VASQUEZ ROCKS, Calif.
Jesus is a Republican, married and a father. He Tweets, blogs and belongs to Facebook. He loves Pringles, doesn't object to a little tequila and lime, and listens to P-Funk when cruising the 405 on his Suzuki motorcycle as the wind blows his long hair and beard.
Actually, Aram Granger says with an infectious laugh, "I can't say Jesus would do any of these things. But Aram sure does!"
For the past five years, Granger, 38, has portrayed the central figure in the Easter Passion pageant depicting the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the outdoor setting of Vasquez Rocks, the California state park in Agua Dulce immortalized in Hollywood westerns.
In tiny Agua Dulce, with its population of about 4,000, the two performances every spring have made the tall motorcycle buff with Jesus looks and hypnotic blue eyes a local celebrity. Townfolk often recognize him as "Hey, you're the guy who plays Jesus," or just ask if he's going to play Christ again.
The impact, says Granger, a visual effects artists with entertainment game giant Electronic Arts in Marina del Rey, has been to make him a better person.
"I've lived here for a little while and people know my real name," said Granger. "But they also know that I do play Jesus. So I'm kind of - I don't want to say I'm on the hook, but people are watching and I'm kind of cognizant of that fact. I better watch what I say and what I do because there's certain things that I want to say and want to do that would not necessarily be the greatest."
He lets out a laugh.
Granger's wife of 11 years, Bonnie, has seen a transformation in her husband since he began playing the role of Jesus.
"I think it's been part of his journey to really understand his relationship to God and how others perceive him," she said.
People who know him, such as his pastor, the Rev. Wayne Wilson of the Acton Faith Bible Church in Acton, say Granger is a model Christian, model husband and model father of four children - sons Kenny, 9, and Vinton, 5, and daughters Vivienne, 3, and Katarina, who was born just six weeks ago.
"He's special - you can tell that right away," said Wilson, who personally sought out Granger when the previous Jesus actor begged off, saying the role was too demanding and had wiped him out emotionally and physically.
Although the play runs only 40 minutes, it focuses heavily on the physical torture Jesus endured, and the crucified Christ seems to hang on the cross for what seems like a third of the production, usually with near-freezing winds blowing through the high rock formation passing as Mount Calvary.
Temperatures for the Easter Sunrise Service, starting at 5 a.m., are often frigid, Wilson said, and even the Saturday afternoon performance is often done in windy conditions.
"I thought Aram looked like Jesus - like what we've come to believe Jesus looked like," said Wilson. "And I remember going up to him and and saying, `Aram, I have a request,' and he immediately knew and said, `You want me to play Jesus."'
That first year, Wilson recalled, Granger performed in extreme cold despite being sick and running a fever.
"I have found that the cold is not usually an issue," said Granger, whose acting experience is limited to high school and college plays. "I think that's probably just because of the adrenaline and thinking about other things while I'm up there."
What is going through this Jesus' mind as the passion play unfolds?
"Mostly I'm trying to listen for my cues," he said with another big laugh. "That doesn't sound very romantic, but mostly I'm trying to make sure I'm projecting my actions to the back of the rocks, the back of the audience, so everybody can see what's going on, and I'm thinking about what I'm doing next and how it's looking like from the outside."
A regular Bible reader, Granger said he has never done anything special to prepare for the role, though he was strongly influenced by Jim Caviezel's portrayal in the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ."
"I think what went through my mind was that movie packed a visceral wallop," said Granger. "A lot of people called it the `Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.' It certainly was.
"What went through my mind the first time I played Jesus was just the base violence of the actual event. I kind of got thrown off a rock a little bit and kicked around on the ground a little bit and then kind of strapped to a cross. But the real event was a lot more visceral than that and a lot more bloody and a lot more substantive."
In the play's crucifixion scene, Granger is held up on the cross by a cantilever and a harness around his waist and legs that hooks just right behind my back.
"That's where most of my weight is," he said. "I'm resting a little bit on my feet but not very much because there's not much room there. There's a tiny little platform that's the length of about half my foot.
"But I can't really rest too much weight there, so I'm mostly hanging from a cantilever attached to a harness that's attached to a little ring on the cross there. My hands are held up there with rope around my wrists."
The scene, viewed from the audience standpoint below the rock formation, is dramatic and moving.
"I tend to kind of think that I'm just representing," said Granger. "That's all I'm trying to do. And really, in the end, that's all any Christian is trying to do or should be trying to do - is represent Jesus.
"That's all I'm doing, and that's what I try to do in my daily life. In that aspect it doesn't freak me out at all."