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How the Actor "Jesus" Came to Christ

Bruce Marchiano's Story

There's so much to tell...and at the same time, so little to tell. In so many ways my upbringing was so typical, and in so many, so untypical.

I grew up in southern California, Orange County to be exact. Back then it was all Orange groves with a scattering of suburban housing tracts. What a wonderland it was for me and my buddies - Kevin Connoly, Joey Goode...We would disappear into those orange groves for entire afternoons, playing all sorts of imaginary games. And the building sites - wow! There were all sorts of neat things lying around that we could use for clubhouses and all. I remember we even built a puppet theater in Kevin's garage with those building scraps. We modeled it after Disneyland's 'Tiki Room,' charged admission and everything. I don't remember what kinds of reviews or crowds we got, but it was great fun, that's for sure.

There can be no doubt my love of acting was birthed in those orange grove and backyard role-playing games. I remember Superman was real big back then. Of course everyone wanted to be Superman. I don't remember how often I got that title role, but what I do remember is that the reason I loved playing Superman was different from the rest of the kids. They all wanted to play him because he was so powerful, but I wanted to play him "because he saved people." I remember it distinctly, and looking back, I can't help but think that even way back then the Lord was shaping me for the future He alone knew what I would step into.

Interesting thing about my growing up, I was by no means the cool so-cal surfer kid. In fact, I didn't like the beach at all until I was well into my high school years. You see, I was a real chubby kid - loved to eat, and the cultural environment I was raised in was anything but dietary.

My father is Italian and my mother is Syrian. The two of them met here in California, dancing at the Figueroa Ballroom in the big band swing days. My father and his buddies were out on a vacation from New Jersey and mom was living out here, transplanted from Rhode Island with her Syrian family. Dad took one look at Mom and his ship was sunk. The next thing he knew he was raising a family on the west coast.

But given that, all the relatives I remember, and all the family gatherings, holidays, and weddings were all steeped in the Syrian/Arabic culture. I remember belly dancers at all the weddings, and the old uncles would grab their traditional instruments and provide the music, and we'd do a line dance called the 'dubke,' and all the Syrian women would get together for days in advance, cooking and cooking, and cooking some more.

But you can imagine the food I grew up on - dishes considered exotic/gourmet these days. And the sign of a healthy kid was the quantity he ate. I remember stuffing myself with my grandmother ('Sitto' in Syrian) standing behind my chair exclaiming in Arabic what a healthy child I was.

And 'healthy' I was! More, more! And my mother made this pudding dish that if you didn't take it away I'd clean out the entire pan in one sitting. Wow!

In any event, I was an overweight kid, and when it came to things like the beach and the locker room, it wasn't so nice. My only saving grace is that I was pretty athletic, so the way my brother puts it, "You never looked really fat, you just looked like a big square." Gee thanks, bro.

But I would struggle with my weight on and off until my 20's. One afternoon I stood in a clothing store buying a pair of pants. The girl behind the counter was real cute, but she didn't look at me even once, let alone twice. I can remember it distinctly - it hit me so hard I went home that day determined to get fit. And get fit I did. Praise God! It was such a big thing to me, to this day I wonder who that girl was, and if I'll ever get the chance to thank her for ignoring me.

But that weight was a big thing, I'm convinced that it shaped my sensitivities for the future. To this day, I find myself always gravitating toward the underdog - the guy left out - doing everything I can to impress the truth that God has a plan for his or her life.

In terms of my acting, I was on stage for the first time at 13, in a high school production of 'Oliver.' I was in the chorus of orphan boys and Fagan's gang and had one big line. Boy, did I practice it, over and over: "What next is the question?"

I'll never forget, one rehearsal the director said to me, "Bruce, I wish all my actors were like you. You're always in character." Wow! That validation meant the world, and I knew from that age on that I wanted to be an actor.

Following high school, university, post-grad, and 2 years in an office job that I thought would make me go out of my mind, I finally moved the 60 miles to Los Angeles. I got an apartment on Beachwood Drive (the street you drive up to view the Hollywood sign), signed up for acting classes, and dove in.

One morning in 1984 my phone rang and it was the casting director for 'Murder, She Wrote.' He asked me if I could do a walk-on - 3 lines - for the show, and I was ecstatic. It was my first professional gig, and as far as I was concerned, it was "Kevin Costner, step aside!"

Well, as wonderful as that first acting job was, it would only launch me into several years of struggle. I'd study by night and pound the streets by day, doing everything I could to get someone on the other side of the desk to take me seriously. There were occasional opportunities, occasional jobs, an agent here and an agent there, but the bottom line was struggle.

The only upside was that everyone was struggling. We were a whole community of out-of-work actors, drinking coffee all day long and 'talking film.' I made some great friends and had some great fun. And there's an interesting thing about struggle - one gets pretty inventive and creative in how to have fun. And sometimes that's the best fun of all.

One of my greatest joys then (and now) was softball. Saturday was the entertainment league where different TV shows would put teams on the field. It was very competitive, and guys like me who weren't on a show were brought in as ringers. I remember one great player who played for the Days Of Our Lives team. He was so good that they actually gave him a regular walk-on role, just so they could claim him as an official player.

Sundays were pickup games at North Hollywood Park. We'd play game after game, starting around 10 am and going all the way through 5 or 6. It was wonderful, out there sweating in the sun all day long, fielding grounders and running the bases.

I remember one player in particular that used to come out to those games. He always played the outfield, and his brand new glove was a dead giveaway that he wasn't the most experienced guy in town, but he got better and better as the weeks went on. He was quieter than the other guys, but when he did open his mouth, it was so funny that the game would almost stop. He drove an older black Porsche, and I'll never forget the day he walked on the field and everyone was congratulating him for an appearance on the Tonight Show. Then years later, I turned on the TV and there he was in his own sitcom. It was Jerry Seinfeld.

But movies were my life, and unfortunately, it was a pretty one-sided affair. I loved them, but they had yet to love me. And when I did work, it was always a character somewhat 'rough around the edges.' A boxing manager, an ex-con living in his car, a black market dealer, . . . It was undoubtedly my dark looks, and that was just fine with me, as long as it got me work.

And then in mid-1987 my head was spun around by a beautiful young actress. She was a honey-dripping southern girl, and no need to say more. Suddenly it wasn't just movies anymore, it was movies and this girl. She and I would go out for the next 2 years, and for me it was a roller-coaster of emotional feast or famine, crashing late one hot July night.

By that time, though I still wasn't consistently working, my career was taking on a nice pace. I had latched on to a talent manager who was passionately pushing me, and it was beginning to work. I was getting into doors that had been shut for years, getting meetings for shows that had been stone walls. So between the girl and the career, the lifelong dreams of a chubby 13 year old boy in his high school play were beginning to take great shape, and for the first time in many years, I was having the time of my life!

But then that hot July night came, and simultaneously, career opportunity dried up as well. Life went into a tailspin of broken dreams, and I'll tell you, there's only one thing worse than never seeing your dream, and that's catching a taste then having it snatched away. I remember being so ashamed, I just couldn't tell my parents, or my brother, or anyone about any of it. I would just drive to a park in the hills by myself, and just search and search.

Over the years, many of my friends had given their lives over to Jesus, 'receiving Him' as savior. They would talk and talk to me about it, but I thought they were nuts. I called them 'Bible-beaters,' and mourned over never being able to go out and have fun together anymore.

I remember when I was 19, dating a girl who was 'born-again.' I thought she was nuts with it all, but I didn't care - she was so pretty, I'd go to church with her anyway.

And then there was this guy I came up with as an actor. He was this incredible looking guy, and I used to hate going anywhere with him because the girls all swooned as he passed by. But he was a great guy and we had great fun together.

Then one day he announced that he'd been 'born again.' "Ugh," I thought. There goes a good friend. But you know, as much as the constant Bible in his hand was an irritation, that's how much I silently respected him. You see, his agent was negotiating for him to play in a soap opera called 'Loving,' but when he became born again he called his agent and told him, "I'm a Christian now, and I can't do a show like that."

At the same time, he was living with his longtime girlfriend. He loved her lots, but when he came to Jesus, he felt he had to move out. It was a huge risk, and I'll tell you, as much as I thought he was out of his mind, that got my respect. (They're married with 3 girls now, by the way).

Well, aside from sharing the Lord with me, all these friends who had come to Jesus had been praying for me. So, one July afternoon, in that park in the hills, all those prayers and all that sharing took root, and I gave my life to Jesus. Praise His holy name!

Well, then my career REALLY took off! I started working from show to show, LA Law, Hardball, Columbo, . . . never losing once on an audition. I remember screen-testing for a lead opposite Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham in 'By The Sword,' and for another lead at Universal for the brat-pack film, 'Mobsters,' and when you're having those opportunities, you're playing the big-league game. My confidence was skyrocketing, and as I look back, I have to believe it was the Lord making sure I knew that He was very real and very interested in me. It was wonderful!

He began working and working in my heart, as well, healing and shaping. As I dove into the Word and nestled into a great church (Church On the Way), I began to grow and grow.

Then in 1991 I felt Him calling me to join a drama ministry that was traveling to Australia. I fought that call all the way, then finally cried, "Uncle!" as it felt like the Lord was twisting my arm behind my back. Kicking and screaming, I joined this ministry team that I was certain would ruin my career.

And ruin my career, it did. When I returned from the tour, my agent dropped me, saying, "Bruce, this Christian thing is getting in the way." Boy, was I angry with God. The next year-and-a-half would be nothing but out-of-work struggle, all over again. After tasting some success, I remember it being bitterly shameful, like chewing on glass 24 hours a day.

But somehow I clung to my faith (it was all I had!), and then one day my phone rang. It was Jerry Fisher, the leader of the drama ministry that had taken me to Australia and had seemingly ruined my career. I can still hear his words today: "Bruce, I got this letter from a South African director who's making a new Jesus movie. He's looking for a more down-to-earth, more real-looking Jesus. He's looking for a professional actor who's born again. I think you might be right for this."

The next thing I knew, I had a beard and long hair, and I was on a plane to Morocco to play the role of a lifetime - The Son of the Living God made Man - JESUS!!!!

One detail I left out about it all. When I was a kid in university, I had a history professor who knew and loved Jesus as his savior. He was a real mentor to me in those days, and I'll never forget, once in his office, he looked at me and spoke these words: "Bruce, God has something big planned for your life. I don't know what it is, but it's really, really big."

And so, many years later, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't receive a letter from some corner of the world, from some life that's been changed by that Jesus movie, or by the ministry and books that have been born from it. There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not blown away by where the Lord has taken, and what He has done with a chubby 13 year old who had one line in a high school play.

Every time I stand in front of an audience, every time I hold a child in Africa, every time I walk by a book rack and see my name under 'written by,' every time a flight attendant stops and says, "Aren't you the guy who played Jesus?" Every time, every time, every time; every day, every week, every month, every year, . . . . I stand amazed, stunned, astounded, marveling.

He is God. He is God. He is good, and He is God.

Faith & Reason Forum would like to thank Bruce for graciously sharing his testimony with us. If you would like to contact Bruce you can reach him at Marchiano Ministries, 11333 Moorpark Street, Box 171, North Hollywood, CA 91602. Bruceís website is www.brucemarchiano.com.