Alissa Jung plays Mary in the film Mary of Nazareth. It was important, the German actress said, “to show her as a real woman, as a human being.” Photo by Ruane Remy

Actress tried to show human side of Mary

  • December 19, 2014

Every step that Mary took, she took out of love, says Alissa Jung.

Jung, a German actress, stars in the English-language film Mary of Nazareth, a look into the life of the mother of Jesus Christ.

With the film now on DVD and the book Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures recently released to capture some of the film’s most memorable scenes, Ignatius Press invited Jung to North America to reflect on her role as Mary.

Jung visited The Catholic Register and spoke about the challenges and rewards of playing the most famous mother in history.

Women can learn a lot from Mary, she said.

“I am impressed by her inner strength,” she said.

Jung has two children and drew from her life’s experiences to play Mary as mother. Yet this film portrayed Mary as a young girl and Mary as wife, two sides of her rarely, if at all, explored in film.

“It was important to show her as a real woman, as a human being,” said Jung, who describes a young, pregnant and unwed Mary as brave.

“She was so young. She kept on going, even if she was breaking rules of her society, and it’s not easy when you’re 14, 15, 16.”

Sometimes in the same day, Jung would film both the young and older Mary, switching from teenager to a woman in her late 40s, switching from the happiness of youth and new life to the sorrows of watching her son suffer at the hand of His captors.

“Losing her son, loving her son, having faith, trusting... I was interested in these inner conflicts,” she said. “It’s a beautiful role. It’s a big challenge. I was a bit afraid and I had a lot of respect, but it’s still beautiful to do it.”

To differentiate between theyounger and older Mary,  Jung says she changed her way of moving, drawing from an internal calmness. She drew from “the deep love of a mother” for her own son and from her experiences seeing her own father and grandmother interact.

“You just have to find little things inside yourself which could link to the character you’re playing... Falling in love or being pregnant, giving birth. I did all of this,” said Jung. “It’s a mixture of what I can find inside myself and what the screenplay has given to me.”

The screenplay has also given her an opportunity to emphasize Mary as wife to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.

“There’s real love between Joseph and Mary; she’s not just a mother, (but) as well a woman,” Jung said.

The film “was a beautiful chance to think about Mary and think about religion.”

When she’s not acting, Jung promotes her charity, Pen Paper Peace (, which aims through education to improve the lives of Haitian children living in poverty. After visiting Haiti in 2008, and witnessing their poverty first hand, she felt compelled to act.

“By law, children have to go to school in Haiti,” she said, but many can’t because their families live on a $1 a day.

“Our idea is that education is the key for a better future for them and for their country, and so we paid the teachers fees and the books and the daily meal and the doctors’ visits to the schools, two schools, 500 pupils,” she said.

Then the earthquake in 2010 completely destroyed one of the two schools supported by the charity. What was left of the second school became flooded, said Jung.

Almost four years later, and after carrying on their education in cramped, dark rooms, the children are now educated in two new schools.

“With pen and paper you can create peace,” said Jung.

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