discouraged me from taking the part,? Deacon admits, reflecting about his role. ?He said I?d be type cast, as had happened with other actors.?

Many people advised Deacon how to play his part. He felt pressure from people who wanted a voice for their ideas. ?The character of Jesus belongs to everyone, and I had to find my voice and emotion for the role,? Deacon recalls.

Three weeks before the filming began, Deacon read the Gospel of Luke more than 20 times. ?It comforted me,? he said.

From the Bible reading, Deacon viewed Jesus as a man with great compassion and understanding. He decided to emphasize this role of Christ. During the seven months of filming in Israel, Deacon and others in the crew worked long hours, often starting at 4 a.m. for six days a week. Sometimes Deacon had a vast amount of dialogue on a particular day. He felt exhausted from the hours of work.

?I turned to the others and said, ?You have to help me today. I?m not sure how it will turn out.?? He then felt an unusual sense of strength.

Discussing his own faith, Deacon says, ?I?m a lapsed Catholic who hasn?t practiced his faith. I?ve had many doubts about Jesus? teaching. I?ve always found it difficult to know how truth can be proclaimed to others?the very ministry of Jesus. To me it?s more of a private matter.?

Yet during the filming, Deacon recalls some odd occurrences. One day as Jesus, Deacon stood on a rock and laid his hands on people. Suddenly an old woman clasped his arm.

?I had been expelling demons,? he says. ?Something happened to this woman, and it took her about five minutes to calm down.? For the rest of the day, the woman stared at Deacon in a bizarre way.

Other times, the filming had light moments. The 12 disciples traveled together on a bus. One day among themselves, these men discovered a wide variance of pay and decided to go on strike. The director came to Deacon and asked, ?Would you talk with these guys??

?Hey, I?m Brian Deacon, not Jesus Christ,? Deacon said. But, he discussed the problem with the men. After 36 hours, they resolved the disagreement and returned to work.

Another evening in Tel Aviv, Deacon woke up at 3 a.m. in his hotel room. The 15th floor of the hotel was on fire. From the balcony of his 18th floor, Deacon looked out on a towering inferno. Later, he learned that a British crewmember on the 15th floor had fallen asleep with a cigarette, and it had caught the ceiling on fire. No one was hurt, but the next day, they worked a full day, despite the lost sleep.

That next day, Deacon?s stand-in actor Tom Pannella said, ?That fire was the work of Satan.? The conversation frightened Deacon. Satanic influence wasn?t an idea that he wanted to consider. Throughout the filming, Deacon was aware of various problems or a spiritual dimension to the work. The production changed cameramen three times and used two different directors in the project.

?It wasn?t an easy film and at times not a happy experience,? he recalls.

For almost 18 months, Deacon worked on the film, then its promotion. To show his agent, friends, and members of the film community his acting role in Jesus, Deacon rented a small cinema on Water Street in London. The 80 guests drank wine and watched the completed film. Firsthand, Deacon saw the special impact of his role on the screen.

He said, ?I was struck with the genuine belief in the movie, not something manufactured. The film seemed to have a truth about it, and it touched those in the audience.?

After the showing, Deacon turned to other roles in the theater, film, and television. Recently, he played a villain on an English television program. It was a high-tech adventure called Bugs.

In the last 21 years, over 3 billion people in 233 countries have seen the Jesus film. Over 117 million people indicated a decision to follow Christ after watching the film, according to the recent statistics from the Jesus Film Project, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ. Also through more than 400 mission agencies and organizations, the Jesus film is available in 582 translations and 237 language versions are in progress.

Today when he looks back, it almost frightens Deacon. ?I?m just an actor,? he says. ?I was the medium. It wasn?t me that impacted those people, but it?s difficult for people to make that distinction.?

Deacon continues to receive letters of appreciation from all over the world. Part of him feels proud for this acting experience, but ?on the other hand, I don?t want the responsibility of being Jesus Christ,? he says.

He has the completed film on his shelf in his home in England. ?It?s like looking at an old school picture from your youth,? Deacon says. ?I?m pleased as an actor, but don?t put anything else into my role.?

Every day Deacon?s work from over 20 years ago is viewed by thousands of people in their own language. It continues to change lives and impact the world for Christ.