Jim Caviezel talks with CNA about faith after "The Passion of the Christ"

Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", spoke with the Catholic News Agency last week when he was here to receive the Imago Dei Award, on behalf of the filmmakers and crew of "The Passion", from the Archdiocese of Denver. The interview follows.

Q. Jim, regarding your faith, how has the movie changed your experience of suffering and what suffering means for you now?

A. I understand sacrifice so much more now than I ever have. During much of the filming I didn't know if I could make it, if I could do it because of the hypothermia. Dealing with hypothermia for one day is okay, even though it's very hard. But try dealing with it for five straight weeks on a cross with an overhang of more than 1,000 feet, and at the same time your shoulder is separated and you're sick, you have pneumonia and you're throwing up. At the same time, you're getting struck by lightening. All of these things factor into when you scream out: "God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I have said that many, many times. You don't even know if you care if you make this movie anymore. This is the human side of me, but I know He [Jesus] did care. And if I hadn't gone through the suffering I would not have delivered the performance that you saw on the screen. It forced me into the arms of God. …

Q. Your faith is something that takes a central place in your life. Have you ever found a contradiction or a conflict between living your faith and your profession as an actor?

A. When you work for a bank, you work with money.  Does that you mean you can't be Catholic and work for a bank? Can you not be Catholic and be president of the United States? Can you not be Catholic and be involved in any form of the communication world, whether it be a network reporter or whatnot? We need them [Catholics] in every mission, in every area. We need missionaries and good people.

Q. What role does your faith play in choosing films to work on?

A. [My faith] does not mean that I don't play sinful characters. That doesn't mean I will not do R-rated movies. This movie is certainly rated R. In fact, if you were to read the Bible you would give it a worse rating – NC17 to rated X. This is a very serious book full of lots of sinners and lots of holy people. I've played sinful people and characters as well as holy people. I try to find something that is redeemable in a story. I don't blaspheme Our Lord. There are things [films] that I won't do. And I just wait… God allows me to wait.  If I see a script that I really like [but which has parts that are unacceptable to me] I ask them to change a part of it and – if they really want me – they will change it.

Q. How important is your faith in your married life and your marriage in your faith?

A. It's fundamental. It's like eating food. You have to eat every day; you have to receive the Eucharist. God gave my wife to me. She's a gift. I take care of her. She takes care of me. We love the way God would want us to love. We're an example to other people. We fail sometimes but we try often and then we get back up if we fail. We stay together and love each other as much as we can. My faith feeds into everything, my acting and whatnot. It's the soul.

Q. What is your reaction to the coverage of you in the press?

A. Much of the time in the press they look for angles to taint you. For example, they continually, they say: "devout Catholic Jim Caviezel, devout Catholic Jim Caviezel, devout Catholic Jim Caviezel." [They do this] every time they present you in the press and you think: "What's wrong with that?"

But let me ask you, do they say: "devout scientologist Tom Cruise, devout scientologist Tom Cruise, devout scientologist Tom Cruise; devout Jew Adam Sandler, devout Jew Adam Sandler, devout Jew Adam Sandler"? They understand what they're doing – trying to taint you, make you a religious zealot. There's lots of persecution like this all the time. They [the press] are not open to how you live your life. I don't go and force my faith on others. I talk about it when asked and sometimes I don't even talk about it. But I live it. It's not what you say; it's what you do. …  I can't worry about what people think. … I'll have to answer to God. I am more afraid of not doing the right thing, because I'll have to answer to Him some day. 

Q. How do you explain the success of "The Passion"? Have you learned about any spiritual fruit that people have received from watching the movie since its release?

A. You can go on Internet sites and you can read about all the spiritual fruits, they're everywhere – all over the place.  … But you'll hear [in the press] about one woman in Kansas dying of a heart attack while watching "The Passion". They [the media] are going to find one negative thing, but there are millions and millions of good things. This film is going to help promote true peace, true peace in the world.... 

Q. Do you think this film will have some impact in people's faith?

A. In many countries around the world, we water down our faiths to accommodate each other to bring churches together, this is wrong. I'm not asking Baptists to accept a form of Marianism and to understand what that is. That's the Holy Spirit's job….  At the end of the day, I ask you pray for my conversion and I'll pray for yours, but to water down our faith, to accommodate each other, is only accommodating one thing and that is sin. 

Q. What is your favorite scene in the film?

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A. In my favorite scene in the movie, Pontius Pilate speaks to Jesus.  Jesus says: "Those that know me know the truth." And then Pilate says: "What is the truth?" Jesus does not answer him. After that, Pilate speaks to his wife, Claudia, and he says: "What is this truth?" And she says: "If you don't know, I can't tell you."

Much of the time, people have this idea that Jesus is a Bible thumper; he isn't. He speaks in truth. He speaks with full truth and full grace….

Q. What is your wish for Latin America and Spain after "The Passion of the Christ" is released?

A. I want the same thing for them as has happened here. That people would be open, that people would be open to the truth.

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