Bachata star Prince Royce is used to being the center of attention. He’s been known to whip his shirt off in the middle of a concert, and his shrieking audiences seem to appreciate the gesture.
But on Palm Sunday (March 20), the Bronx-born heartthrob will take on a humbler role, as the disciple Peter in Fox’s The Passion. (Disclosure: Billboard is an affiliate company of one of The Passion‘s co-producers, Dick Clark Productions.) Royce, 26, will sing modern pop hits in the live musical retelling of Jesus Christ’s last days and crucifixion. What’s more, he’ll be performing alongside the likes of Chris Daughtry, Seal, Trisha Yearwood and fellow Latin pop luminary Jencarlos Canela.
Billboard talked to Royce about, among other things, his outfit for the big day.
What were your initial thoughts when you were approached for this?
When I first heard about The Passion, I was confused. Like, “How are they gonna do this live?” Then they told me about the music being modern hits, and I’m like, “How is that gonna work?” But I auditioned, met with [executive producer] Adam Anders, and he explained everything. They showed me how they did it in Holland, and by the end, I was like, “Wow, this is such a clever idea. It’s so musical and so cool.” Then getting Peter, man, you really feel the pressure of delivering the lines and doing a great job. This role is very important to people. It’s a good type of pressure, though.
Doing this live is risky. Does that worry you at all?
I’m super excited. It’s always been a dream of mine to do Broadway. I did musicals back in high school, and this brings that feeling back. People are gonna be at home or there in the audience with us, and they’ll know this is happening right now. When you see something that’s recorded, you assume the person did it 1,000 times. That’s why I’m so excited for March 20 to come: We don’t know what to expect. That live aspect is what’s gonna give it the emotion and the realness. I’m not nervous.
Is the religious aspect of this important to you?
I grew up with religion, my mom’s specifically, and when I told her about it, she was like [thrilled], “Oh my God!” Out of everyone, she’s the happiest about this. She feels good that I’m a part of something we believe in as a family. That’s the personal part.
How do you get in the mind-set to play Peter?
I’ve known the story, but I’ve been researching as much as I can, learning small details I didn’t know before. Peter was basically Jesus’ best friend, his go-to guy. But he never really felt worthy. I feel like he’s the one that really represents humankind in general. I identify with him — he’s going through a lot, he doesn’t quite believe in himself, but he falls down and gets back up over and over again. That’s us. We’re insecure. We don’t know what to do sometimes. We make stupid decisions. But we also learn from our mistakes. Peter was very human, very impulsive, he would go by his gut feeling. He was emotional. He would speak his mind without even thinking sometimes. A lot of us are like that, and I touched base with that.
What do you think about the modern setting?
A lot of people are like, “I dunno. We’re used to seeing Jesus in robes and sandals or whatnot.” All the questions people ask [about The Passion] are the same ones I was asking before I started seeing how production’s doing it. It’s such a refreshing flip to a story that’s thousands of years old. I love the music — I’m singing “The Reason” by Hoobastank and that’s been one of my favorite records. I always thought about it as being about a girl, but now singing as Peter right after he denies Jesus, I start looking at the lyrics and I’m like, “Hold on. This song really could be about this situation.” A song might come on, start out as a cool ballad, and then you’re like, “This is a dance record I love.” Then you start listening, you realize it actually does tie into the story.
What about the visual cues? What are you going to be wearing?
Picture like what Christian men would look like today — maybe jeans and boots and heavy brown jackets. It’s not fashion. Don’t picture guys walking around in suits and ties, but it’s very real. Peter was a fisherman, so you might see me in a beanie, or a T-shirt and a big puffy coat, a rugged type of look. Being on set, doing camera blocking with the guys, it really flowed. I forgot about the robes, honestly.
So will there be cell phones at the Last Supper?
[Laughs] Yeah, there will be cell phones, actually — maybe not at the Last Supper, but I think there’s a scene where there’s a phone call. That’s a weird question, but it really is like if this happened in 2016. There’s cell phones, cars, things that exist today.
How are rehearsals going?
I’ve been on sets before and shot a lot of things, but the energy here is different. Everyone is so positive. A lot of these people I just met, and it feels like I’ve known them so long. Everyone is making jokes, working hard, making sure things are on point, and helping each other out. Some of the actors, we get together, rehearse, give each other ideas. It’s just a good vibe.
You’re used to being the star. Are you bummed they didn’t give you Jesus?
Oh no, no no no. No, I’m good. [Laughs] I mean, that’s a lot of responsibility. Even as Peter, I’m like, “I’m not sure I can do this.” But especially since this is my first real acting, live musical gig, even if I was offered Jesus, I’d probably be like, “Let’s work on something a little smaller.” Jencarlos is doing a great job as Jesus. Seeing Chris Daughtry as Judas, you’re like, “Wow, he really fits the role.” The more we work together, the more I realize it’s really coming together. I’m just excited that I can be outside the box and do something my fans aren’t used to seeing me doing.
Fox’s The Passion airs Sunday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET.