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With Hardwicke on board, the team behind The Nativity Story set out to cast the film. Determined to give the film an authentic Middle-Eastern feel, they launched an international search to find the right actors to fill the challenging roles in the film.

To accomplish this goal, the production hired casting directors in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Rome and Tel Aviv to track down the right talent for the film.

For the crucial lead role of Mary, Hardwicke and the producers were adamant that the actress be able to carry the weight of such a dramatic turn of events. They found that rare combination in Keisha Castle-Hughes, the youngest Academy Award Best Actress nominee in history for her work in Whale Rider.

"When I first read the role of Mary, the thing that struck me was that she's such an iconic character, yet we know so little about her,” says Castle-Hughes.

"Keisha projects a fierce strength beneath a quiet exterior,” Wyck Godfrey says.

Hardwicke found another strong female to take on the role of Elizabeth in the film with the casting of Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, best known for her previous work in House of Sand and Fog and television's "24.”

"Shohreh is such a wonderful actress,” says Hardwicke. "She came in to read for this role and had this beautiful attitude and spirituality, which comes from deep in her soul. As Saint Elizabeth, you feel her love just radiating outward.”

"I did a great deal of research to find out who Elizabeth was, to imagine how she might have been,” says Aghdashloo. "She ultimately was someone who reminded me of my own grandmother, so in fact I didn't have a long way to travel.”

The next stop on Hardwicke and Bowen's worldwide casting tour was New York for auditions. There, they met a recent Juilliard graduate, Oscar Isaac, who Hardwicke said was "so soulful and alive” that he was immediately cast in the critical role of Joseph.

"I was really struck by how human the character seemed – it really jumped out at me,” says Isaac. "I was intrigued by the script's focus on what their life together must have been like. Joseph is a man who is truly in love with Mary. But for him, the key question is ‘how do you deal with all of these things happening to you at once and not walk away?'”

Hardwicke had similar excitement about the rest of the cast as well. "For Anna and Joaquim, we had fantastic luck in getting Hiam Abbass, who did great work in two movies, Paradise Now and Munich,” she says. "And she was born in Nazareth! And then Shaun Toub had an extraordinary part in Crash this year, and I felt they made a really moving couple.”

When it came time to cast the role of King Herod, the filmmakers had some specific ideas of what they were looking for. "We didn't want to do any stunt casting and have a big movie star play Herod,” says Godfrey. "We wanted to make him younger, make him more vital.” Having seen Munich, both Hardwicke and Godfrey thought of Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, who turned in a distinctive performance as one of the five Israeli assassins in the film.

When casting was completed, the filmmakers found themselves with every bit as multicultural and diverse a cast as they could have hoped for with actors hailing from Trinidad, Iran, New Zealand, Guatemala, Cameroon, England, Jordan, Sudan, France, and Italy.

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