Children’s Ministry Magazine recently sat down with
Catherine Hardwicke, director of The
Nativity Story, to discuss her new film, currently
ranked #4 at the box office. Ms. Hardwicke spoke with Jennifer
Hooks, managing editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine.
CM: Mary is one of the most compelling figures
in all religious history. How’d you approach this movie? As you
went in with your vision for Mary, where did you start?
Catherine: I grew up with nativity scenes. I
loved Christmas, I had my nativity scene — we built big ones in
south Texas called nacimientos. They got bigger and bigger every
year. I loved Christmas carols. I loved Christmas. But I don’t
think I ever really thought about it. When I started reading this
script, I realized that I didn’t even know the first thing [about
the real nativity]. I didn’t think of Mary and Joseph as Jewish. I
didn’t know Mary’s age, which now almost all scholars believe she
was a girl of 12 or 13 or 14 years old because of the life
expectancy rates then. I just — I didn’t know anything about her.
I realized I knew nothing about how she lived.
Artists throughout history have depicted her in so many
different ways — to be Swedish looking, to be wearing 14th century
bodices — yet I was interested to know, to find out about, the
conditions that she really lived in. How did this story come about?
How did she feel about it? That one of the most fascinating things
– to go to Jerusalem and then find this place called Nazareth
village, which is kind of amazing…You could actually stand in the
rest of Nazareth, and it’s so large you don’t even feel like you’re
connected to any place where Jesus was — but this place, there’s a
carved winepress in the stone and a wall and an observation tower
nearby. There’s a passage in the New Testament where it talks about
Jesus being near a place in Nazareth that had all these three
elements, and they found pottery shards in the winepress dating
back to the first 20 years of the first century. So at that moment
I felt, maybe I am connected to where Jesus stood and lived and
And the people there are very inspired. They…build the houses
with stone in the same way and have the sheep and everything…so a
few of those people came over and helped us with our natural food
camp where the actors had to learn how to milk goats, make the
cheese, and bake the bread the same way they did.
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
That was kind of a basis that we shot. It’s good to learn the
real activities needed to survive in those days so that when you’re
doing a scene that stuff just comes naturally. So that was really
fun — Nazareth bootcamp! And Joseph really built the half wall
that you see. He really learned how to do that with the old tools
– no power drills. But I think that was the interesting thing –
all of us had to go back before there were cell phones and before
TV and think, what did people do all day long? What did the kids
do? You see them running around chasing the chickens and playing
with the animals. They were really connected to their lives.
CM: Tell me about the cast.
Catherine: My first thing was I wanted people
who don’t look like the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Mary, [I wanted
them to] look like they really came from the Middle East. That was
a challenge because we went to the Middle East, we went to Israel
and Tel Aviv, and we tried to find actors that would be right. And
many of the actors from Israel have scattered all over the world to
find more work. So we had casting directors in New York, L.A.,
London, Paris, Rome, and Tel Aviv. And every night as I was
location scouting, I’d go on the Internet and like, here are the
actors that are auditioning in London, here are the ones in Paris.
I’d try to see the ones that felt the best, and then when I got to
that city…I would meet the people and try to find people who had
a connection to the story, a spiritual connection to the film –
which really everybody did, even if it wasn’t their religion. They
were connected to the spirituality, the beauty of the story.
CM: You’ve previously mentioned that your hope
with this film is to unite rather than divide.
Catherine: To be more unifying. Filming in a
Muslim country, we found that the people there are really into the
CM: You grew up going Sunday school.
CM: What was most enjoyable and most
challenging about making this film?
Catherine: Maybe they were the same: The actual
nativity scene. You know, it was something that we all love and I
loved to do as a child. But making the real life one was so much
harder that I thought. Because I didn’t think about cows. How do
you get cows to lie down and be still? And how many Italian farmers
does it take to get the mama cow to lie down? And how long will it
stay down? The donkey. How do you get the donkey to lie down? And
the sheep? And then suddenly, if you finally can get all the
animals’ biorhythms settled and you can get everybody calm, then
you’ve got a live baby that’s only seven days old and the parents
are standing right there — gasp! A 16-year-old is holding our
baby! — and finally you get the baby, and then of course when the
baby finally gets into Mary’s arms, it starts crying and wakes up
the cow, and then the cow stands up, and then the Humane Society
says, “Okay, the cow’s gotta have a walk.” And you just have to
start the whole thing over. So the first night, nothing. We
couldn’t film anything. And then luckily we had another night, and
that night I think the biorhythms kind of worked. It was crazy.
CM: Controversy seems to follow
religious-themed films. Your film is not controversial. Even so,
there’s been a situation in Chicago about the film’s sponsorship of
a Christmas market there. What’s your take on that?
Catherine: The thing that seems so weird about
that, and I haven’t been to Chicago to really see it with my own
eyes, but I think that they sell beer, and it’s sponsored by beer
and liquor companies, and it’s sponsored by luxury cars and all
that, yet they won’t let the Christmas story be there, so it is a
bit confusing. I don’t quite understand it.
I don’t know…People are so worried about “taking the Christ
out of Christmas,” but I think the message of Christmas is
something…the story transcends religions, and it’s actually more
of a unifying factor than a dividing factor. I think people really
want something spiritual, and don’t want to just feel every second,
buy, buy, buy, buy. I almost can’t go shopping during Christmas
because I feel it’s just about money, money, money. And that’s not
what it’s all about. I don’t understand it.
CM: What do you hope people take away from your
Catherine: I hope that when you go though the
Christmas season with all the buying and all that stuff, it makes
you think, just for that moment, you can go to a dark theater…and
just reflect on what the meaning of Christmas really is. And the
humility of the story.
When the wisemen say, “The greatest of kings born in the most
humble of places,” they’re in all their fancy dress and gold
threads, but they suddenly get struck, too: We’re not seeing a king
in a palace with all this power and gold, we’re seeing this baby on
the straw with the animals.
It was very humble and very beautiful, and that’s even a
revolutionary message today. People are so blinged-out — which we
love all those things — but there are other sides to life, too. So
I hope people see that. I hope they see the inspiration of the
relationship and marriage where Mary and Joseph, their relationship
grows stronger and deeper even if they go through tough things. I
hope people can be inspired by their own challenges and find ways
to get through them.
Learn more about The Nativity Story at www.thenativitystory.com.