The dark-skinned New Zealand-born star of films like Training Day and Live Free or Die Hard has become one of Hollywood's regular big screen terrorists, gang leaders or bad guys, and so when he heard producer Patrick Aiello was interested in casting him in a new religious film, he started thinking about all the Biblical villains.

"When this came through, it was like a weird email," Cliff told WENN. "For some reason I took a call from Patrick and he gave me the whole breakdown and this concept. I thought, 'What role do they want me for; terrorist or what?' And when he said, 'Jesus'. I thought it was a prank.

"I also know that Jesus was crucified by age 33 and I'm in my later 40s. And when you look at my work, what makes you think that I'm right for this role? It was a really pleasant surprise. It was a miracle!"

"I just thought I wasn't fair complexioned enough to get the role and I needed blue eyes," he added.

But the 47-year-old actor admits the role is a dream come true because he grew up in a religious household and always thought he'd make a great movie Messiah.

"I was a devout Catholic as a child and I was an altar boy and served mass and I did the whole thing and had the crucifix next to my bed, everything," Cliff recalled. "So when I became an actor the question would arise, 'What roles do you want to play?' I'd say, 'Jesus', and it had become a running joke."

The new film also features Harry Potter star Tom Felton, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Firth and Maria Bello, who portrays Mary Magdalene.