Joaquin Phoenix: What He Refused to Do When He Played Jesus

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most revered actors of his time. Jesus Christ is one of the most revered figures in world history. When it was announced the former would play the latter, many fans were excited.

Phoenix played Jesus in the 2018 film Mary Magdalene. This Bible adaptation made several changes to the source material. One change was made because Phoenix refused to act out a certain Bible passage.

Joaquin Phoenix wearing a bow tie | Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

A biblical miracle involving mud

First, some context. The Bible makes several references to Jesus healing people. He cures lepers, makes the lame walk, and even brings some dead people back to life. One of these passages depicts Jesus healing a man by putting mud in his eyes.

In the passage (John 9:1-12), Jesus’ disciples see a blind man. They ask Jesus if the man was blind as the result of his own sins or his parent’s sins. Jesus replies “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” this teaching would have been a rebuke of suspicions of the era, which asserted that disabled people were disabled because of their sins or their parents’ sins.

Jesus then spits onto the ground to make mud. He then rubs mud in the man’s eyes. He tells the man to wash the mud off his eyes and the man is healed.

Joaquin Phoenix won’t play ball

Joaquin Phoenix in a suit and tie | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

This gospel episode was adapted into a scene of the film Mary Magdalene. The film depicts Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most famous followers. Unlike many other films based on the gospels, this movie has a strong feminist bent. Thus, the man healed of blindness is a woman in this adaptation.

Phoenix was aware of the aforementioned Bible passage, he just didn’t think about it much. When it came time to act out the scene, he wasn’t game. He felt such an action would be nonsensical.

Phoenix explained “I knew about that scene from the Bible, but I guess I had never really considered it. When I got there, I thought: I’m not going to rub dirt in her eyes. Who the f*ck would do that? It doesn’t make any sense. That is a horrible introduction to seeing.”

What Joaquin Phoenix did in the film instead

A clip of Jesus healing a woman from the film Mary Magdalene

Phoenix felt using mud to heal someone makes no sense. However, it was a common practice of the time. Healers in those days would often use mud or clay to heal people.

Phoenix ultimately acted out his own version of the scene. His version involved healing the woman’s eyes without mud. He ultimately found beauty in the healing.

Phoenix explained “That moment is not so much about a real miracle. It’s about someone who has been dismissed by society finally being seen, embraced and encouraged to join the broader community. To me, that is a miracle. There’s something profoundly beautiful about that sentiment.”

Also see: Were John Lennon & Yoko Ono Going to Play Jesus & Mary Magdalene?