Magazine Features

Jim Caviezel’s ‘Passion for Christ’

Jim Caviezel risked his acting career, his happiness, his health, and even his life to pursue a dramatic role that he believed was more than a job or even a coincidence, but an actual calling from God.

This soft–spoken and humble man who stunned the world in the lead role as Jesus in “Passion of the Christ,” and who is currently appearing as Luke in “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” talks about his love of God, family, and purpose as a Christian actor.

Despite playing such serious roles, Caviezel can be surprisingly funny when he wants to be. At age 19, he envisioned himself as an actor, but had doubts. “But every now and then, I’d get an indicator from someone that I should be an actor,” he says.

“I would break into a voice impersonation. I used to watch Eddie Murphy. I thought it was incredible to make people laugh like that,” he says, smiling. “The trouble is, after I did the ‘Passion of the Christ,’ it’s become kind of hard to get people to laugh!”

Mel Gibson, producer of the film, had seen Caviezel in the movies “The Thin Red Line” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Gibson warned Jim about taking the part of Christ. “Mel called me at home and tried to talk me out of doing it. He said, ‘if you play this role, you may never work in this town [Hollywood] again.’ I said, ‘look man, we are all called to carry our cross. If we don’t pick it up, we will be crushed by the weight of it.’ Then, Gibson got quiet. Then I said, ‘oh my God, I just realized I’m 33 years old and my initials are J.C.!’ Gibson said, ‘you’re freaking me out,’ and hung up the phone!”

Being Jesus (Savior, Lord)

Was Gibson’s call a coincidence or a sign? Caviezel says that playing Christ has influenced all his roles—on screen and in real life. “We were playing Him as the Son of God, rather than as a possible sinner in temptation. In my prayers, I heard Him say, ‘I was tempted in all ways, but I am not tempted, because I love you.’ I thought, Okay. Wow! The voice that came through me was the greatest—like a commandant general; powerful. I said to myself, shut up, Jim. This is real serious. It was scary. I was frightened. I was trusting Him and in obedience, completely.”

“Look man, we are all called to carry our cross. If we don’t pick it up, we will be crushed by the weight of it… Oh my God, I just realized I’m 33 years old and my initials are J.C.!” — Jim Caviezel talking to Mel Gibson about playing the role of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ
While doing “The Passion,” Caviezel dislocated his shoulder as he carried the cross. Lightning from dark, low–hanging clouds struck him while on the cross. “What people witnessed was an illumination of my body and a fire at the right and left side of my head. And for one moment, I was looking at myself from outside of my body.” The movie’s production assistant was also struck—twice.

Caviezel, who’s weight was 210 lbs. at the beginning of the project, dropped to 168 lbs. He subsequently underwent open–heart surgery. “I was beat up very badly and God took me almost to the end right there, but it wasn’t my time,” he says.

“When I was younger, I had issues with death. But today, I know God wants me to live the best life I can, because I just don’t know when that time will come.” Caviezel will be 50 years old this year.

Being Luke (doctor, writer)

When Caviezel was offered a role in the movie, “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” he was visiting Auschwitz in Poland with his friend Frank, a lawyer. “I didn’t turn it down,” Caviezel said, “I just didn’t jump all over it.” At the time, Frank, who was his mentor, or his “Paul,” was dying.

Shortly after Caviezel returned to the U.S., Frank passed away. While mourning, Caviezel received news that two other friends had committed suicide in separate incidents. Then David Zelon, the producer, called and asked, “You still want to do this? Do you want to give it a read?” Caviezel said, this time with conviction, “Sure, bring it up.”

So Jim read it. To his amazement, the Jim/Frank and Luke/Paul similarities became immediately clear. “I was able to see the mentor, father, son relationship. The script became real to me. I felt I would be more effective on screen because I was able to digest it. It was close to me and to who I am.”

Caviezel also saw in the script similarities to current events. “When Paul was Saul, he could have been the leader of today’s ISIS. He had been a nasty killer, until his encounter with and conversion to Jesus.”

Caviezel saw Luke, his character in the movie, through contemporary lenses. “He was a doctor, a Greek, and I’m sure he had an easy life. As a pagan, he could have had anything he wanted. Yet, his soul was empty. He had everything, and he had nothing.” Caviezel sees Luke’s situation play out in the lives of people every day. “Once people become a little wealthy, they don’t think they need God. 

“Paul had the gift of speaking. He had the power to move people. But as Saul, he abused it. So many of us have these gifts our Lord wants to trust us with. But He relies on people who will obey Him. I thought those were fascinating differences between Paul and Luke.”

“This film is about forgiveness, at all costs,” says Caviezel. “It doesn’t mean weakness or passivity; it means meeting evil face–to–face with love.”

The film’s most powerful scenes include intimate moments when Paul dictates and Luke writes while they sit in a dank, dark, dungeon. “Letter writing is a lost art,” said Caviezel. “Today, everyone is on their phones. But there is a special connection that happens between the hand and the mind when I write. Even now, I say to my kids, ‘you’ve got to learn cursive, and learn it well!’”

Being Jim (husband, father)

Jim and Kerri (Browitt) Caviezel married 22 years ago. After surviving a series of miscarriages, they adopted three special needs children from China; David, 18; Lyn Elizabeth, 16; and another son, Bo who is 8. Two children were diagnosed with a brain tumor while the third one has sarcoma.

However, this did not deter Jim and Kerri in any way from adopting the kids. “It didn’t matter to me because God sees them and we see them as beautiful,” says Jim. “Yes, you do feel fear, you do feel scared, but you have no idea of the blessings that you have coming to you if you just take a chance in faith.”

When asked how being a father has changed his life, Caviezel says, “I guess you love more. To see my wife take care of the children, and how they respond, and how my children are, makes me love them more. It makes me want to be a better person.

“To add to that, I’m more in control of my duties as opposed to being caught up in the world. I’m not ruled by my feelings, I’m ruled by love, which is a decision. Every day, I wake up in the morning, and I thank God for my wife and children.”

by Warren L. Maye

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