Casting Joseph Smith

KC Kern Mormon 24 Comments

Telling the story of Joseph Smith on film has been the ambition of many artists for a long time.  Joseph’s place and influence in the tapestry of American and World history is undeniably significant, and his story is certainly one worth sharing on the screen.

Each filmmaker who undertakes telling his story by dramatic medium is faced with the challenge of finding a suitable actor to play the part of the prophet; to cast Joseph Smith.

Many actors have played the part of Joseph, some more convincingly than others.  I’ve compiled a photographic list of many of these actors, so their semblance can be compared side-by-side.  This list is by no means comprehensive, but rather merely reflects my limited abilities to acquire screen shots of the productions in question.

Note: Due to the practice of generally leaving church productions uncredited, some of these actors have not been identified by name.  If you know any of this missing information, please share.

Young Joseph

Stewart Petersen

Film(s)

  • [1976] The First Vision
Name Unknown

Film(s)

  • [1999] Seminary / Sunday School Video Presentations
Dustin Harding

Film(s)

  • [2003] The Book of Mormon Movie
  • [2004] The Restoration DVD
  • [2005] Praise to the Man
Nick Whitaker

Film(s)

  • [2005] Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration

Adult Joseph

Vincent Price

Film(s)

  • [1940] Brigham Young
Name Unknown

Film(s)

  • [1968] The Three Witnesses
Greg Sperry

Film(s)

  • [1982] Restoration of the Priesthood
Mark Deakins

Film(s)

  • [1988] The Heavens are Open


Note: Mark Deakins also played the part of Jesus Christ in
The Lamb of God.

Tim Gail (thanks Justin!)

Film(s)

  • [1990] Legacy
Name Unknown

Film(s)

  • [1993] Mountain of the Lord
Scott McMillan

Film(s)

  • [1994] Rockwell
Name Unknown

Film(s)

  • [1999] Seminary / Sunday School Video Presentations
Nathan Mitchell

Film(s)

  • [2004] The Restoration
  • [2005] Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration
  • [2008] Emma Smith: My Story
Jonathan Scarfe

Film(s)

  • [2004] The Work and the Glory
  • [2005] The Work and the Glory II: American Zion
  • [2006] The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided
Dean Cain

Film(s)

  • [2006] September Dawn

Some other noteworthy actors who’s image was not available include:

  • Mark Peckham
    [1999] American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith
  • Richard Dutcher
    [1997] Eliza and I
  • Richard Moll
    [1977] Brigham
    [1983] Savage Journey
  • David Westberg
    [1974] The Lost Manuscript
  • Joel Bishop
    [1997] Fourth Witness: The Mary Whitmer Story
Of special interest, rumor had it that Val Kilmer was slated to play Joseph in Richard Dutcher’s planned production of the the Joseph Smith story.  It never happened, but Val might still be up for the part should someone else give him the chance…


So what do you think about these actors?  Do you have any favorites?  Any you can’t stand?  What makes a ‘good’ Joseph Smith?  What ruins it?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 24

  1. Frankly, I actually didn’t realize how many videos there were about Joseph Smith and restoration (or appendages thereof). I really thought Dustin Harding did a great job.

    I think playing Joseph would be quite the difficult task. Compared with the many one and two dimensional people on this earth, Joseph was like a five dimensional person teeming with all sorts of personality quirks. I think one would need to be able to act a bi-polar schizophrenic part (don’t mean this in an insulting way) to be able to accurately capture the personality of such a complex individual. Probably aren’t very many actors capable of that (maybe Russell Crowe?).

  2. Clearly it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Legacy because as I was scrolling down and got to that pic, the hairdo (hairdon’t?) made me bust out laughing. I really want to see that one with Vincent Price.

  3. Val Kilmer would definitely be the actor to portray such a complewx character as Joseph Smith. He could really carry that off.

  4. The dude from Big Love would at least have experience juggling multiple wives and trying to keep up the appearance to the outside world that he was monogamous. He also knows some of the LDS “lingo” already.

  5. I remember watching “Brigham” (1977) in Seminary with Richard Moll as Joesph. The teacher teased us into coming to class that day to see “Bull” from the TV show “Night Court” play the prophet. I don’t remember much of the movie, but Moll did a good job. It wasn’t nearly as odd to watch as I expected it to be.

    Mark Deakins I believe played Vincenzo Di Francesca in “How Rare A Possession: The Book Of Mormon” (1984) as well.

    We really don’t know the actor’s name in Legacy? That’s a bit of a surprise.

  6. My neighbor is Stewart Petersen. It was impressed upon him during the filming how important it was for him to consistently live the Gospel-that people would always watch him. At 50, he is still asked to give firesides and serves tirelessly in the church and community. He is a genuine salt of the earth man.

  7. I vote for Michael Keaton, I think it’s all about the hair though what do they call that, a bouffant or something? #6 was pretty funny….

  8. I also liked the Richard Moll portrayal. He was thought provoking and entertaining. He was much thinner than when he played “Bull”, and had hair–although dark brown.

    Jonathan Scarfe was probably my favorite of the adult actors…and had the advantage of 3 movies to portray Joseph over a longer period of screen time. Nathan Mitchell gave a good effort, but wasn’t experienced enough–in my (totally non-theater background)opinion. Dean Cain didn’t have much to work with on that script. He was more of a cameo, menacingly glaring at the mob breaking into his Carthage confine and shooting.

  9. In the 1968 movie the Three Witnesses, Joseph Smith was portrayed by none other than Lloyd Newell.

    Scarfe is my favorite actor playing Joseph. I’d look forward to seeing him in more Work and the Glory movies, if they ever do any more.

  10. I don’t think Lloyd Newell could have been Joseph Smith in the Three Witnesses–Newell was born in 1956. The guy in that photo does not look 12! I think it was possibly Bryce Chamberlain, who was the father in Man’s Search for Happiness and Jehovah in the temple film–he’s listed on IMDb as being in the film, but not which role, and the photos from Man’s Search look like it could be the same guy as this actor.

  11. I always thought the “Legacy” guy looked (and acted) way too much like Prince Humperdink from “The Princess Bride” to be taken seriously as Joseph Smith. Poor casting, IMHO.

    I still lofe “The First Vision.”

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  13. My name is John Robert Lafleur.  I am the actor who played Joseph Smith in “The Mountain of the Lord” (’93).

    It was shot in Utah in ’92 and was shown worldwide in April ’93 on the hundredth anniversary of the completion and dedication of the Salt Lake City temple.

  14. I loved Nathan Mitchell’s performance in “Joseph 
    Smith Prophet of the Restoration”  He gets my vote for best portrayal of Joseph Smith. 

  15. I expected to see Jeffrey Marsh’s name in this list. I think he looks very similar to Joseph Smith.
    I am surprised to see “Name unknown” with some of them! ??

  16. I also vote for Jonathon Scarfe. My understanding of Joseph is that he had a fluid personality that could quickly evolve from fun to very spiritual. I think Scarfe has the ability to do that. And he has the ability to look inside someone with his eyes. My favorite scenes are when he tells Nathan about the First Vision in the First Movie (piercing eyes), then my other favorite scene is in the Second movie when a carriage comes into Kirtland. The peoplewant to meet the prophet, then Joseph is distracted by Parly Pratt coming from Zion with terrible news, then Joseph walks over to the lady in the carriage and heals her. That scene affected me after I saw it, and stayed with me. It shows the ranges of Joseph’s personality.

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