Star of much anticipated movie The Passion of the Christ, James Caveziel, gave all the behind-the-scenes scoop of filming the movie, including the spiritual training he went through to play the role of Jesus, during an interview with John Styll and Michael W. Smith on Feb. 16 at 2:30 PM EST. The interview was part of the “Live and Interactive” program from Essentialtalk, an online broadcasting system.
Accepting the Role
Caveziel, who spent Sunday at the 46th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, said that his philosophy has always been to play redeemable roles or story plotlines.
“I always look for reality. I look for plain truthful roles. I’m always looking for that angle that is not watered down in any way,” said Caviezel.
Originally, Caviezel was discussing about a surfing movie when Director/actor Mel Gibson showed up. The conversation between the two eventually led Caveizel to asking Gibson, “You want me to play Jesus don't you?”
According to Caviezel, Gibson didn’t look at him in the eye and replied, “Yeah.”
Later, the Catholic actor received a call from Gibson, who did a “gut check” on Caviezel to make sure he was aware of the long road ahead, not only in the demands of playing to role but also of withstanding external pressures such as that of the media.
“It seemed like he was trying to talk me out of playing the role. He just wanted me to know that how serious he was about making the film,” recounted Caviezel.
“He wanted to see me if I had the breaking point…if I was going to be there in the fourth quarter. I assured him that I could handle anything he threw at me.”
Despite whatever Gibson said during the phone call, Caviezel was convinced he could take on the responsibility.
Caviezel told Gibson, “Look man, we are all called to carry our cross.”
Physical Realities of Filming the Role
Although Caviezel was bracing himself for what he thought would be challenging but manageable, he never expected the reality to be as it was.
The movie was filmed using Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin. When a scholar showed up to teach Caviezel the languages, speaking only Aramaic, he thought, “Oh my gosh. This is really happening!”
The physical pain he had to endure the film was something he thought his years of training as an athlete prepared him for.
“Initially in the film, I thought the physical would be okay. This one, I could barely make it through the conditions. Hypothermia takes its toll on you. For five weeks, I had to deal with the cross,” said Caviezel, referring to the cross scene which was filmed on the Grand Canyon.
He described his ordeal as having “30 knot-winds coming at you” which made his shoulder disjoint. The make-up also caused a rash on his skin. Caviezel was also struck by lightning while filming.
It seems that much of what Caviezel was filming wasn’t just acting. It was real pain.
“The crown of thorns always moved,” said Caviezel. He explained that the crew had to tighten the crown of thorns, which caused him migraines. “The pain through my head made me too sick too eat.”
Despite of the pain he went through, Caviezel hopes that the physical hardships he experienced will help viewers empathize the suffering of Jesus Christ.
“I think that this is where God really needed me. I hope it translates on the screen.”
Seeking Power from Above
Caviezel confessed to the listeners that he wouldn’t have been able to assume the role of Jesus without the help of God. He described himself as only being God’s instrument.
“I couldn't become him. It was whether he wanted to come into me. I had to dance for him. I had to do the work. I had to get on my knees and pray. This is God here. If I would have done it the other way, people would have seen the other Jesus. That’s not what I wanted to play.”
How he overcame the spiritual battle of playing to role was he prayed constantly and immersed himself in a deep relationship with God.
He would pray to God saying, “It would be honor for You to come into me today.”
“I 'm trying to present myself as an offering to the greatest of all kings. This is the king of the universe,” explained Caviezel. “Everyday I'm trying to be more humble and how do you do that? I guess, everyday, we have mass. Everyday, I pray the rosary. That's what I do. I meditate on God's life and I read the scriptures. I read something about Him, go through it and spend a lot of time by myself.”
Even though the actor felt insufficient as and person and actor to portray God through Jesus, through prayer he understood why God chose him.
“It was tormenting because I felt that I lacked so much. This is good, you see. I think He could use that. I said at one point: Why would you choose me?
“I felt in my heart [God said] ‘I don't always choose the best, but at the same time it's okay. You going to be responsible and take what I've given you.’”
“At that point, I'm going to go ahead with it.”
The Impact on Caviezel, Gibson, Society
“When you play a role like this, you cannot [not] be affected. Even if you don't believe and you play the role it will be offered to you that this is real,” said Caveizel.
“When you see the film the part when they nail him to the cross, to me, I can't even speak.”
The actor also shared that Gibson was changed during the process of making the film.
“I can tell you it has changed him. I think he told me that he loves more now. He's forgiven more now. You have to.” Caviezel said even Gibson stopped smoking for ten months.
The widespread impact of the film even before being released has also affected the Christian communities and society.
“I think [for] Mel Gibson, it was a big surprise to him. It's something very new to him. I think he was amazed and he spoke to me about that that. He was moved they have embraced it the way they had. It does not run at all, but many have come to us and many of our faith have turned to us.”
The film has been attacked by critics who say it sends an anti-Semitic message by portraying the Jews as responsible for Jesus’ death. Caviezel says the controversy is natural.
“One thing I'm pleased with is that despite the controversy, you see, Christ was controversial. Christ died for the truth. If it is controversial, you did it right.”
“All the criticisms that come out, I believe it's none of my business what other people think of me.”
He then refers to a biblical passage that implies, “If you truly want to follow my son, scandal will follow you all the days of your life.”
Caviezel believes the movie does not send out an anti-Semitic message and much of what critics are saying are “empty charges”.
“This film does not play the blame-game,” asserted Caviezel, who said many Jewish communities who have seen the film don’t think it’s anti-Semitic.
The main point of the film is the Gospel, according the Caviezel.
“We have to agree to disagree. This is the Gospel. This is about hope, bout love, about forgiveness, about sacrifice. This is what people will quickly realize when they see this film.”
Who killed Christ then?
“Everyone did,” said Caviezel. “All the apostles, the soldiers, the silent on-lookers. Anyone is responsible. Look at how ugly sin is. We are all included, including yours truly.”
Even though the movie has been rated “R” for the violence and graphic portrayal of Christ’s suffering, Caveziel said it was necessary.
“I thought we were doing an injustice to Christ by not showing what he went through.
“Yes, it is graphic and realistic and as much as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was. I think Mel wanted people to feel....the barbaric of human beings, the slaughter of God, the murder of God. It is graphic but it is the truth,” said Caviezel.
A caller during the program voiced concern that the movie’s R-rating would prevent her from being able to view the film. Caviezel suggested that she accompany her parents so she could view the film.
“There is a lyrical quality of the violence. There are brutal moments here but it's rescued from vulgarity. It enthralls you deeper into the story and sacrifice of Christ.”
I just want if you could, that you could pray that wherever God needs me that i could listen to Him. I just need whatever He needs.
“I just pray that there is something out there that they are open to and they don't come in with an open heart, not pre-judged.”
He also offered prayers for Gibson and the world. Caviezel said he would pray “for his (Mel) protection and his family and for all of our families that have been involved in this. It hasn't been easy at all. I pray for our country and the world.”
James Caveziel, who has been in such movies as The Count of Monte Crisco, will continue his acting career in “redeeming” movies. He will assume the role of legendary golfer Bobby Jones in an upcoming movie.