James Caviezel talks about the Jesus role
Caviezel talks about the agony and the ecstasy of playing Jesus in the
"The Passion of the Christ."
Question: Before this part, did anyone ever tell
you that you looked like Jesus?
Not at all. When I was younger someone once said, "You look like
Mel Gibson." I told Mel that, and he said, "No you don't. I'm
much better looking!"
Playing Jesus is obviously a daunting proposition. Why did you
say yes to Mel?
I got a phone call telling me that producer Stephen McEveety wanted to
meet with me about a surfing movie. I went and met him for lunch, and
after a few hours Mel Gibson shows up. He starts talking about what Christ
really went through, and I said, "Yeah, I saw the Zeffirelli movie,
Jesus of Nazareth." He goes, "No, no. I'm talking about
the real thing." And then it hit me. I said, "You want me
to play Jesus?"
So the surfing movie...
It was just a front. They were trying to get a feel for me.
Did he tell you that he wanted you to play
it in Aramaic?
He was talking about that Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin but I thought, "He
isn't really thinking about doing it." Working with Mel Gibson is
a little like waltzing with a hurricane. It's always exciting, and you're
never quite sure where it's going to take you. I thought learning the
languages was going to be the most difficult part. It turned out the physical
pain was the worst because of the cold.
The cold? Didn't you shoot this in Italy?
Yeah, in winter. I was freezing in that loincloth. The physical pain started
at two in the morning. At the worst it was eight hours of makeup, and
I couldn't sit down; I was in this crouched position. During the crucifixion
the wind was just coming down those canyons, slicing me apart. The cold
was just... have you seen those things at the fair where there's a guy
on a wheel, and they spin the wheel and throw knives at him and they just
miss? On this movie I felt like they were all hitting me.
The long scene where Jesus gets scourged
is incredibly difficult to watch.
There was a board on my back, about a half-inch thick, so the Roman soldiers
wouldn't hit my back. But one of the soldiers missed, hit me flush on
the back and ripped the skin right off. I couldn't scream, I couldn't
breathe. It's so painful that it shocks your system. I looked over at
the guy, and I probably said the "F" word. Within a couple of
strokes he missed again. There's like a 14-inch scar on my back . So we
had good days and bad days.
Sounds like more bad than good.
You know I got struck by lightning...
You got struck by lightning?
Oh, yeah. We were shooting the Sermon on the Mount. About four
seconds before it happened it was quiet, and then it was like someone
slapped my ears. I had seven or eight seconds of, like, a pink, fuzzy
color, and people started screaming. They said I had fire on the left
side of my head and light around my body. All I can tell you is that I
looked like I went to Don King's hairstylist.
You're Catholic. Did playing Christ deepen
I love him more than I ever knew possible. I love him more than my wife,
my family. There were times when I was up there on the cross, and I could
barely speak. Continual hypothermia is so excruciating. I connected to
a place I could have never, ever gone. I don't want people to see me.
All I want them to see is Jesus Christ.
Question: Did Mel tell you why he wanted to make
He told me that he went through a rough stretch in his life, and that
he rediscovered the Gospels about twelve years ago. He began meditating
on the passion and death of Jesus. In doing so, he said the wounds of
Christ healed his wounds. And I think the film expresses that.
Has the controversy around the film surprised
It's been the most frustrating thing to watch. I can tell you this much,
the guy is not in the least anti-Semitic. I never saw it. Maia Morgenstern
who plays the Virgin Mary is this beautiful Jewish Romanian actress whose
parents were in the Holocaust. Every day he'd say, "Maia, tell me
about your traditions. Is this OK to do?" He wanted to make this
film very Semitic. Instead of having an Aryan, blue-eyed Jesus, he wanted
to have a very Semitic Jesus. Our faith is grounded in our Jewish tradition.
We believe we're from the House of David. We believe we're from the House
of Abraham, so we cannot hate our own. That crowd standing before Pontius
Pilate screaming for the head of Christ in no way convicts an entire race
for the death of Jesus Christ any more than the actions of Mussolini condemn
all Italians, or the heinous actions of Stalin condemn all Russians. We're
all culpable in the death of Christ. My sins put him up there. Yours did.
That's what this story is about.
Was it hard to keep silent when Jewish leaders
were voicing their concerns?
They have every
right to defend their faith. But I believe that when all my Jewish brothers
see this film, they will realize that it's not about assigning blame.
It's about love. It's about sacrifice. It's about forgiveness and hope.
JAMES CAVIEZEL is the 35-year-old actor who first came to national attention
for his role as Black John in Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line."
Born on the 26th of September, 1968, in Mount Vernon, Washington, Caviezel
grew up in a tight-knit Catholic family. He received an honorary degree
from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Other acting credits
include "The Final Cut" (2004), "High Crimes" (2002),
"The Count of Monte Cristo" (2002), "Pay It Forward"
(2000), "Frequency" (2000), "Ride with the Devil"
(1999), and "My Own Private Idaho" (1991) to name a few.