The fame spotlight focused on him when he starred as Jesus Christ in the American mini-series “The Bible” in 2013. But this was not Diogo Morgado’s first step of his international career as an actor. Quite the contrary. As far back as eight years ago he lent his talent to international productions, first in Brazil, with “The Jungle” and then in Spain where he made three films. And all whilst in Portugal he was establishing himself as a name in the cinema and on television. However, it was actually the role of Jesus that has opened up new horizons for him. It was a role to which he added a very personal touch worthy of the epithet that would become almost viral in pages of newspapers, television programmes and social networks. It was Oprah, the American talk show host who needs no introductions, who described Diogo as “hot Jesus”, but everything started much earlier. “I didn’t appear in the first few episodes and in a series with 110 million viewers, the question constantly asked was ‘who is going to play Jesus’ he recalls. Curious, the American viewers searched in Google and “a guy appeared without tunic or thorns – me. They could not say if I was portraying him well or not, but just commented on the appearance. When my character entered they started to appreciate my work more and the choices I made”. Despite rejecting labels, he isn’t bothered by the fact they call him “hot Jesus” because it isn’t offensive. However, he understands where it comes from and believes that in Portugal it will be transient just as it was in the USA. “The Bible” will now move to cinema screens, but until the première, Diogo Morgado is continuing on screen in the USA with roles in the Fox television series “Revenge”. Despite the public exposure he is not getting carried away on the wave of fame. He says that for him as a person nothing has changed. However it is clear that professionally much has changed. His prospects have widened and he has started to plan his work taking into account that there are now more markets on the horizon and he has started to manage his life between the two countries. Apart from that he ensures that there aren’t any big differences. “I used to be recognized in the streets of Lisbon but now sometimes I am recognised in the streets of Los Angeles. People are nice but there’s no hysteria like when people see a Alec Baldwin or a Tom Hanks…”.
These weren’t the stages Diogo as a child imagined he would hit. He took his first steps in the artistic world at the age of 15 – children’s theatre, theatre, presentation of programmes, musicals ... and that’s how he filled the next six years, until the age of 21 he thought it was the right time to choose a serious path. “I was full of indecision for a month. I wanted to go to college but realised it was too late. All I could do was related to writing, performing and storytelling” he recalls. This was the reason for the push needed for the vocation. “That’s how it happened and just as well it did happen”. Now at 32, he continues to seek inspiration from two of his favourite actors – Armando Cortez and Nicolau Breyner. Both motivated him by being in the profession
but also by their attitude to life.
It was Armando who discovered him: “He was the first person who pounced on me and saw that I had something. And when he says it, he is believed. I believed it then and I still believe it today.” And Nicolau inspires him with his ideas of collective work: “Even when things are not going well it is very difficult to encounter this one with him alone.” “If being an actor is this, then this is what I want to be.” He has no doubts. And what he wants to be is “someone, who at the end of the day, is a mirror on the spectrum of life”. He is against labels and against stereotypes. Like the one where a star does not do comedy. Diogo does and has a story to tell: “There was an article in the USA which questioned why this Jesus smiled so much. I had the opportunity to respond and it may have seemed a little unfounded but if the story of Jesus is of someone who arrived at a location and attracted the multitudes, why was this? Perhaps it was just a smile. A stranger, smiling in a land where oppression could be felt every day, had to be mesmerising. Smiling was a conscious decision. I learnt how contagious smiles and laughter are for people and the effect when these are lacking.”
What is an airport for you?
A crossing point. The only place where cultures, races, languages, religions, tastes and irritations are all indifferent and are all secondary. They all share the same square metres extremely peacefully, nobody looks around, everyone is focused on the destination which is nonetheless both ironic and interesting.
What do you feel when you depart?
The departure evokes much less than the arrival. It evokes expectations of something that is removing us from the place where we are and where we live. And this requires an investment of time and money.
And on the return what do you feel?
I always feel great happiness. There has never been a time when I have not returned and felt brutally happy. When I return the first thing I see is the airport and this contact has always been a pleasure for me. For some reason I am stubborn in saying that it would be difficult for me to live away from Portugal, in this case Lisbon, where I was born, where I live and where I work. It is not by chance. It may be a little arrogant to say that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but for me it is.
Which travel journeys have you enjoyed the most?
It was a trip I took to South America to Peru, Bolivia and Chile. It is a special trip because they are not obvious destinations. It is a trip you undertake because you want to, you really desire it. It took place when I had been recording for four months in the Amazon rainforest so before I returned to Portugal I took this trip through the various borders of Lake Titicaca.
Apart from Lisbon where do you never tire of returning to?
Curiously Los Angeles. I say curiously because it is a city which, at first sight, has very little appeal – it is not full of that cinematic glamour found in New York. But it does have something that I like very much. It is huge, everything is very spread out. I like the fact there are no concentrations, but zones and space where it is possible to move and breathe. It is a city where you can breathe and where I feel very comfortable.
ECCENTRICITY AND GOOD SENSE?
Diogo laughs out loud when we ask him if the theme of this issue – eccentricity and good sense – applies to him. “I am by no means eccentric” he starts saying and then stresses that he has “some difficulty” in understanding eccentricity. In art or in fashion eccentricity is “fabulous”, “pure creativity”.
And yes he appreciates this. But people who are eccentric in their way of being deserve another opinion – they “interfere”. As for good sense, he says that there is a “tremendous lack” of this quality. But he believes that it is something he has plenty.