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"Passion" Star Prepares All His Life for Role of a Lifetime

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 23 Feb
"Passion" Star Prepares All His Life for Role of a Lifetime

Jim Caviezel isn’t just playing Jesus. He’s living Him, every single day – in the toughest of places.

“Are you kidding?” answered the star of Mel Gibson’s upcoming film, “The Passion of the Christ,” on whether his Christian faith plays a role in his everyday life – and in his marriage. “Not having faith and prayer out here, in this place, would be like going to war without a gun.”

James Patrick Caviezel, who married his wife, a high school teacher, eight years ago after meeting her on a blind date, received an honorary degree from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. At the graduation ceremony last summer, he reportedly delivered a “fire and brimstone” style speech to the graduates that left few wondering about his commitment to Christianity.

He also refused to do a sex scene with Ashley Judd in “High Crimes,” a decision that is said to have infuriated director Carl Franklin. And, Caviezel admitted, he found himself compelled to tell Jennifer Lopez to put her clothes back on, during an unscripted move during filming of “Angel Eyes.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I do love scenes – but not ones with gratuitous sex. I also don’t do gratuitous violence. And it’s not just about my wife, although that’s important. It’s sin, pure and simple. I mean, it’s wrong. But, I don’t like to talk about these things. It’s awkward.

“People [in the entertainment industry] are always saying, ‘Look, I’m not your kid’s role model.’ But that’s wrong. I don’t care how you look at it; we’re all role models. And there’s a responsibility that comes with that,” he said.

“Jesus said that we have to pick up our cross and carry it,” he added. “And the way I look at it is, if we don’t, the weight of that cross is going to pin us to the ground.”

Like most believers, Caviezel’s faith has been a process – one that has grown more tangible over the years as a result of God’s intervention, sometimes in the strangest of ways. 

Caviezel describes a childhood in Mount Vernon, Wa. that was filled with a sense of God and family. Raised a Roman Catholic, he attended mass with his parents and four siblings every Sunday. Although he said that he did things he describes as “stupid,” he was always aware of God and the difference between right and wrong.

“Each time I did [something wrong],” he said, “I would get a feeling inside, a bad feeling. I asked my friends if they got that feeling too, but they didn’t know what I was talking about. They were like, ‘Are you crazy?’ It was like they didn’t feel anything in their conscience, the way I did.”

One of the pivotal moments in his faith was watching a Billy Graham crusade on television as a teen.

“I remember wanting to be there so that I could go forward with all those people,” he said. “Afterwards, I cried and cried. I was really aware of God after that.”

There were other turning points, as well, too many to describe during a short interview.

“Faith is a process,” he said simply, “and God reveals His truth to us over time.”

Caviezel didn’t start out wanting to be an actor. His dream, he said, was the NBA, and he was heading straight for it. He played for his college basketball team and, at 6’1”, was certainly tall enough to be considered for the NBA.

Those hopes were crushed, however, after Caviezel suffered a foot injury during college. Strangely enough, Caviezel said that he soon got the sense that he was supposed to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in acting, despite limited experience in drama.

“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.