(OSV News) -- A new musical retelling of Jesus Christ's birth starring Antonio Banderas makes it "very easy and simple for families" to experience the wonder of the Nativity story, which at heart is about love, the actor told OSV News.
Banderas plays King Herod in "Journey to Bethlehem," which opened in theaters Nov. 10. Produced by Sony Pictures' Affirm Films and Monarch Media, the movie features Fiona Palomo as Mary, Milo Manheim as Joseph and musical artist Lecrae as the angel Gabriel.
Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, ordered the slaughter of Bethlehem's male children ages two and under at the time of Jesus' birth, having been "greatly troubled" by the Magi's visit inquiring after the "newborn king of the Jews" (Mt 2:1-18).
Yet the film renders the violent legacy of the historical Herod in an age-appropriate, family-friendly way, using song, dance and a touch of amusement to illuminate the Nativity narrative for a general audience, Banderas told OSV News.
"There's a lot of humor in the character, and he can laugh at himself," he said. "And I love that side of the movie."
The approach also provides a welcome relief from "a world as complicated and violent as the one in which we are living," Banderas said. "Families are looking for that type of movie they can take the kids to without danger."
Still, the Academy Award-nominated Banderas -- who normally plays likable protagonists -- is a convincing villain in the film, snarling at the Magi, storming about the palace with his red cape swirling, and singing that it's "Good to be King."
Banderas was tapped for the role by the film's director and former "Glee" music producer Adam Anders, who co-wrote the script and the movie's music. Anders and his brother Alex, a music producer, attended a performance by Banderas in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company," which Banderas starred in and directed at his Teatro del Soho CaixaBank in his native Málaga, Spain.
The Anders brothers "came with this little gadget that actually measures your pitch," Banderas laughed. "I didn't know they were doing an audition of me. I was just performing. (Afterwards), they said, 'You can do this (Herod) character vocally. Your pitch is perfect for it.'"
Banderas said that as an actor, he finds "villains are way more interesting from a dramatic point of view than the good guys" to portray.
"The good guys are always in a straight line, and the bad guys are not in a straight line," he said. "They can have a lot of turnarounds. You never know when it's going to be the next thing that they're going to do."
Banderas said he had plenty of resources for preparing to play "a jerk" in the movie.
"That side was not very difficult, because you watch television every day and you see a lot of those guys filled with power and just (thinking they are) the owners of the world, and they know all the answers. And they just don't care about stepping on top of everybody. We are living in a world where you've got a lot of examples, unfortunately, of those guys."
In the film, "it is very clear there is good, and there is evil, and it's very clear who is on one side and who is on the other side," said Banderas, a practicing Catholic.
The movie's message, like the Gospel, is "unbelievably simple and unbelievably important," said Banderas.
"What Jesus tried to translate to human beings is (the call to) love each other," Banderas said. "Just love each other. It's that simple."