They came from outer space

HEADING the Raelian Movement has its challenges, but it is a vocational thing.

"I had no aspirations to be in charge here. We do not believe in a God, a heaven or a hell. Neither do we believe in evolution. We are created by a race of beings who are not unlike us," explains actor Glenn Carter . . .

Who arrives in the Capital next week to star in a two-week run of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Festival Theatre.

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It is an unexpected belief for an actor who has carved a niche for himself playing religious roles.

He has appeared as Jesus in a number of productions of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s biblical rock opera, as well as playing the Messianic figure at the centre of Whistle Down The Wind and the title role in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Yet as the British head of the Raelian Movement, Carter follows a cult founded by French journalist Claude Vorilhon in 1973, after he claimed to have met aliens who revealed the truth about the beginnings of the human race to him.

He was told that life was created 25,000 years ago in an alien laboratory and that Jesus was resurrected using an "advanced cloning technique".

Carter’s ideology is further supported, he claims, by research he did when he was first cast as Jesus. It included reading parts of the bible and other religious texts as well as exploring alternative beliefs about who Jesus was.

"One of the most revealing things I discovered was that the word God, which we read in the Christian bible, didn’t exist in the original Hebrew," he says. "In bibles that we buy in the shops here, it says that God created the world in seven days. In the original Hebrew it doesn’t say God. The word Elohim is used.

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"The Jews, in their wisdom, decided not to allow Elohim to be translated, originally from Hebrew to Greek and then to Latin. So they replaced it by the symbol G dash D [g-d] which, for want of a better phrase, meant ‘refer to original text’.

"When it was then translated hundreds of years later from Latin and Greek into European languages they didn’t know what G-D meant, so they put an o in there.

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"But Elohim, translated directly from Hebrew to English, means ‘those who came from the sky’, so it was a huge discovery to find that God was a plural in the Jewish bible not a singular."

Although Elohim is accepted as a plural, not all academics agree on the translation Carter cites, many suggesting it to be no more than the first person plural, as in the Royal ‘we’.

Carter’s Raelian background is also, perhaps, the reason why the actor is not over-awed by the religious significance the man he is playing holds for millions of Christians around the world.

"As an atheist who believes in Jesus as a historical prophet, playing him on stage is just like playing any other role.

"You have to put your whole self into any role. You can’t remain balanced in your head if you start thinking Jesus is a special part. I don’t, as an actor, carry around 2000 years of Christian history - I don’t bear the responsibility of playing an iconic character, I just play the person. It’s the same as if I was playing a murderer. I wouldn’t have to experience murdering someone to associate myself with people who have murdered. You have to be able to put yourself in the situation of the character and not carry around that weight of: ‘Wow this a hugely important part for many people.’ "

Carter follows in a long trend of casting larger-than-life actors in the role of Jesus. Ever since HB Warner in Cecil B DeMille’s 1927 movie The King of Kings, each generation has had its own iconic saviour.

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In the 50s it was the Donald C Klune, the non-speaking, uncredited Jesus in the biblical epic The Robe. A decade later it was Jeffrey Hunter in the 1961 remake of King of Kings, while in the 1973 movie Jesus Christ Superstar, Ted Neely gave the role a psychedelic twist.

Robert Powell followed as a more reverential Jesus of Nazareth in 1977 before Willem Dafoe more controversially donned the mantle 11 years later in The Last Temptation of Christ.

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Most recently Jim Caviezel made a bloodied and somewhat gory messiah in Mel Gibson’s Passion Of The Christ.

All have their own fanbase, as does Carter, who has now played the role on and off for nine years.

"I played it for six months in 1997," recalls the softly spoken 40-year-old, whose long, wavy curls make him a natural choice for the part.

"That production was very brutal, it was more like the Mel Gibson film. The way they have staged it this time is slightly more geared towards families, it’s less focused on the brutality of the way Jesus died and more on the way that he lived."

Jesus Christ Superstar exploded onto the musical scene in 1971 - stunning audiences and changing the face of musical theatre forever. It tells the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus through a ground-breaking score that features some of musical theatre’s most captivating songs, including Gethsemane - "The greatest musical number ever written for a male lead," insists Carter - and, of course the playground favourite, Superstar.

And while Carter has also appeared in Les Misrables, Grease and Chess, it’s to the role of Jesus he continues to return - although perhaps not for much longer, as he reveals that the physical demands of the show are taking their toll.

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"The other productions of Jesus Christ Superstar I have done were physically harder than this one. When I was asked to play this part again the only thing that came close to stopping me doing it was the physical toll it takes because I get flung onto the floor a lot.

"I constantly have a bad back, bad knees. Doing it once isn’t difficult, but doing it now close to 180 times and being thrown to the floor ten times a show . . . you get a lot of impact on your body. It’s the nature of the part."

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Carter admits that there’s now a limit to length of time he’s willing to take on such a demanding role - a good reason not to miss Jesus Christ Superstar at the Festival Theatre over the next two weeks.

Jesus Christ Superstar, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday-February 19 (not Sundays), 7.30pm (Thursday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm), 10-29.50, 0131-529 6000

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