It’s hard to imagine a role more daunting than that of Jesus Christ, but it’s one that Juan Pablo Di Pace took on with determination and focus.
The Argentinian-Italian actor stars in NBC’s A.D.: The Bible Continues, the 12-episode series from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who also produced the hit 2013 miniseries The Bible.
Born in Argentina but having lived all over the world, Di Pace, 35, tells PEOPLE that he’s “always a foreigner.” This may have given him the sense of purposeful detachment he needed to play one of the most recognizable figures on earth, as he admits that he went to “a place of loneliness” to portray Jesus.
That said, read on for 5 things to know about A.D. and about Di Pace – including the important stuff, like his favorite Spice Girl.
1. He Found Playing Jesus to Be "Daunting"
Understatement of the year, but playing Jesus is no easy task. “It’s very daunting and very overwhelming,” Di Pace tells PEOPLE. “You’re dealing with people’s perceptions and what they think of him and know of him. He’s such an epic figure who is so close to people’s hearts.”
As an actor, says Di Pace, you generally try to “give the character layers and layers”; however, in the case of playing Jesus, “it was almost the opposite. It was like peeling off the layers and trying to find that really pure essence.”
2. He Decided to Make Jesus "Very Human, Very Vulnerable"
Because A.D. starts at the crucifixion, “we’re talking about the worst time of his life,” Di Pace tells PEOPLE. “The most painful and the hardest. He’s giving up his life for everyone else. So, I tried to make him human and real. His mission was huge and he was very alone, so I went to that place of loneliness.
“I felt that even though he was surrounded by people who loved him, it was just him and his faith and God. These concepts are huge – even I have asked myself, ‘How on earth did I do it?’ ”
3. A.D. "Doesn’t Preach to the Converted"
Even if you are of a different faith or of no faith at all, Di Pace is confident you will enjoy what Burnett calls a cross between House of Cards and Game of Thrones. “It doesn’t preach to the converted,” he says. “It’s not sugar-coated, or bland. Religious or biblical can sometimes be a little soft, but A.D. doesn’t shy away from the violence of the time, the political intrigue.
“The story is really about the resurrection of faith, which is how the disciples went about keeping the word of Christ. So, they found all kinds of trouble and problems and torture and persecution. A.D. gets its hands dirty.”
4. He’s "Quite Social," But His Role Sometimes Forced Him to Stay Away from the Rest of the Cast
The set of A.D. was about as serious for Di Pace as you might imagine – at first. “I was forced by the role to keep myself to myself,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’m quite social. I love people, but the role demanded that I had to step aside and focus on the task at hand – especially for the crucifixion. After the resurrection, it was definitely much lighter.
“The way we chose to show the resurrected Christ was very beaming, light, familiar and tactile. The [actors who played the] apostles, for example, we hang out together a lot. They’re great, great guys.”
(Naturally, the man who plays Jesus refused to pick a favorite apostle. “I can’t do that!” he said, laughing. “All of them!”)
5. He Spent 10 Years in London and Has Some Important Opinions About the Culture
When Di Pace stopped by the PEOPLE Now studios on Wednesday, he met Melanie Brown and admitted that she was his favorite Spice Girl. So, naturally, we had to ask after his favorites among other British pop culture touchstones.
Di Pace left London “before One Direction was big,” so he probably wasn’t too broken up over Zayn Malik‘s departure from the band, but he confessed to some favorites on Doctor Who. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is his favorite companion, though Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) comes in at a close second. (Di Pace appeared on The Catherine Tate Show in 2006.) His favorite Doctor, “of course,” is Peter Capaldi as Twelve. “I did a show with him called Aftersun, and he has to be one of the funniest men I’ve ever met.”
A.D.: The Bible Continues airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.