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Series producer of new Moses Netflix hit chats with Aleteia


Courtesy of Netflix

Cerith Gardiner - published on 04/04/24

Kelly McPherson shares why 'Testament: The Story of Moses' should appeal to a modern audience and more.

The latest faith-based series, Testament: The Story of Moses. has recently been released on the streaming service Netflix. In three episodes each lasting around 90 minutes, viewers are taken on the ancient prophet’s journey through life, encountering his many trials and tribulations.

What is particular to this series is that the docudrama not only plays out the life of Moses, it also brings in opinions from leading theologians from the three monotheist religions, as well as experts in Egyptology and other relevant areas of research. And through the life of Moses and the commentary we can get an understanding of how such an ancient character from the Bible is particularly relevant today.

One of the series producers, Kelly McPherson, took the time to talk to Aleteia about the project, and shared his thoughts on how the series is particularly relevant today, and what makes this televised version of Moses’ life a little different from the familiar versions we’ve already seen on our screens.

What was the hardest thing about bringing the life of Moses to our screens in just under five hours? And how is this adaptation different from others?

The toughest thing, other than getting it finished, was we wanted to do something that had all the touchstones for people of faith. That they would feel like this is a story, even if there was a little bit of a different approach in certain ways, but that this is a story that they loved and recognized and felt the connection to. But also have it appeal to people who were not necessarily people of faith, and people of different spiritual feelings or backgrounds.

So something that felt universal because it feels like the message in all of it is very universal… we wanted something that wasn’t watered down… while also being respectful to the text, and to the story, to different people’s interpretations of it. We had consultants from every major religion and even an Egyptologist.

I’ve done quite a few historical documentaries and docudramas, but it was a lot more people to get input from. And it was all valuable. At the end of the day, I was surprised at how much overlap there was in the stories in different religions. And also how everybody really embraced it. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go… because you have a lot of different viewpoints.

So the most difficult things was to make something that was accessible, entertaining, and universal, but that still felt special and kind of appealed to people of various walks of life.

Were there any conflicting opinions?

No, I think that’s the thing that was surprising. I mean you get different opinions but I think that can vary in one faith. You know: “When did Moses know that he was a Hebrew? When did he learn about his brother, Aaron?” Some people say he learned it from an early age, some people said he knew it later. So those were just different viewpoints. [But we then had to consider] “How do we reveal this?” so that was a little tricky.

In this series we really see the man behind the prophet; we can see all the emotions. Avi Azulay, who plays the lead role, portrays him so well. How did you go about casting the role of Moses? What were you looking for?

That was the hardest role to cast, and it took the longest. We were looking for somebody who could bring across that darkness in Moses, but yet you could also see once he started evolving into this role of prophet he could be inspirational and could light people up at the same time, while also having this dark and kind of tortured past and having this burden placed upon his shoulders that he would have to be superhuman, or borderline superhuman, to take that on.

I mean I know that’s still an understatement. There’s nothing I could say that won’t be an understatement from what he was tasked with. But I think it was somebody that could be both inspirational and charismatic, but also have that brooding, that interior life that was a little bit haunted. And finding somebody that could bring both of that out is hard. Acting is a difficult thing…. Avi just jumped out at us.

He comes from a theater background. He has this kind of dynamic presence and this ability and I think he kind of takes command.

Faith-based series are proving very popular at the moment. The Chosen has had huge success. Any ideas why that might be?

I think it’s comforting to people. I think the message in so many of these stories is, and I think there’s also the connection that a lot of people come to these with memories from childhood. You may have grown up with a story, and you know how it begins, how it ends… but I think there’s something comforting in that. And I think that in every generation you think our world is coming apart at the seams. And I think that’s definitely a feeling in the present day world. There’s so much madness and things going on. That people are looking for comfort and they want to be entertained, too.

I think the telling of these stories has gotten better and better. What we wanted to do was make this story feel very rooted in the time and place it was set. But also make it feel contemporary and something that would still grab people who are also big consumers of dramas and films… The side of Moses that we went into, we started from the inside out with him: Who is he; what drives him; what scares him; what haunts him; what regrets does he have; what little things does he hold onto to that keep him going?

If we can dig into his flaws and the things that become his virtues, that makes him more human, that makes him more accessible to people. And people may not be tasked with leading an entire population to freedom… but everyday struggles in life, you can relate to it… And if people can tap into that then we feel that we have succeeded, then they’re on board to follow this guy because they can see themselves in him and vise versa a little bit.

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