Viewers knew from the get-go that NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert was going to be packed with stars, namely the hugely popular recording artists Sara Bareilles and John Legend. But there were still plenty of other big talents taking the stage who might not be so recognizable. So who plays Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar Live?
The man behind the role is Ben Daniels, who viewers might recognize from projects like The Exorcist, House of Cards, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That's right — the man singing on your screen on Easter Sunday was none other than Claire Underwood's former lover, just minus the mustache, and also Galactic Civil War General Antoc Merrick. He's also appeared in shows like Law & Order: UK and Flesh And Bone.
And, though these are the roles that a more mainstream audience might recognize him from, Daniels is no stranger to stage roles like in Jesus Christ Superstar. According to Playbill, he has several stage credits to his name, and even garnered a Tony nomination for best actor in 2008 for his role in Les Liasons Dangereuses. Daniels definitely has a diverse repertoire, and it makes sense — he said in a 2015 interview with Backstage.com that he's always learning with each new project.
"I knew [acting] was something I wanted to do, but I found out about it all very slowly," he said. "I learned the journey of discovering things, that it can all be a learning process. You can still meet people who will teach you a new way of looking at what you do. So I’m glad I didn’t know anything, because it was all there to discover."
Daniels is just one more instance of Jesus Christ Superstar bringing actual Broadway stars to the network's productions. Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Judas, is a stage icon — according to another Playbill article, he has two Tony nominations under his belt for roles in The Color Purple and Shuffle Along. Not to mention, Dixon played Aaron Burr in that little Hamilton show that everyone's so excited about. So yeah, he's been around the block a few times.
Bareilles herself also has a Broadway background despite her initial fame as a songwriter and a recording artist — she wrote the music and lyrics for the stage adaptation of Waitress, and then took a turn starring in the titular role. And there's likely plenty more stage experience being brought to the table in the rest of the people who make up the production — the New York Times reports that Jesus Christ Superstar Live was made up of 500 crew members, 44 cast members, and 33 musicians.
And though the production was broadcast live on TV, the mood of Jesus Christ Superstar definitely made viewers feel like they were witnessing a bona fide theater production, even as they watched from home, and it certainly didn't hurt that there was a studio audience right there in front of the actors for them to feed off of. Bareilles told Billboard that that was the plan — regardless of the fact that the show was airing on TV, the cast wanted it to feel like an intimate show for everyone. "We’re treating it like any other live performance, so it’s about connecting with the people you share the stage with and the audience," she said. "I’m glad they’ve made the decision to have a live audience, so we can feel the immediacy of people interacting with the material."
The show was well received almost immediately on Twitter, and a big part of that was some viewers' appreciation for the classic Broadway aspects and actors of Jesus Christ Superstar Live. Daniels, and the rest of the stage alums, definitely flaunted their Broadway chops, elevating the show to a whole new level.