‘The Passion’ Star Shared His Faith with Students Before Easter: ‘Be Saints’
With Good Friday quickly approaching, churches across the country are preparing to screen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But while millions of Americans know about the box office hit that illustrates Jesus’s crucifixion and death, fewer are familiar with the story of the man who played him.
On Thursday, March 22, Liberty University published a video of Jim Caviezel speaking in front of thousands of Christian students at Convocation about his new role in the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. But the interview largely consisted the 49-year-old actor discussing The Passion – and his story of faith.
“We hold the truth,” he told the students, “and Our Lord gave me an opportunity to do something with it.”
From the beginning of his career, he said, Jesus has held him “like a little lamb.”
“I had the call to be an actor, but it was going to take Him to teach me, to bring me to the right teachers and to the right films,” he said.
That call first came when he turned 19 years old.
“I felt this love that I’d never felt before, this peace I’d never felt before, and I heard God say, ‘I’d like you to be an actor,” he said. It was a “deep experience” that left an “indelible mark written on my heart.”
While his acting career took off at age 28, he said it wasn’t until he starred in the The Passion that God’s call was fully realized. His agent arranged a meeting with Mel Gibson, he said, about a surfing movie. But, as he later discovered, the meeting was really about The Passion.
“Mel Gibson shows up,” Caviezel remembered, “and I suddenly have this shot back to when I was 19-years-old.” As the meeting progressed, he realized, “This isn’t a surfing film,” and asked Gibson, “You want me to play Jesus, don’t you?”
At home in the kitchen, two days later, Caviezel heard his phone ringing. Gibson wanted to know if he still wanted to “play this Jesus guy.”
“He says, ‘If you do it, you may never work in this town again,’” Caviezel recalled. “And I felt fear coming into me.”
After a pause, he heard Gibson mutter “he’s not going to do it.” But that’s when something clicked for Caviezel. He felt a “great love” telling him “we’re all called to carry our cross. If you don’t pick up and carry your cross, you will be crushed by the weight of it.’”
And so he did. Literally.
He responded to Gibson, “I just realized my initials are J.C. and I’m 33-years-old.” Gibson responded by telling Caviezel he was “freaking” him out with the Jesus comparison and promptly hung up.
That started Caviezel’s long journey with the film, which included suffering through a shoulder separation, a bout of hypothermia that led to open heart surgery, a lung infection, and being struck by lightning.
His struggle finally came to a halt one day, as he hung on the cross for filming, with the wind “rip[ping] my shoulder out.” As someone handed him headphones to listen to the Christian song “Above All,” the pain evaporated.
“It took me into heaven,” Caviezel said, and made him realize that “even in all this suffering, man, evil has no power over us.”
After sharing his story, he urged students to live out their own lives.
“Set yourselves apart from this corrupt generation,” he encouraged. “Be saints. You weren’t made to fit in. You were born to stand out.”
He certainly does. According to Caviezel, Gibson’s warning about Hollywood’s rejection of a man who dared star as Jesus came true, to a degree.
“If there was a comedy out there I would do it, but after playing Jesus you don’t really get offers like that anymore,” he told People Monday. “As soon as I did Passion, other [film offers] stopped coming in.”
But he doesn’t regret it for one moment, according to an interview with Polish press.
“There is nothing more glorious and at the same time more humbling than this role,” he said, arguing that his faith illuminates his career.
“People in Hollywood keep asking me why I can’t separate my acting career from being a Catholic,” he said. ”Actually my faith helps me.”
And, as he revealed at Liberty University, he hopes the film shared that faith: “I don’t want the world to see me,” he prayed, “I want them to see You, Lord.’”
While he isn’t alone, Caviezel is a rarity in Hollywood as he reminds both actors and students that work can also be a way of prayer and praise to God.