Book of Tobit writer almost demands Stephen Merchant play a role in iconic film of Tobit
Tobit screenwriter Alan Nafzger on Sunday finally spoke out about his vision for the film adaptation of Tobit. He wants Stephen Merchant to play a major role in The Book of Tobit. Nafzger pointed out in the interview that Stephen Merchant could play a number of roles in the iconic story about two Jewish families.
The professor of political science says The Book of Tobit’s a no-brainer to expect big things… and the added that with 1.5 billion people who learned the story Tobit from their religious training. Nafzger add that dozens of producers are looking at the idea.The screenplay that’s making the rounds in Hollywood is based on The Book of Tobit (a 3rd or early 2nd century BCE Jewish work). Professor Nafzger, however, has changed the setting to Amsterdam just before the NAZI invasion of 1941. In other words, the film would be set in Europe in the 1930s.
Stephen Merchant Interview Notes:
NAME: Stephen Merchant
ROLE: Producer | Writer | Actor
KNOWN FOR: Extras (2005-2007) | Fighting with My Family (2019) | The Office (2005-2013)
iMovies.ph Story Highlights
1.6 billion people world-wide know the story, including Stephen Merchant!!!
Tobit is the only major story from the Bible that hasn’t been made into a movie!
Script adaptation set in 1930s Amsterdam and London.
Epic battle between angel (Raphael) and demon (Asmodious).
According to Nafzger, the story tells the story of two Jewish families, that of the blind Tobit (father-in-law) in Amsterdam and of the abandoned Sarah (bride) in London. Tobit’s son Toby is sent to retrieve money that Tobit once left in London bank; guided and aided by the angel Raphael Toby arrives in London, where he meets Sarah. A demon named Asmodeus has fallen in love with her and kills anyone she marries, but with the aid of Raphael the demon is killed and Tobias and Sarah marry, after which they return to Amsterdam where Tobit is cured of his blindness.
Nafzger granted a rare interview to the Hollywire streaming platform.
HOLLYWIRE INTEVIEW – 10/11/2019
Hollywire: Sarah (Reese Witherspoon) is the lead female?
Sarah is a woman who she gets married seven times and seven times she’s a widow and it’s before the marriages are even consummated. They don’t even make it to the wedding bed.
There are 1.5 billion people that are taught they story that in the Old Testament a woman is married seven times and widowed seven times. I think the nuns leave the part out about the empty wedding bed and the marriage the never been consummated. But there is a demon in the story and you know in your little kids are. You learn this story early. Kids know what a wedding is. Kids know what an orphan and a widow are. “And a demon did all this?” That sticks.
I tell people this the greatest story never told on film; yeah it’s in half the bibles and never been put on film. It was a silent 100 years ago, but that’s so obscure . There are a couple of animated films for kids; there are films with ancillary material, short films production value very very low.
The story happened nearly 3000 years ago; I set my adaptation in modern times. It’s not contemporary but it’s modern. I have it set in the 1930s, not in the middle of Mesopotamia but in the Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam. Tobit is 80 years old and is going blind and I think Seth Rogen would portray a great son.
Tobit is broke ’cause blind and can’t make any more money and he’s always prided himself on being successful but he has a wife and kid. He’s a godly man, pious charitable and he’s given a lot of money away.
When Tobit was young he deposited some money in a London bank. So only now he remembers about the money, and he sends Seth Rogen (Toby) his son to bring it back.
Hollywire: Who should play the part of Sarah?
OK, I don’t know in that interview with the other streaming service, they ask me well who could be Sarah. She’s the lead female. I said Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock both of an age that they could have been married seven times and their husbands killed but can you see either of them being jaded or discouraged any way? They would be strong actors in this role.
I don’t know if these actresses are religious; it doesn’t really matter. The character is religious so her religion buoys her up boys. It’s really not the end of the world if you have keep your faith.
So I told this story to the lesser channel and got a lot of emails because I said read the Book of Tobit (it’s in the Bible) and then email me I’ll send you the script you can read the script and compare it to the Bible and tell me how much damage you think I did, which I don’t think I did. Anyway the guy emails me, “yeah I’ve got to talk to you now face to face on zoom. We arranged is I didn’t know who it was, could have been Seth Rogen calling me, “I want to do this film.” I don’t know so I talked to the guy; he says you can’t send this to everybody that emails you.” I said “why” and he said “they’ll steal it. And I couldn’t hurt his feelings; I mean I taught 30 years in a college classroom: Democrats and Republicans and atheists and Christians and every type. And I learned it’s just easier to stay out of trouble and I just told them the first day, “I tell the truth (the way I see it) and if I hurt somebody’s feelings raise your hand and you can have equal time and something would rarely even came up but I didn’t hurt his feelings.
I did tell him however that the story is 3000 years old and in a half the bibles and one and a half billion people hear this story when they are kids as part of their religious training.”
But it’s impossible to steal it; I mean the Bible is in public domain. I’m not stealing it from the Bible; no one is stealing from me it might. It would be very difficult for someone to make a movie based on Tobit and it be set on the coast of Nazi occupied Europe. That’s about it for my contribution. If you want to put the story of Tobit in Galveston or Vancouver or Manila or in the 18th century the 19th century or in the future make it a science fiction, there’s nothing I can do about it. The story is in the Bible so what’s with the big secrecy and I’ll talk about it all day if you want. You said 30 minutes and I’ve gone on 21. Tobit (Seth Rogen) can play Toby I do know this.
Hollywire: Does Stephen Merchant know the story of Sarah and Toby?
How do you like Seth Rogen for this picture?
NAFZGER: Seth Rogen would be brilliant at Toby, the son of Tobit. Every time I speak with someone about this, “I” get a good idea, just kidding that’s been your idea. Seth Rogen would be awesome; he is Jewish and about the right age.
Sarah is nice Jewish girl and she is married seven times and seven times she’s made a widow by a demon who kills her new husband, before the marriage is ever consummated. Can Reese Witherspoon an Seth Rogan make this work?
Hollywire: Have you sent the script to Seth Rogen’s people?
I’m not aware. I send 100 query letters and then I move on. If people knew I was a professional query writer and not a creative writer, it would destroy my image. Maybe I should. Seth Rogen would be a great; I loved The Interview, but it was way over most people’s heads.
Hollywire: Can Seth Rogen pull something like this off? I mean its in the Bible.
He’s becoming a Hollywood icon. He can get it done… if it ever reaches his hands. That is the only question; will he ever see it?
To be I’m sure Seth Rogen is he’s one of the attentive public; I mean he is Jewish and he probably paid attention in school. I don’t know if he smokes a lot of weed or is that part of his persona, his mystique.
I don’t know for a fact, but I guarantee you there’s an elite group of Jewish scholars and students. Jewish students of theology; more than one would think. They will know the story of Tobit from the Old Testament.
Seth Rogen probably knows the story but maybe your viewers don’t know the story. It’s kind of about Sarah (the bride) and Seth would be the groom. I can encourage everyone to read it; it’s the Book of Tobit from Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian bibles. It’s in their bibles, but not in Protestant bibles. Sarah is not the same Sarah who was married to Abraham.
So Toby looks like Seth Rogen?
I can see that Seth Rogen would be absolutely incredible. When he’s in London he meet Sarah. Comedy opportunity; he meets the girl who lost the seven husbands. Can you imagine Seth Rogen (Toby) being a little apprehensive. Seth Rogen knows everything about it; she doesn’t have to tell him anything. All of Europe knows the story of poor Sarah a nice Jewish from a good Jewish family, who does nothing to bring this on herself but a demon is killing her husbands. Toby (Seth Rogen) will have heard about this and he’ll be a little bit cautious. He’s invited to stay in Sarah’s parent’s house for a night and the next morning Toby and Raphael are going to go to the bank and get the money travel back to Holland.
There’s an angel that goes with Toby to protect him. Tobit has prayed that his son has a companion but he’s not obviously an angel. Rafael is the angel associated with guidance so he appears to be a fit guy how can provide protection. And Rafael is knows for repairing relationships; so you can imagine after seven weddings and seven demonic murders there are quite a few relationships that could stand a little work.
Fortunately, Rafael is there.
Seth Rogen will be able to add just enough humor, or just enough dark dark humor; his character would be wary of a woman that’s had seven husbands. “I don’t want to be the eighth.”
So there is an important scene right in the center of the movie. Where there might be some chemistry between Sarah and Toby. Rafael tells Toby not to worry or be fighting of a silyl old demon and that he can take care of the demon. “If you want to marry here, speak with her and then go talked to her father. If the demon comes for you well it’s my department; I told I promised your father I would bring you and the money home safely and that’s my role here. Don’t be afraid of it; demons have weaknesses and I know their weaknesses and I flat out tell you exactly how it’ll work.”
Can Stephen Merchant make a religious or family film?
Do Toby and Sarah get married?
So Toby (Seth Rogen) talk to Sarah talks and then to her father. They get married; the demon comes for Toby. He’s afraid he’s gonna be killed before he can even consummate the marriage, but Rafael takes care of it. Sarah had been pray for the solution all this is weighing heavy on her heart and I guess that’s the moral of story; it’s a large part of the moral the story. As she went through all this ordeal – seven husbands seven demonic murders – seven marriages and still no husband to show for it; does she doubt God? No. Did she question God? No. She doubted her ability to deal with it all but did she lose her faith? No.
So that’s where we’re coming from. Seth Rogen has the third most of lines of the cast. He is the potential victim but God’s not gonna let that happen because his father is pious and Tobit is one of the most pious and likable guys in the Bible
So this is in the Bible but was never a film?
It’s in only half the bibles. Protestants started taking Tobit out in 1923. I ask a Catholic priest when I went to school in Dublin. I didn’t have, I think one Catholic priest the whole time I was there. I asked a different Catholic priest; it’s a Catholic College.
So I asked about the Book of Tobit that I was interested in it. I didn’t understand why it was taken out and he said “politics” which that’s that’s my field. I think like that I understand that in. This guy was spoken political terms so I liked that.
He said, “is it a coincidence Luther wanted it out in 1533 and nothing was done until after three years after World War I? The Americans hated the Catholics so much after that war they took it out. And it started with the Lutherans in America.” I didn’t argue with him, but he said it was nothing to about theology or religious beliefs.
So, now my current Lutheran minister sometimes I play the devil’s advocate with him but he understands and he can dish it out as well as he can take it. He said politics has nothing to do with it that, “we took it out ’cause Luther wanted it out.
I said, “Well it took 500 years to for Luther to have his way.”
He responded well the Lutheran Church is very conservative and we’re not going to change and we resist change; were almost as conservative as the Catholics so it stayed in their own these years but yes it we took it out 1923. Besides it has magic in it.
I asked, “So a miracle is called “magic” if it’s too Catholic. It’s a good thing we’re not calling all miracles magic and taking all the books out of the Bible because there wouldn’t be any books left if we did that.
I’m not sure he chuckled but he said he tried to explain this it’s about “superstition” so it’s really not magic. The word he meant to use was “superstition.”
I’m not sure that is matter4s… people are interested and half the bibles contain the story and it’s not on film yet. There one and a half billion people that know the story. I don’t know why Seth Rogen wouldn’t make this film. Seth Rogen would be GREAT.
You said something on different streaming service?
Yeah I talked to them and I said, “read the Book of Tobit from the bible and if you want read to read the script then email me. I’ll send you the script.” It takes about 8 pages in the Bible and I took each verse and wrote the scene for each verse. So I turned 8 pages into 98 pages and should be a hour and 45 minutes. I t will have a little magic; you have a big fight between an angel and a demon. Seth Rogen gets the girl and Sarah is the sweetest like most likable woman. A joy of a lady, considering the 7 dead husbands. You have to like her.
Why Seth Rogen?
On a personal level. Seth Rogen might be another Toby. Perhaps. I’m sure his parents are worried that he won’t have any children so they won’t have any grandchildren. I used to think that was a Jewish stereotype (trope) for TV and movies and I kind of disapproved, but I know there have been so many movies where the Jewish grandparents are putting pressure on their kids to have babies.
But uh researching this screenplay, Tobit. So I’m looking at the demographics and I don’t write a film, might take me a week work. So, I’m not even going to start until I’ve done the demographics I guess it comes from my political science background; that’s what we do demographics, lots of statistics to explain things. So I looked it up and there are 1.3 billion Catholics that will enjoy this movie; there are 280 million Eastern Orthodox Christians that they are all familiar with the story. But there are only 25 million Jews and that’s worldwide. And when I came across this fact I couldn’t believe the number was so low. But they are a closed religion; they’re not out recruiting a lot of people and they don’t convert a lot of people, so those grandchildren are actually national strategic access, a natural security resource of the Jewish faith. In other words if they want to keep Israel they are going to have to procreate and keep a growing population. The birth rate seems to be actually geopolitical; Israel and China are the only two nations on earth where I believe the birth rate is an actual issue. I’d like to look at the birth rate of Jews worldwide and look at the birth rates of Jews in Israel.
Anyway Toby (Seth Rogen) wants his son, to have children. It’s normal.
Will Stephen Merchant and Seth Rogan have the chemistry that is needed?
Who would play Tobit?
The 80-year old Jewish man? I don’t know; this would result in a lot of free press. How do you think Deadline, Variety or the others will handle it? And TMZ will go bananas if Mel Gibson agrees to play BOTH Tobit AND Toby.
First of all he’s got a huge beard now days and he’s an fervent Catholic. I don’t know if people realize that he’s not Roman Catholic, but all Catholics they love Tobit; it’s theirs. It wasn’t good enough for the Protestants and Tobit is a likable. I’ve seen academics studies (surveys); who in the Old Testament would you most trust your kids with? Who in the Old Testament could you want to drink a beer with? Who in the Old Testament is most likable? Who in the Old Testament would you leave your money to in your will? Questions like that and it was indexed by page numbers like in per capita studies. Tobit has 8 pages and his likeability is way up there. The other major figures have more pages and their likeability is actually less than Tobit. And I’m talking about Noah and Moses; he beats them on a per page basis. Makes you think if there should be more pages written about Tobit.
I’ll tell you why we like Tobit; He’s pious and prays constantly, he’s charitable, wants to take care of everyone he sees and then he wants to take care of his family.
But If Mel Gibson played a Jew… a notable Jew like Tobit…
I hope mentioning it won’t scare him away, but he owes the Jewish community something; whether he realizes that or not he can create a lot of good will and redeem himself at the same time. And how many films are about redemption? You know if a filmmaker won’t allow redemption, what is he doing in this business? How many films were based on redemption so I think the Jewish community would let him play the role. I think it would be good for him personally. I’ve heard Mel Gibson speak about Jews in the Old Testament and there’s not a harsh word. Jews and Christians are buddy buddy these days; I believe it’s that antisemitism is an old dated paradigm if we are talking about the fundamentalist Christians.
Islam has really divided pushed the descendants of Abraham together. The radical and fundamentalist Islamists are uniting the entire Bible, old and new testament. The fundamentalist Islamists they just can’t get over it; they can’t get over the fact that choose the Jews are ALSO the descendants of Abraham. All the Muslims know they are the people of Abraham. Jewish from the same line of people – Abraham the descendants. It’s a world wide bond, Christian Americans, fundamentalist Baptists living in Oregon are part of the chosen people of Abraham; they know that. The descendants of Abraham aren’t such a big divided but some people dream to divide us.
Christians nearly always support Israel financially and with moral support.
I don’t even hear Christians talking like their anti-Semites and I think Hollywood could forgive Mel Gibson and he could he could knock this out of the park.
What are the odd this gets done?
Yeah, it’s probably not going to happen. I mean Stephen Merchant, Mel Gibson, Seth Rogen, Reese Witherspoon, and Brad Pitt could play Raphael (the angel). The week before I sat down and wrote the script, I was in McDonald’s and these young women were giggling and playing this video on their little phones and sharing it with one another. I had to listen just for a second, just till I heard they were talking about Brad Pitt and the movie had come out Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and they were talking about the… I think it’s famous now… Brad Pitt on the roof what is the installing a television dish or something? Well I thought, you know, he could play the angel part from Tobit.
It won’t ever happen?
Why? It will never happen is simple; these people build a moat around themselves then their agents and managers, everybody around them absolutely refused to read a script which makes me think we’re talking about an entrenched establishment. I mean the Hollywood establishment; why don’t they go to the state legislature and ask for statutory immunity from lawsuits or limitations?
Baseball has immunity; you cannot sue Major League Baseball or most of the owners in tort law. When somebody goes to the part and gets hit by a foul ball, you can only sue for actual damages a $250 doctor bill. If you’re complaint is that the team doesn’t have the protective screen up high enough to protect this fan and the fan wants upwards of $1,000,000, then there are laws to protect baseball.
Lawyers have limitations too; lawyers in a lot of states have limitations; you can’t sue a lawyer because he loses a case. A lot of those laws say gross negligence and gross negligence is huge and what does the word gross mean. You would have to be an idiot and fall down drunk in front of the jury to be in the lawyer and lose a lawsuit because you lost a lawsuit.
Doctors in a lot of states have limited immunity. There are lots of studies; the states that limit doctors liability have lower health care costs and so that’s been a strategy for a long time. Not all states do that but why Hollywood executives don’t drive up to the state legislature and say we want immunity from lawsuits. “I don’t want to be in court every time someone makes a similar movie. Maybe they got the idea from another agent, maybe it’s just a coincidence.”