An animatronic figure for Jesus

GOOD MORNING: An animatronic figure for Jesus in “The Passion”? Those who have seen the lifelike Jesus nailed to a massive cross in Keith Vanderlaan’s Captive Audience studio in Burbank come away almost speechless. Vanderlaan tells me, “When I walk into the studio each day and see it — it is so weird.” The animatronically controlled head moves, the bleeding and beaten chest heaves. Vanderlaan says Mel Gibson, for whom he’s worked on three previous films, asked him to make the figure for exteriors in Italy. “Jim Caviezel couldn’t remain on the cross in that cold for hours with only a loin cloth. However, it was amazing what he did endure.” Effects specialist Vanderlaan admits “I don’t like gore,” but for Mel’s Jesus, he created special bloody prosthetic makeup appliances to be CGI’d on the figure of Jesus which is stripped down to the bone resulting from the “horrible instruments of torture. This process has never been done before,” says Vanderlaan. “I had to design things so this doesn’t look like a horror movie.” Vanderlaan, who is Catholic, said when Gibson called him for this unique assignment, he consulted with a member of the church “to see if the movie was spiritually correct.” He said he’s seen the film 10-15 times and is still working on “visuals and miniatures.”

MAIA MORGENSTERN, the Romanian Jewish actress who plays Mary in “The Passion,” told the Jewish Journal’s Naomi Pfefferman, ” Not a single scene struck me as anti-Semitic and Gibson allowed me to make suggestions based on my Jewish culture.” Discussing the rising anti-Semitism in Europe today, she said, “We are all living terrible moments everywhere now — you can see how easy it is to manipulate people.” In the film, she says she speaks her lines in Aramaic and Latin and “something between Hebrew and Arabic — with a Romanian accent.” She said she hoped it would be sub-titled — in English, that is.

LIFE AFTER THE ELECTION is good — for former gubernatorial candidate Gary Coleman. I spoke to him on the set of Hallmark Channel’s “A Carol Christmas” in which he plays the ghost of Christmas past. “I try to straighten out Tori Spelling’s life — she plays a bitchy talkshow host.” He reports that Matthew Irmas directs a cast also including William Shatner, Dinah Manhoff and Jason Brooks. Gary’s also doing a show for the All-Comedy Radio network in which he’s a political analyst. His longtime agent, Hal Stalmaster, is negotiating a series for Gary on Tech-TV. Coleman didn’t watch last week’s “Saturday Night Live” in which Keenan Thompson played Gary in a skit. The versatile Thompson played Bill Cosby the previous week … Halle Berry is “SNL’s” host this Saturday and she must be braver than she was fighting James Bond — Berry, her husband Eric Benet and Fred Durst have made the tabloids deliriously happy. But I’m told Halle’s happily looking forward to whatever Lorne Michael’s merry men have in store for her. Michaels tells me, however, ” we do everything for the comfort of the host.” And the writers of the show must also be anticipating the host for Nov. 1 — Kelly Ripa.

ONE OF THE CREDITS MISSING in the obituary for Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc and onetime owner of the San Diego Padres — she was also executive producer of the 1984 Jack Lemmon starrer “Mass Appeal.” Lenny Hirshan who was Lemmon’s longtime William Morris agent, reminded me Lemmon was invited to toss out the first ball at a Padres’ season opener. Later, sitting the owner’s box with Kroc, she asked him “What’re you doing next?” He said he was trying to do the film version of Bill C. Davis’ B’way hit “Mass Appeal,” however, he and producers Larry Turman and David Foster couldn’t get financing. “How much do you need? Kroc asked. “Seven million,” answered Lemmon. “You’ve got it,” she said. And indeed they did get it, Turman confirmed to me Monday — as he was including that chapter in a book he’s writing for Crown on how to produce a movie. … The Center Theater Group’s Gordon Davidson makes his TV acting debut Wednesday on NBC’s “Will & Grace” in a seg in which he plays a director who berates the acting of — James Earl Jones! It’s a comedy, of course — Jones once performed in the Mark Taper Forum’s “Othello” for Davidson — to raves. Jim Burrows directs the TV’er. In real life, Davidson’s directing the Taper’s Dec. 4 bow of “Like Jazz,” which will fill its stage with a 16-piece band, five singers (Patti Austin, Lillias White, Jennifer Chada, Cleavant Derricks and Jack Sheldon) and four dancers chore’d by Patricia Birch … Jerry Douglas, who has played John Abbott for 21 years on “The Young and the Restless” guestars in a seg of “Arrested Development” in which he auctions off Liza Minnelli as a one night-prize … Eric Braeden, Victor Newman on “Young & Restless” for 23 years, received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Braeden gave a speech in support of Israel and he’s been invited there on a goodwill visit … Speakers for the private “celebration of the life and career of John Schlesinger” at 10:30 ayem Sunday at the DGA include Michael Apted, Kaye Ballard, Peter Bart, Melanie Griffith, David Hockney, Dr. David Kaminsky, Lily Tomlin, Michael York, Steven Zallian and Schlesinger’s life-partner, photographer Michael Childers … Gerald McRaney appears in “The Exonerated” at N.Y.’s 45 Bleeker St. Theater — Wednesday matinee with Polly Draper, Wednesday evening with Carol Kane, Thursday evening with Marlo Thomas … The City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Award gala honoring Neil Portnow at the Pacific Design Center raised $2.3 million … Paula and Sumner Redstone will be this year’s Fulfillment Fund “Stars 2003” honorees Nov. 18 at the Beverly Hilton. David Hyde Pierce m.c’s. Jazz greats convene Oct. 23-26 at the Hyatt Newporter Resort for the L.A. Jazz Institute’s Balboa Rendezvous boasting composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, vocalists and music that created the Stan Kenton legacy. It’s a spectacular event–call (562) 985-7065 for more info.

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