Yes, Pontius Pilate is the man who oversaw the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But Ben Daniels, who plays him in NBC’s live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar, considers Pilate’s introduction in the show “a love song.”
Allow us to explain.
The Act I number “Pilate’s Dream” shows Pilate recounting a confusing vision that came to him while sleeping. He talks about meeting “a Galiliean” (aka Jesus) and being confused about why people were angry at him.
“Then I saw thousands of millions/ crying for this man,” he sings, “and then I heard them mentioning my name/ and leaving me the blame.”
“I’m playing him very much as a soldier, which is what he was,” Daniels tells TVLine a few days before the broadcast, explaining that Pilate was born into the upper classes of Rome but worked his way through the ranks, achieving the position of Prefect of Judea.
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As viewers saw Sunday, Daniels’ Pilate had a very military look. “I very much wanted that soldierly feel,” Daniels says, pointing out that he even adopted a mohawk for the one-night role. “It’s quite brutish looking, and so I wanted that dream to change the molecules in his body. He’s kind of woken up, and this spirit has entered him.”
He adds: “It’s a great song to do, and it’s thrilling to me, because I’d never done a musical, and so it’s a totally kind of…you know, sort of wander out onto that huge stage by yourself, I thought it was going to be really daunting, but it’s just a brilliantly crafted song to act. In fact, the whole part is, that it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like I’m doing any straight play rather than a musical.”
Fun fact: Daniels played Caiaphas (the priest Scandal‘s Norm Lewis played in Sunday’s telecast) in a BBC/HBO production of The Passion, which also covers the final days of Jesus’ life and which informed his interpretation of history’s most famous hand-washer.
“Whenever I’ve seen it before, Caiaphas is sort of played — and Pilate — they’re played very much as two-dimensional bad guys, rather than taking into account the political atmosphere at the time. I think [The Passion] was the first time it sort of explored those three angles, the Jesus angle, the Pilate angle, and the Caiaphas angle, and I guess that’s why I carried that into this as well, to try and make them as rounded, or make Pilate as rounded as I possibly could.”
He laughs. “You know, we’ll see if it works.”