Not much intimidates Jim Caviezel. Other actors might baulk at the prospect of playing Luke, a colleague of the biblical apostle Paul, in the film Paul, Apostle of Christ. But, once you’ve taken on the role of Jesus, everything else pales in comparison.
Caviezel was 33 when he took on the cinematic mantle of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ—the same age as Christ when he was crucified and resurrected. The deeply spiritual experience was heightened by the actor’s own Catholic faith, and nearly 15 years after the experience it is still close to his heart.
“When I played Jesus, I prayed a lot,” he told the Catholic News Agency.
“I asked God to show me how I could present Jesus in the most accurate way. How to make the viewers feel closer to him. How to inspire them. It has been my inner journey which hasn’t finished yet.”
While on set, Caviezel was struck by lightning, experienced hypothermia, pneumonia, migraines, and dislocated his shoulder during an on-set accident with his cross. The sense that something greater than he and director Mel Gibson had planned was all the more pertinent when they practised communion and healings took place on set.
The film was successful, making more than $611 million and resulting in thousands of people coming to Christian faith. However, it came with consequences for Caviezel. He went from being one of Hollywood’s A-listers to a second choice, yet this is not something he regrets.
“All of the sudden I stopped being one of five most popular actors in the studio, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I just played Jesus,” he told Polish publication Wpolityce. “Was I personally affected by this rejection? Well, everyone has their cross to bear.”
Given these repercussions, the fact Caviezel has chosen to become Luke is even more significant. However, as he said in an interview with The Christian Post, he’s not in the acting game for success or notoriety, but to “bring the most souls back to [God], even those that don't believe”.
The film, which tells the story of the first-century church and their persecution under the Roman Empire, also became personal to Caviezel after the death of his mentor Frank Stewart.
Combined with this, he was also profoundly affected by a tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and was deeply moved when he saw a video of Christians being martyred by terrorists on Good Friday last year. It made the ancient story of Paul all the more relevant for Caviezel, and became a way of honouring Christians facing persecution or matrydom.
“Around the world today, Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Their example is an inspiration. They teach us that the fruit of love is forgiveness—a hard concept for those who have been persecuted and unfairly treated—and only on the far side of forgiveness are we free to love,” he shared in an opinion piece for Fox News.
Married to wife Kerri since 1996, Caviezel has never been silent about his faith, in his personal or professional life. Together they have adopted three children from China, who had cancer. And even before his portrayal of Jesus, he was resolute in his moral boundaries. He famously refused or altered love scenes in High Crimes and Angel Eyes due to his faithfulness to his wife.
With talk that a sequel to The Passion of the Christ is on the way, there is little doubt that Caviezel’s commitment to living out his faith will continue on the big screen. But in the end, success or not, it all comes down to one thing for him.
“I come to realise that only love can save the world,” he said to Wpolityce. ”The love of the Christ.”