Chris Daughtry Talks Stepping Into Acting as Judas in 'The Passion': 'What's Not Fun About Playing a Bad Guy?'

Austin Hargrave
Chris Daughtry photographed on Feb. 29 at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

Come Palm Sunday, Chris Daughtry will get to live out the sort of play-acting fantasy that a devout hard rock fan can especially appreciate: He'll take on the role of Judas for Fox's The Passion, a live two-hour musical airing March 20 at 8 p.m. ET that recasts the last days of Jesus Christ in modern times using contemporary music. (Disclosure: Billboard is an affiliate company of one of The Passion's co-producers, Dick Clark Productions.) Daughtry stars opposite Latin pop singer-actor Jencarlos Canela (as Jesus Christ) and alongside the likes of Seal, Trisha Yearwood, and bachata star Prince Royce. Billboard spoke to the rocker about his initial hesitance to take on this project, and the faith he now has in the ambitious show after preparing for his somewhat villainous role.

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This is kind of a wild idea. What were your first thoughts?

Well, I've been wanting to break into acting for a while now but I'm not quite into musical theater. Secondly, there's a stigma for what people think a Christian is. It took a minute for me to agree, but I'm very happy I did. Once I met with [executive producer Adam Anders], he explained the modern approach and the songs they were doing, then it became intriguing to me.

The way they're going about it is pretty smart. Plus, they got the idea from the version they've been doing in Holland, a predominantly atheist country. There, they have 50,000 people coming out every year for this thing, so the way they're doing it is obviously impactful. Whether it's in your background or not, I think the overall story is worth being told. I think the message is something everyone can take something from, and that's love. It's pretty inspiring.

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Does the live part fire you up, or is it a grin-and-bear-it situation?

I try not to think about the live aspect [laughs]. My band performs live every night and that's one thing, but acting and singing... it's a completely different animal. It's one of those things you just embrace, and go with it, because the project as a whole is so cool. The production stuff I'm seeing so far, and the locations that are being shot out in [New Orleans] as opposed to on a stage... It looks awesome.

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Any hesitation about playing Judas?

Adam said I was his first choice and I didn't know what that meant, but what's not fun about playing a bad guy? I don't think anybody else read for the role.

So how does one prepare to play Judas?

I've never sold a friend out for money, but I think we've all done something we've regretted and had to deal with ramifications instantly -- where you immediately feel terrible about a thing because you didn't think it through. I mean, the guy gave the money back right after he realized the severity of what he did, so there's obviously some remorse and struggle going on within him. You pull from that, and it helps that there are great actors to feed off of. Jencarlos is phenomenal. That, and knowing the story from when you were a kid -- you know the textbook version of Judas, but I want to put my own thing on it too [laughs]. We'll have to see how it plays.



We're used to seeing Judas in robes. How do you feel about the modern garb?

Well, I did want to grow my beard out before I realized just how modern they were going -- but I would've been out of place. We're so used to this story being told in a very traditional way, where the imagery is very similar across the board. By telling the same story in a modern setting, the point gets across but it's a lot easier to watch.

It's not like watching a Bible story, you know what I mean? The general public can feel emotionally attached to and invested in the characters. It's like watching a great play that just happens to be about: "Oh, that's Jesus? That's a good-looking dude. He doesn't have a beard or long hair, he's not wearing flip-flops and a robe" [laughs]. He's pretty stylish, I gotta be honest. I wouldn't say it's a bunch of dudes at Fashion Week, but it's certainly not the standard fare.

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What about using secular hits instead of contemporary Christian music?

I also think that was a very smart thing to do. [Using Christian music] would've been a distraction -- it would've taken the viewer out of the moment. When you hear these songs in this context, it'll give you a whole different take. I think people will be moved. I think they'll get something out of it.

What are you most excited to sing?

I got two big songs, but the one I'm most excited about is "Demons" from Imagine Dragons. It's a back and forth between me and Jesus, and it's a pretty heavy moment.

What's the vibe been like at rehearsals so far?

The crew was great to get to know and to see how they're approaching this makes me feel good about how it's going to go. But it's definitely one of those things where we'll have to wait and see how it turns out. Us and you, you know? Because you can rehearse and rehearse, but I can only hope it translates as well as I believe it will.

How will you celebrate when it's done?

I'll have my wife with me so that'll be good. I'm sure there's going to be some kind of wrap party, where all the cast and crew get together. Hopefully everything goes off without a hitch and everybody's in a celebratory mood. Hopefully it's something people are talking about for a long time and we can just keep on celebrating.

Fox's The Passion airs Sunday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET.