“It was a great experience to do this role, but also a great challenge.”

German actress Alissa Jung on the difficulties and rewards of portraying Mary, the Mother of God, in the film, "Mary of Nazareth"

German actress Alissa Jung visited the United States and Canada in November to promote Mary of Nazareth, a 2012 movie by Italian director Giacomo Campiotti in which Jung portrays the Mother of God. The English-language film, which features mostly German and Italian actors, was shot over two months, or 50 shooting days, in Tunisia, Northern Africa. It was initially screened on Italian television in 2012, and is now being seen in the United States as part of Ignatius Press’ theatrical screening program.

The film has been praised by many prominent Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI was moved by the film after watching a screening at the Apostolic Palace in May 2012. After the film, he shared this reflection on the Mother of God: “She is a mother who would have always wanted to keep her Son at her side, but she knows that He is God.  Her faith and her love are so great that she can accept Him leaving to accomplish His mission.  Her life is a constant ‘Here I am,’ said to God from the Annunciation until the cross.”

Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila remarked, “The film Mary of Nazareth is a beautiful portrayal of the humanity of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. While the director of the film takes certain liberties in the movie, it remained a profound story of faith, joy, love, suffering and hope. I would encourage everyone to see the film in order to understand the unique relationship between the members of the Holy Family and most especially the central role played by Mary as Mother of Our Savior.”

Jung was born in Munster, Germany, in the northwestern region of the country which was once home to stigmatist and mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Blessed Anne Catherine is said to have conversed with the Blessed Mother herself, and her revelations inspired some scenes in Mary of Nazareth. Jung began acting in 1997 at age 16, and has since made a variety of German television movies that have aired in Europe.

She was headed to Haiti to support her non-profit organization Pen Paper Peace, when her agent asked her to audition for Mary of Nazareth. Just hours before her flight was to depart, she agreed to tape a reading in front of her computer, which was sent to Director Campiotti. Although he had planned to select a French actress, Jung said, “He must have seen something in me.” She auditioned again in Rome and was given the part.

Andreas Pietschmann, another German actor, plays Jesus, and Luca Marinelli, an Italian, plays Joseph.  Campiotti is an established Italian director, whose movies include Bakhita, Doctor Zhivago and St. Giuseppe Moscati.

Jung recently spoke to CWR about her experiences making the film.

CWR: Where was the film shot and what was it like to work with the cast?

Jung: We shot it in and around Hammamet, in northern Tunisia, Africa. There is a large outdoor studio there. Our Jerusalem was in the studio, our Nazareth was in a real village with real mountain people, and our Golgotha was a Tunisian hill. There has been a long-established relationship between Italy and Tunisia, and Italian films are made there, including faith-based films. It is a beautiful country; the light and landscape are much like Israel.

We had an international cast and crew, mainly Italians, Germans and Spanish. We used many animals and extras. It was a wonderful cast. Between takes you’d hear people speaking Italian, Spanish, Arabic and French. I tried to speak Italian and English.

It was a wonderful few months of my life, and got me to think more intensely about a subject I hadn’t thought about before. I also enjoyed working with people of so many different cultures and backgrounds. It was a wonderful learning experience.

CWR: This was your first English speaking role. Is it difficult acting in a tongue different from your native language?

Jung: It was different, but I had an English coach to help me with pronunciation. I quickly got used to it, and I didn’t feel limited by my English.

CWR: How did you prepare for this role?

Jung: I always had a lot of respect for Mary, and I know she is an icon honored by many people.  However, I was not interested in her as an icon, but as a real human being.  She was a young girl when many important things happened in her life, and she was very brave.

She also had conflict within her as a mother.  She loved her Son, but she had to give Him away.

I read the screenplay through several times.  I read the Bible and I was also encouraged to read about the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine.  My goal was to understand and portray that inner conflict Mary had, and to accurately present the kind of relationship she had with her Son.

CWR: Growing up in Germany, were you ever taught about Mary or exposed to Marian devotion?

Jung: No. I had certainly heard about Mary, but the making of this film was the first time I’d ever thought deeply about her and understood her inner strength. I now see her in a different light.

It was a great experience to do this role, but also a great challenge. Mary is important to many people, so I wanted to portray her well.

CWR: How successful has the film been since its release two years ago?

Jung: I think it has become important for many people.  It has had great success in Italy on television, and in other countries as well.  I’ve met many people who tell me they are happy the film was made.  People tell me they’ve watched it 25 times and cry every time.  They say this or that scene changed their lives.

I hope to do similar movies in the future, but as an actress, I have to do the things I’m asked to do. In fact, I haven’t gotten any more roles in Italy, perhaps because I’ve been typecast as Mary! But it was a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

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Mary of Nazareth has been viewed by 200,000 people in 270 cities in North America at 600 theatrical screening events.  It is available as a two-disc DVD.  For information, visit www.maryfilm.com


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About Jim Graves 169 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.