Kelsey Grammer talks 'despicable' role in Nat Geo's 'Killing Jesus'

Kelsey Grammer talks 'despicable' role in Nat Geo's 'Killing Jesus'
Kelsey Grammer speaks on stage at the National Geographic Channel 2015 Winter TCA on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Pasadena. (Richard Shotwell / Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Fans may know him as the haughty but lovable Frasier Crane, but now Kelsey Grammer is playing someone far less sympathetic: Herod the Great, the king behind the "massacre of the innocents."

"Herod is the guy that killed the kids -- that's what I remember from Sunday school," Grammer, the former star of the sitcom "Frasier," told reporters Wednesday at the TV press tour in Pasadena to promote National Geographic's four-hour miniseries "Killing Jesus," based on the bestseller by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and historian Martin Dugard.

Filmed in Morocco, "Killing Jesus" details the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, with Lebanese American actor Haaz Sleiman playing the title role.

Grammer plays Herod, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews who is said to have ordered the murder of all infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem around the time of Jesus' birth, in an attempt to avoid having a purported new Messiah topple his reign.

But Grammer said he took a more nuanced view of his character.

Herod "wasn't necessarily evil - he was just a guy who had to do some despicable things to maintain a balance of power," the actor told reporters. (While Herod is alleged to have committed many acts of violence, including against family members, the mass infanticide is alluded to only in the Book of Matthew and many historians doubt it ever occurred.)

Not surprisingly, the producers took pains to emphasize that "Killing Jesus" will be relevant, despite the fact that it is retelling a story told many times before, on TV and elsewhere.

"This is a story that really places the man in his times," said writer-producer Walon Green.

Grammer - known, like O'Reilly, for supporting conservative causes - said devout Christians should watch the film.

"I think they find increased modern relevance is desirable," he said.

Will you watch "Killing Jesus"?

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT