“I just wanted to play basketball, to be a pro player, but I felt like God had something else,” he explained. “My father said, ‘If God called you to do something, wouldn’t He tell you to be a priest?’ and I had to agree. But then these roles came along, and I knew, I started to realize, that God was giving them to me. And I do believe that He wanted me to play Jesus. He was preparing me for it all along, by giving me the other roles that I’ve played.”

Caviezel has certainly been successful, despite astronomical odds. The 35-year-old actor has starred in a slew of blockbuster hits that include “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Pay It Forward,” “The Thin Red Line,” “High Crimes” and “Frequency.”

He is careful, he said, to choose films that reflect an accurate portrayal of good, evil and truth.

“Some people don’t understand how I could do 'High Crimes,'” he said, referring to his role of the murderous marine, Ron Chapman. “But that guy was evil, through and through. You don’t always see that in films, and I wanted to show that evil is a choice. He chose to become that way.

Choice is a word, he said, that gets tossed around a lot in Hollywood.

“A lot of people talk about choice like it’s the greatest thing. Well, okay,” he said. “So you want to choose. Imagine you’re on a basketball team, and everybody chooses to do their own thing, without regard for the rest of the team. When you lose, one of your teammates says, 'Well it was my choice to lose.' And okay, maybe it was. But your choice caused me to lose, too. And that’s what’s happening in our society.

“I believe in absolutes,” he continued, “and Hollywood is just a reflection of what is going on in the country. The president, whether you like him or not, is a reflection of what’s going on in this country.”

It’s one of the reasons Caviezel chose to take on the role in “The Passion” – as well as the fight that making the film has become.

“Mel warned me about it. He said we were going to get a lot of flack, and he asked me if I was ready. I told him I had been preparing for this all my life. And I have,” he said.

Caviezel’s preparation included not only learning the ancient language of Aramaic, but also prayer – before, during and after the filming.

“Prayer, prayer and more prayer,” he added, for emphasis. “It was freezing cold, so cold. And did you hear that I was struck by lightening? It was crazy. One of the crew saw smoke coming out of my ears.”

Amazingly, neither the actor nor assistant director Jan Michelini, who was also hit by lightening, suffered any harm. There were other interesting moments on the set as well. A priest served communion to the actors every day and several healings reportedly took place.

“People were getting healed all over the place,” Caviezel said. “God was there. You could feel it.”

Despite the brouhaha – and the phenomenal success that many predict for “The Passion,” – Caviezel remains humble. It isn’t about him, he said. It isn’t about Gibson. It isn’t even about the film or its success.

“I want people to go away with a sense of who Jesus really was,” he said, his voice filled with earnest. “He was a man, and he was very masculine. What a privilege it was [for me] to play God’s son, but I don’t want people to see me. I just want them to see Jesus.”

Photo used with permission. "The Passion of The Christ," a film by Mel Gibson. © 2003 Icon Distribution Inc. All Rights Reserved. A Newmarket Films release. Photo credit: Philippe Antonello.