Paul Nicholls plays Judas
Paul Nicholls knew he wanted to be involved in The Passion – regardless of the role.
"It was just one of those scripts that you pick up," he says. "Obviously, I knew the story but this version humanised everyone who was in it. There were no pantomime villains. It was really refreshing. I would have taken any part in it to be honest."
As it turned out, the role producer Nigel Stafford-Clark and director Michael Offer had in mind for him was, perhaps, the most emotive of all apart from Jesus himself – Judas, the disciple who betrays him to the authorities.
The Judas that emerges from Frank Deasy's powerful script is a naive young man who has been paid by Jerusalem's Temple Guard to infiltrate Jesus's band of followers and spy on their progress through Galilee.
In Jerusalem, he finds himself torn between the authorities' demands for information about Jesus's plans and the loyalty he now feels to the charismatic preacher from Nazareth.
"Ultimately, he was just a peasant, someone who tagged along and then found himself in a very sticky situation," explains Paul.
Judas betrays Jesus out of fear rather than for financial gain. "Money is not the motivating factor. He is just a normal man – terrified because he is between a rock and a hard place. His courage kind of fails him more than anything else," he says.
Like many other members of the cast, Nicholls admits there were times when he was affected by the power of the story he was working on.
"I suppose the real impact comes when you read the scripts for the first time. When I read them Jesus's message came across. It does make you think about your own life and how you live it. Sometimes I listened to what Joe was saying when he was playing Jesus and I walked away reflecting.
"Even though it was 2,000 years ago, human emotions and human beings are the same as then. Ideas and cultures have changed, but we are still the same," says Paul. "The scriptures are signposts to something else, something bigger than you."
The experience of filming in Morocco was a testing one for Paul, who last year spent almost six months out of acting after an operation to remove a cyst from his vocal chords.
He was rehearsing for a play, Phaedra, at London's Donmar Warehouse, when the problem first arose. "My voice kept going in rehearsals," he explains. "They sent me to this guy and they found a lump in my vocal chord. I had to have it lasered out. It was a bit scary. It turned out to be a big cyst."
The cyst was benign but Paul still took some time to recover his voice.
"Because it was inside my vocal chord, once the operation had been done I couldn't speak for a good three or four months. Even then I was whispering," he says.
The experience of being in Morocco was, however, a welcome boost.
"Last year was not good, but being out in Morocco was uplifting," he smiles.