Pope Francis has blessed Rodrigo Santoro, the Brazilian actor cast for the role of Jesus Christ in new movie re-make "Ben-Hur."
Santoro, known for his role in "Love Actually," received the rare privilege when he and co-star Nazanin Boniadi attended a weekly Papal Audience on April 15 during a film break in Italy.
Boniadi captured the moment and shared the photo on Instagram.
Hollywood's Christian couple Roma Downey and Mark Burnett took it as a blessing for their rendition of the biblical epic, slated for nationwide release in the U.S. on Friday and in the U.K. on Sept. 7.
"Pope Francis personally blessed Rodrigo Santoro. That was an extraordinary moment for him, and for us," Downey, the film's executive producer, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.
She also praised Santoro's portrayal of Jesus in the film as compared to Claude Heater, the actor who played Christ in the movie's 1959 version.
"He brings a gentle strength but also a beautiful timelessness to the role," said Downey. "Jesus was more of an imperial presence, he wasn't interpreted as a person you could see or feel his presence."
The couple said that they loved the script written by the renowned screenwriter John Ridley, known for the Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave," for shifting the movie's theme from vengeance to forgiveness and reconciliation.
"That's something John Ridley addressed in his script. Not only he [Jesus] the son of God, but the son of man," said Downey.
They also shared that the movie received tremendous support from "across denominations from all churches across the country," including that of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop Gomez in Los Angeles and Cardinal Sean O'Malley.
The couple also asserted the importance of their Christian faith and that their adaptation of "Ben-Hur" carried a message relevant to the present times.
Burnett, one of the producers of the film, revealed that he starts his daily routine with "small prayers" followed by a couple of hours of physical exercise and then a "solid half an hour ... to do nothing but praying."
Jack Huston of "Boardwalk Empire" plays the title role of Judah Ben-Hur. Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Ayelet Zurer and Sofia Black D'Elia also star in the film.