Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
June 15th, 2009

Busted: Jim Caviezel

The star of The Passion of the Christ discusses faith, Hollywood and his new film The Stoning of Soraya M.

 
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Being at the center of one of the highest grossing movies of all time can be both a blessing and a curse for an actor. The world now recognizes their name and face, but a role can be so iconic that they’ll have trouble breaking free of it in audiences’ minds (Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, for example.) If the role in question happens to be Jesus of Nazareth, that effect can be magnified many times over. It is a predicament that Jim Caviezel knows all too well. When Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004, Caviezel, a devout Catholic, went from being a Hollywood actor who worked steadily to being the star of one of the most controversial — and profitable — films in movie history.

Since then Caviezel has kept a relatively low profile, but when Passion producer Stephen McEveety approached him about The Stoning of Soraya M. (opens June 26), based on the true story of an innocent Iranian woman who was stoned to death in 1986, Caviezel signed on. He plays Freidoune Sahebjam, the French-Iranian novelist/journalist whose 1994 book inspired the film, a supporting role to the film’s stars, Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) and Mozhan Marnò. Caviezel hopes the movie will draw attention to women’s rights violations around the world. (To get involved with organizations working on this issue, click here or see our list of contacts at the end of our Q&A.)

In the interview that follows, 40-year-old Caviezel is surprisingly open about faith in a secular world, the effect The Passion has had on his career and why, five years after The Passion, he was drawn to another project that takes place at the controversial intersection of religious belief — Islam in this case — and graphic violence.

[Stay Tuned: More on the movie as well as insights on the current election crisis in Iran from Shohreh Aghdashloo and director Cyrus Nowrasteh—both of whom are Iranian—as well as with producer Stephen McEveety.]

Busted Halo: Can you tell a little more about how you got involved with The Stoning of Soraya M.?

Jim Caviezel: Steve McEveety, who produced the film, was a great friend, a terrific producer, and worked with me on The Passion of the Christ. He talked to me about it and I knew it would be a strong film and of course I read the script. I think it’s hard to accept that stoning still exists in the world today and I was floored to realize that the story was relatively recent. There have been very recent similar instances as well. However, I was also caught by the universality of the story. While the stoning is an extreme example, power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous whether it’s in another part of the world or down the street. In the story and in the film, the power is based in religion. And it’s particularly frightening to me to recognize that people can misuse religion in such an extreme and frightening way. I was also drawn to the courage of many of the characters, particularly the two ladies, and of course the character I played, a journalist. In a community where no one spoke up or stopped to question, many of course out of fear (and it’s always that way), it was intriguing to work on a character who was an outsider and was willing to risk his life, I think much in the same way as the story of the Good Samaritan. And of course the character of Freidoune, the character that I played, was of course tried and sentenced to death. And pretty much about 48 hours before I was going to meet him he died. I’m sure stress had a big part of that.

BH: You talk about your own faith a lot, you’re a very devout Roman Catholic…

JC: Well I mean I had to defend it, playing in The Passion, I had to defend it.

“I think it’s hard to accept that stoning still exists in the world today… I was also caught by the universality of the story. While the stoning is an extreme example, power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous whether it’s in another part of the world or down the street. In the story and in the film, the power is based in religion. And it’s particularly frightening to me to recognize that people can misuse religion in such an extreme and frightening way.”

BH: Defend being Catholic?

JC: I had to defend the story, the Gospels. It was all I knew. I mean, I don’t know Shakespeare as much as I know the Gospels. And you cannot tell me something that’s been over 2,000 years that suddenly in this secular environment, the modern world all of the sudden knows better than this. I’d really have to take a stupid pill to believe that.

BH: What was that like?

JC: Well, I think Jesus’ friends in the world know suffering. It’s not going to change; it’s always been that way. But I think what separates our Lord’s friends from those who walk without him is the grace that accompanies his followers. If the soul is willing to accept heavenly grace, then that soul’s suffering is changed. Crosses carried in union with heaven benefit both the individual soul and the world. When viewed this way, which is the true way, souls understand that suffering is not a bad thing but a valuable thing to be exploited for heaven.

BH: It sounds like it’s had a deep impact on your faith and your career even. Can you talk a little bit about that?

JC: There’s nowhere I can go now. If you were a priest you would have a collar on. Many priests today don’t want to wear their collars. There is a little bit of freedom in that so that no one can identify you with that and you can just be yourself. But do you really want to? In the same way where when I was going to do The Passion of the Christ I knew that if I took this role it was going to identify me with this forever. And they went to me and said “Look at all the money here, there’s so much temptation.” However, it’s not bad. If you do this movie, it’s not an immorality not to do the movie. I guess it’s not an immorality not to wear your collar. But what it did was profound in the way where, I will always be… once I cross that line, that stigmata is with me for the rest of the life.

When you become a priest, a Catholic priest, I don’t know where I’m going with this but I’m trying to go where the Spirit leads me, is that it can be a bad thing in the world’s eyes but in Heaven it’s always good because our service on earth has to always be one of, “How can I get more souls to heaven?” How can I, you know, suffer, and when I’m in union with Heaven, how can I suffer to help someone else? When they look at me and I have my collar on, how can I use the pain that I feel right now to convert another soul? Its redemptive suffering, we’ve always believed this, we don’t talk about it now because we’ve become a church of Happy Jesus. It’s sentimental hogwash. We want to talk about positive talk and everybody gets in. It’s just not so, people choose through disobedience, and this is the age of disobedience that we live in now.

I wear my role with me everywhere now. See, I can’t take my collar off. It doesn’t matter what I wear now. It has gone beyond that. People used to mouth the words, “There goes Jim” and “You can see, there’s Jim Caviezel.” Now they mouth the words, “There goes Jesus.” That’s a good and a bad thing. And it’s the same thing with a priest when he walks in with a collar. Some people are going to say, “Wow, that man is a priest.” Well, nowadays, the attacks are so strong. But imagine though, if we go back to using that suffering to exploit Heaven. In other words, using that suffering and joining with Heaven and all those believers in the world, you’re going to save so many souls. Hopefully that is The Passion of the Christ‘s message.

“I think the Gospel is very, very clear when Jesus talks about the story of the Good Samaritan…. So here you have a story of Muslims in Iran who practice Sha’ria law, which I don’t believe in… So why should I take my Catholicism and Christianity and get involved in it? If that’s my attitude then I think truly I miss the story of the Gospels. And I think people do, often.”

BH: That’s interesting because your new movie, The Stoning of Soraya M. is, in some ways, based so deeply in religion. These are people in a small Muslim village who are using God for their own purposes: to murder an innocent woman. Was that something you had to pray over? Was that confusing territory for you to work in?

JC: I think the Gospel is very, very clear when Jesus talks about the story of the Good Samaritan. And you have a guy who is not of the particular faith, beaten up, lying on the street, and of the same faith of the two passersby, one even being a priest, and they do nothing. And the one that does something is an enemy, a Samaritan. Certainly theologians can tell this story better than I can but I get the gist of it. The one that helped him and did something about it wasn’t even someone of his own faith. So here you have a story of Muslims in Iran who practice Sha’ria law, which I don’t believe in, and this is prevalent in many other countries.

So why should I take my Catholicism and Christianity and get involved in it? If that’s my attitude then I think truly I miss the story of the Gospels. And I think people do, often. If people really lived their faith today this world would convert in a heartbeat. And part of that is lacking an understanding of redemptive suffering and using it. And really in the last 40 years, it’s something more focused on a faith about a positive-mental-attitude-Christianity versus the real thing — that through the suffering and the courage, true courage, when you have true courage you know suffering is a part of it — and then we become more a group of indifference, and people say, “Well it’s not really your issue,” and, “Who are you to get involved in that?”

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The Author : Bill McGarvey
Bill McGarvey is co-author of Busted Halo’s Freshman Survival Guide. Bill was editor-in-chief of Busted Halo for six year. In addition to having written extensively on the topics of culture and faith for NPR, Commonweal, America, The Tablet (in London), Factual (Spain), Time Out New York, and Book magazine, McGarvey is a singer/songwriter whose music has been critically acclaimed by the New York Times, Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Billboard and Performing Songwriter. You can follow him at his website billmcgarvey.com or on Facebook.com/billmcgarvey
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  • Jeff O.

    Oops, I see Mr. Snyder spells his name as Zack Snyder.

  • Jeff O.

    Thanks for this interview! Just came across it today (10-27-2010).

    I pray (and even fast a bit) that, if it’s God’s will, Jim Caviezel is chosen to play Superman in the next Superman film (2011-2012). He reportedly came close at one point to getting the role the last time around in 2005-2006.

    Sure, there is an immediate symbolism if “Jesus” played “Superman.” When the character is presented at his best, the Samson-esque Superman can be an angel figure who swoops in and saves — and fights evil when necessary, a Moses figure as a baby sent to safety by his family, and even a Christlike person who sacrifices some of his own happiness for the sake of others — even willing to lay down his own life. But I also want to see Jim get the role because he is a great actor and looks the part of Superman!

    One report now is that Zach Snyder, the director of the new film, is considering an older actor for Superman (and not necessarily a person in his twenties). The last time around, Jim said he was willing to work out for the role and was interested if the script was good. I still see some other fans these days online besides myself hoping that Caviezel gets the role for the new film.

    If you like Jim Caviezel, please consider joining me in praying that he gets the role of Superman if it’s God’s and the Virgin Mary’s desired will for Jim. And I’m sure Jim, given the role, would be a great role model for kids who love Superman.

    Seriously, thank you. God Bless.

  • louisa

    I think Jim is one of those who is frank and live his Faith in the modern times.

  • Barbara Stockton

    Jim Caviezel, though human, appears to me to be annointed by Jesus Himself, if I may say so without turning some people off. His acting is THE BEST because, I believe he receives grace to live the part. I believe grace is spiritual adrenaline, like when a mom picks up a car off her child…it’s an infusion of grace…and this, I believe is the working out of God’s best in Jim. I looked up this site to just try to learn more about him, perhaps his writings, etc. He is a great encourager and example in the faith. I pray for his safety, and and that he will be guarded by angels.

  • Melanie

    Jim Caviezel is by far a very courageous man to take on a role such as this one- he’s my favorite actor, and it is so comforting to know that there is one man in Hollywood that stands by his faith regardless of the cost. Way to go, Jim!!

  • LARONDA JOLLY

    I LOVED THIS INTERVIEW, VERY IMFORMATIVE, AND I LOVED IT WHEN HE SAID THERE IS THE GOOD WHICH IS JESUS THE DEVIL AND YOU. WE ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE BEFORE US TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TWO, FOR GOD SET’S BEFORE US LIFE AND DEATH, EVIL SPELLED IN REVERSE IS LIVE WE MUST LIVE FOR LIFE THROUGH JESUS, MAKING YOUR SUFFERING A WAY TO HELP OTHERS. THE ONE THAT SUFFERS MAKES A CONNECTION WITH GOD ABOVE TO BRING CHANGE TO THE WORLD A POSITIVE CHANGE , I HEAR THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND WISDOM IN WHAT JIM IS SAYING, GOD BLESS YOU TO ALLOW HIM A CHANCE TO SPEAK AS THE SPIRIT GUIDES HIM,

  • Bob Zyskowski

    Working for Catholic newspapers for 36 years, I could identify with Caviezel. Because I write for a Catholic publication I feel bound to live my faith because it’s the right thing to do, of course, but to give evidence that I practice what I preach — that I believe and live the values I write about. Everybody needs time “away from the office,” so to speak, so I absolutely understand clergy who go without the collar on occasion. But the collar doesn’t make the priest, and I’ve witnessed some of the most priestly ministry by priests who aren’t wearing the garb; their pastoral demeanor shows through without any outward sign.

    The flip side is that I’ll often wear a Catholic Spirit logo shirt just because I want folks to inquire about it, to engage me in conversation about faith. You wouldn’t believe how it works on airplanes!

  • Jim

    Great interview. You asked the right questions and let him respond; and he did! Jim’s a courageous man.

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