Six actors who played the prophet – and how they did it

From a classic movie vampire to a former Superman, many have tried to portray the Mormon founder.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Nathan Mitchell portrays Joseph Smith in the 2005 biographical drama “Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration,” which was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Days.

The recent discovery of a daguerreotype believed to be the only known photo of Joseph Smith has sparked a conversation about what the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looked like – with some historians doubting the image was really him.

While photographic evidence is sparse, filmmakers tend not to worry too much about whether the actors look exactly like the historical figure they portray. So when it comes to portraying Joseph Smith in movies, the variety over the years has been striking.

What’s tricky about portraying a religious figure like Smith isn’t the look; this corresponds to the attitude, according to Casey GriffithsAssociate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

With Smith, says Griffiths, it’s “the same challenges associated with any religious figure, in that the actor and his image become associated with the person. And that puts a lot of pressure on the actor.

Viewers can, he said, “blur the lines between acting and acting, and we carry this huge set of expectations, some of which are really emotional with a religious figure like Joseph Smith, that sometimes the actor just doesn’t want or feel”. the need to be on top.

Here are six actors who portrayed Joseph Smith in film, with Griffiths’ comments on how they fared.

(20th Century Fox) Vincent Price, portraying Joseph Smith in the 1940 Western epic “Brigham Young.”

Vincent Price

“Brigham Young” (1940)

Long before he made a name for himself with monster movies (and telling “Thriller” by Michael Jackson), Price put his serious acting skills on display playing the 19th-century church founder in this Western epic about a pioneer couple (Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell) trekking with Young (Dean Jagger) in Utah. . The film’s finale, which depicts the Mormon cricket infestation and the “Miracle of the Seagulls” was considered a triumph of special effects in its day.

“It’s a bit like Vincent Price before he became a caricature of himself,” Griffiths said. “It’s a much more dignified and understated performance. … He gives a great performance that’s very likeable.

Richard Mol

“Brigham” (1977)

A much-maligned Young biopic, Griffiths said, “This movie isn’t as bad as its reputation. I mean, it’s bad, but it still gets credit for dealing with some of the controversial stuff.

The 6-foot-8 Moll made his film debut as Joseph Smith, seven years before starting a run as the hulking usher Bull on the sitcom “Night Court.” Moll’s presence is one of the reasons the film is ridiculed, although Griffiths said, “I was surprised I liked it.”

Jonathan Scarf

“The Work and the Glory” trilogy (2004-2006)

Scarfe played Smith in this three-part adaptation of The Historical Novels of Gerald N. Lund, depicting the fictional Steed family in the context of the church’s establishment and migration to Utah. (Fun fact: the series was funded by the the late Larry H. Miller, owner and car dealer of Utah Jazz.)

“He’s my wife’s favorite Joseph Smith – she says he’s the cutest,” Griffiths said, acknowledging that Scarfe “is really charismatic.”

Recalling a scene in which Smith describes his “first sight,” Griffiths said Scarfe “kind of captured the wonder…and that openness. “I can’t believe this happened to me, but it’s happening to me.” And as someone coming from outside of the church culture, I think he did a really good job investing in the character.

Nathan Mitchell

“Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration” (2005)

Mitchell is the screen Smith’s most recent Latter-day Saints know, as he played the founder in a widely circulated church-produced biography.

Griffiths said Mitchell “does a really good job portraying Joseph as a human figure, as an emotional person.” In his research, he also learned that Mitchell, in his private life, spends more time as a youth minister than as an actor, fitting “that pastoral spirit that many people like to associate with Joseph Smith. “.

Dean Cain

“September Dawn” (2007)

Griffiths had no comment on this hammy anti-Mormon melodrama, which depicted the Mountain Meadows Massacre and largely blamed Brigham Young (Terence Stamp). And Griffiths remained silent regarding Dean Cain, the former Superman, who appeared in flashbacks as Smith. Griffiths joked about “Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Gries’ portrayal of Young’s enforcer John D. Lee: “Uncle Rico gives a good performance in this movie.”

Paul Wuthrich

“Witnesses” (2021)

This recent entry into the Latter Day Saint film genre deals with Smith’s translation of the golden plates into the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon – but Wuthrich’s Smith is a supporting actor, as the focus is on the three men who swore to Smith’s translation and how they suffered because of their public testimony.

Wuthrich, Griffiths said, “appeared very young to me,” although the actor tried to capture Smith aged 21 to 38. “He captured the seriousness and the relationship between [Smith and the three witnesses].”

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