IRAN: A Muslim actor as Jesus Christ
He is an Iranian Muslim who looks so much like a Hollywood or Renaissance image of Jesus Christ that the faithful sometimes make the sign of the cross when they see him.
Ahmad Soleimani-Nia has been playing Jesus for seven years, keeping his hair long and lightly dyed, his beard knotty and vibrant.
He is the star of "Jesus, the Spirit of God," a new film from Iran that depicts the man Christians believe to be the messiah and son of God as a tormented Judean prophet heralding the coming of Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith. Nia's Jesus is at once serene, devout, driven and passionate.
In real life, if there is a real life after a spiritual and artistic odyssey that is still not over, Nia lives in Tehran. He was once a soldier in the Iranian army and then a welder for — the irony is interesting in this Jesus story — his nation's Atomic Energy Agency, which the Bush administration accuses of pursuing nuclear weapons.
That may unsettle some American neo-cons, but perhaps not as much as the film itself, which suggests that Jesus wasn't crucified and never rose from the dead.
Check out the rest of the story in today's Los Angeles Times.
— Jeffrey Fleishman in Tehran
Photo: Ahmad Soleimani-Nia as Jesus. Credit: minbar.tatar.ru/rus/Messiah.htm