Jim Caviezel, who plays the physician and evangelist Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ is no stranger to taking on challenging biblical acting roles, following his portrayal of Jesus in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
Despite reportedly receiving warnings from Mel Gibson that playing Jesus would hurt his acting career, he took the risk.
During filming he suffered from pneumonia and hypothermia, was struck by lightning, accidentally scourged and had his shoulder dislocated. Years later, he admitted that good roles had been hard to come by since, but stated he had no regrets about taking the role.
Following The Passion of the Christ, Caviezel used some of his fee from the film to pay for three Chinese children with cancer to receive medical treatment. Along with his wife, Kerri Browitt, who he married in 1996, they ended up adopting the three children, saying: “They are people, just like us.”
He also used the platform of such a high-profile role to begin to give motivational talks on college campuses across America, which he continues to do today.
Caviezel was raised in the countryside of Mount Vernon in Washington in a devout Christian home as one of five siblings. The Caviezels were a family of athletes and Jim’s passion was playing basketball. But it wasn’t until a foot injury ended his hopes of a career in the sport that he stumbled across acting.
He told me how his parents, his basketball coaches and some of the biggest names in the film industry were his greatest role models as he went on to become a Hollywood star:
“I had good parenting from my father. My parents were not perfect, but they continued as we all do to try to be better. My basketball coaches had an impact on me, even the bad ones. They were just as helpful because I learned what not to be.
“Charlton Heston was also one of my greatest role models. Also, there was a lot of what I saw early on with Kevin Costner when I was around him on the set of Wyatt Earp and how generous he was to me.
“As far as Mel Gibson as a filmmaker and his work ethic, I take pieces of it but that doesn’t mean that I’m working with people that are perfect across the board or that are not sinful.
“I also got to meet Jimmy Stewart on many occasions; and I knew quite a bit about him. He was a great role model and a great American. He served our country very bravely. He flew 26 missions in the Liberator over Germany.
“Still to this day I can’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life without crying every Christmas. That film has great power in it … for example, the message that without you this world would be a different place … I think that’s how God speaks to me. And when I talk to young people I say if you thought that from the small town that I came from that I ever thought that I was going to be known as the man who played Jesus, I’d say you got the wrong guy. But, you know, I was asked, I did it and the same thing with Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I just say, “Guys, if we’re going do this movie, we’ve got to make something that’s going to last forever.”
Fourteen years after taking on the role of Jesus, I asked him why he decided to portray Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ:
“I didn’t think that I was going to be playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ when it occurred. I just found it a hard time turning down Mel Gibson and a phenomenal script. I mean, it just always came down to the material to me.
“I think it’s harder in this day and age to make those kinds of films. Gone are the days of Charlton Heston and making a film like The Ten Commandments that Christians as a whole are going to find fantastic. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, the performances are really strong but the words are … stronger. I love the Scripture and the way … it’s very provocative. My industry likes provocativeness in a different way. I’m lucky that I get to be the guy that, you know, gets to do it. I just want to make sure it’s executed properly.”
Jim concluded by explaining how the greatest controversy of this film is the message of forgiveness:
“It does not mean weakness, it does not mean passivity, but it means forgiving despite … the situation, that you can look evil in the face, and we need that now. It is very easy to love people who think like you think. It is very difficult to treat someone who has polar opposite views with the same dignity and respect that you would treat a friend. That’s the core message of this movie, and that is the reason why I wanted to be a part of it, because it has an edge to it.
“Especially in these times when people are talking about civil war, do you have any idea what you’re asking? We need to start listening to each other and it starts from one side … that’s why it’s very hard to be a Christian, you have to be the one to do it. You’re the one that’s going to be Christ. You’re gonna have to die to yourself to be able to do that. And I think that once people start listening to each other that it takes that first person to do that.”