How We Met: David Bedella and James Burke-Dunsmore
I remember thinking, “I don’t meet Satan every day!"
David Bedella 50
Following his break-out role in 2004, as a larger-than-life Satan in the controversial musical 'Jerry Springer: The Opera', for which he won an Olivier, Bedella (left in picture) has appeared in a number of West End productions including 'The Rocky Horror Show'. He lives in London
James and I were both at a party for a friend of ours, [set designer] Janet Bird, in 2008. I looked across the room and saw this striking-looking man with flowing hair and beard and thought, wow, he looks just like Jesus. He had this quiet stillness, which drew people to him. I made a beeline over and acted in my usual flirtatious way.
I introduced myself as Satan and said, "We probably shouldn't be having a conversation." James had already seen my Satan [in Jerry Springer: The Opera] and we hit it off. As the evening wore on, we got into a serious chat about Jesus. He discovered I was a person of great faith – a Christian – too. He told me about how much he studies the life of Christ in order to do his work portraying him on stage. He was a fascinating guy who could hold his own in a spiritual conversation. But at the time I made the assumption that he may not be a serious actor, that he did this work because of his looks.
The following Easter I went to see him in his annual Passion play, in Trafalgar Square. He was beautifully articulate in a role in which it would have been easy to go over the top with the material. Afterwards, everyone in the audience queued up to get a photo standing next to Jesus in his white robes. He spotted me and gave me an awkward smile.
I think his look could serve many purposes. So where this repetition of just one role comes from is a lack of imagination on the part of the casting people. I say that because my break-out role was as Satan, and I've spent the past 10 years wading through a never-ending stream of offers to play the same part.
We've both had our share of controversy. When I was doing Jerry Springer, I got a lot of flak from right-wing religious groups and had to walk through picket lines every night to get to the stage door. James has had protests, too, but from humanist groups. We both feel the same way about it: anything that gets the conversation going about these iconic religious figures is a good thing.
James Burke-Dunsmore 41
Burke-Dunsmore has spent 15 years portraying Jesus Christ in more than 58 stage, TV and radio productions. He lives in London
The first time I saw David was when he was playing Satan in Jerry Springer: The Opera, in 2004, in London. I went along and watched it with a chaplain friend. I knew David had spoken openly in the past about his prayer and faith, and I thought it extraordinary that he was able to perform in this production with all the controversy at the time. Was I offended by it? It'll take a lot more than an opera to shake how I feel about Christ; I find it interesting, though, when other people are so easily shaken.
His performance was amazing. I could tell the extraordinary impact he was having by the audience's reaction. I've seen that since in his other roles: he rips an audience apart; they want to see him chewing up the scenery – and it was the same for me when we first met.
I have a daily conversation with people who come up to me and say, "I've just met Jesus!" For me, meeting David, I remember thinking, "I don't meet Satan every day!" It was wonderful to see this common ground; both of us dealing with the portrayal of iconic figures who so few people have played.
This is a man who can cripple you with his eyes; he can make you laugh, but he does it in a loving, playful way. He's actually a sensitive man who's aware of his surroundings. Of course we all have an ego – I have a rampant ego which wants to be loved – but it's what we do with it that marks you as a man, and David has managed to tame that ego, which is why I felt a connection with him.
In this business you often don't know what you're going to be doing next. With Jerry Springer and The Rocky Horror Show he's done the big camp thing. I know David will keep carrying shows and getting stronger. He might even be in something other than musical theatre. As for me, I have no problem being typecast. I've had to carry 58 different productions about Jesus and the question I meet every year is why am I still playing Jesus. With acting, it's often about being jack of all trades master of none, but I'm happy to have a small repertoire, done well.
We've fought the same battles but he has been in the business longer than me. It's like standing next to a warrior who has been through it all; I admire the way he still carries himself with grace.
Burke-Dunsmore is in the Wintershall Players' The Passion of Jesus live in Trafalgar Square at midday and 3.15pm on Good Friday (passionofjesus-trafalgar.co.uk). The first performance will also be live-streamed at wintershall-live.com
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