The Knockturnal procured an exclusive interview with Brandon Victor Dixon and his role as Judas Iscariot in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live.
Set during the final week of Jesus’ life, the story is told from the perspective of infamous betrayer Judas Iscariot. As more and more followers flock to Jesus, Judas grows concerned that Jesus is becoming arrogant and losing sight of his principles. So when Jesus attacks the money changers in a temple, Judas finally turns on his teacher, setting both on a path to tragedy. Originally conceived as a concept album that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the show eventually made its way to the stage in 1971 and garnered five Tony nominations in addition to winning a Drama Desk Award for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now this globally celebrated classic comes to NBC in 2018 for a one-of-a-kind live staging on Easter Sunday that’s sure to amaze with jaw-dropping spectacle and an all-star cast of beloved recording artists.
The Knockturnal: How do you interpret Judas Iscariot?
Brandon Victor Dixon: That’s actually the thing that excites me about this. I think we have these very broad labels of who these figures were. And I think what this show does is it kinda digs in so we can look at the humanity. Because for me, Judas loved Jesus. [Judas] was one of [Jesus’s] greatest disciples, raised from his teachings. And as the message started to become distorted. Judas was simply saying: “Woah, Woah – this is not what we were talking about. This is not what you were talking about.’ And we have to retain the message the second you make the message about the man you’ve lost. Because then, it’s just about what would Jesus do? Don’t look at what Jesus is doing, what are you going to do? And all Judas is saying is that it’s about the message. If you make it about him, then you’re not ingesting the message; you’re not studying the message; you’re not seeing how the message resonates between you and me. You’re just focusing on looking up. I need you to look across. That’s what Judas is saying. And it’s the same thing that Jesus is trying to do, and in the end, they make differing decisions about how to do that.
But also, one of the conflicts in this interpretation specifically is Judas is also like: But wait, everything is God’s plan, right? So I had to do this? So you’re telling me you’ve condemned me to this state because I had to do this thing for this to happen?” It’s those kind of battles that Judas has. And I think ultimately, even just from that standpoint, if you’re gonna look at Judas – and even if you think he’s a bad guy and he did all these things – you gotta be like, but they made him do these things. This is what Jesus wanted him to do; it’s what God needed him to do. It’s like, that’s what they wanted to have happen.
The Knockturnal: Do you think that it’s an important time to have a Black Judas? We talk about having a Black Jesus, but what about a Black Judas.
Brandon Victor Dixon: Well, I mean, isn’t the original Judas black [in the first run of Jesus Christ Superstar]? Yeah, I think he’s always been black. For that respect, I don’t feel any kind of way with Judas being black. Also, because you know, because with how y’all labeled Judas, I expected y’all to make Judas a negro [laughs]. You cannot ignore the imagery of Judas and Jesus, how they’ve been depicted over this, you know? So, you avoid that with this one, so now it can just be about colorism and not just racism.
The Knockturnal: So how is it working with John [Legend, who plays Jesus]?
Brandon Victor Dixon: We’re having a really good time. Really, right now we’re just trying to get it down, you know? Figure out what it is. But it’s really cool to see, because obviously he’s doing his own thing, and it’s really cool to see him throw his energy into what is the most collaborative medium on the face of the planet. And so, that’s been really great. And, you know, the music sits in a really great place in his voice. Jesus works really well for him, because he’s giving you the R&B eyes.
The Knockturnal: With the political undertones of this show, do you see any parallels between Judas and any current political figures?
Brandon Victor Dixon: I can’t see any direct parallels to our current political climate. But what I think, thematically with the show you certainly do. I mean, when you’re coming to the climax of a number of events, it’s religion, and government and social inequality – all of these ideologies coming to a head in this pit, and that’s what we’re seeing in our world today. The thing I like about this, whether it happens or not, but for me what I like about this is that it’s important for us to unpack the ideologies by which we govern our society and live our lives. And the more you kind of investigate a thing like this, in this way to help kind of deconstruct, it’s like well if we created or adopted a certain philosophy of living at one point in our lives, to inform the positive nature of our community, will we have to examine whether or not that ideology is continuing to inform the positive nature of society? Or whether it needs to change again, just like it was adopted at one point and then evolved and changed. Well, maybe this’ll be re-adopted and changed again. And that’s the thing I find really interesting about exploring the mythology of the story.
The Knockturnal: Speaking of Judas as a character, it kind of brought me back to your character [Terry Silver] on Power, a borderline good guy who wants to do the right thing. Are there similarities between him and Judas?
Brandon Victor Dixon: There are, I think Judas is actually a better dude.
The Knockturnal: Even with Hamilton, for instance, it all depends on the way in which you view the story, right? So it’s all about the retelling of the story and the perspective. So the question is, how do you end up on the right side of history?
Brandon Victor Dixon: Well, I mean, that’s all about perspective. It’s how you end up on the right side of history. My goal is to tell you the truth of the story and hopefully, you will see the honesty and the humanity of this individual and you will see what he was trying to do to keep everybody on the right path. And, you know, he made decisions to do that. But that was one of his goals. So, that’s why I’m gonna try and show the love through which Judas creates his actions. And then, at the end hopefully, everybody will be like “…’Aight, Judas.”
Jesus Christ Superstar Live premieres on NBC on April 1st. The special will air from 8-10: 15 pm ET/PT.
Photo: James Dimmock/NBC | 2018 NBCUniversal Media, LLC