Hollywood actor Jim Caviezel became a global phenomenon when he portrayed Jesus Christ in the Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster movie The Passion of the Christ.
Born in Mounter Vernon, Washington, Jim was raised in a devout Catholic Christian family. He began his acting career as a young man on the stage in Seattle, earning his Screen Actors Guild card with a minor role in My Own Private Idaho in 1991. Moving on to Los Angeles, he was given the role of Warren Earp in the 1994 movie Wyatt Earp. from there Caviezel was then given roles in episodes of the TV series Murder She Wrote and The Wonder Years. Then it was back to Hollywood for appearances in G I Jane (1997), and The Thin Red Line (1998) where Jim played Private Witt.
Some of his other notable movie roles include Detective John Sullivan in Frequency, Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo, Catch in Angel Eyes, terrorist Carrol Oerstadt in Deja Vu. He also played John Reese in the CBS drama series Person of Interest, and retired secret agent Number Six in the remake of the 1960’s cult TV classic The Prisoner.
In 2009, Jim was asked to play the part of French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam in The Stoning of Soraya M, a movie drama about the execution of a young mother set in Iran in 1986. Afterwards, he was asked how this affected his faith. Jim replied,
“You don’t have to go any further than the gospels to figure out what the right thing to do is, whether you should be more concerned helping someone regardless of their religion or where they’re from.”
In the same year, he reprised the role of Jesus in The Word of Promise.
Don’t take the part!
But it was was his portrayal of Jesus Christ in 2004 that really caught the world’s attention. A passionate believer himself, it was during filming that it seemed as if Jim was going to have to suffer something of the pain and distress that Jesus suffered. The actor was struck by lightning, accidentally scourged (receiving a 14 inch gash in his back), dislocated his shoulder, and suffered from pneumonia and hypothermia. In spite of the personal suffering, his portrayal of Jesus was highly acclaimed both by the Christian and secular press, and the predicted movie flop went on to become an unprecedented box office success.
Caviezel enjoyed a successful and developing acting career when he agreed to take the lead role in the powerful, albeit gory, retelling of Christ’s passion, but it wasn’t easy for him to obtain good movie roles afterwards. Hollywood is well known for demoting committed Christian actors and director Mel Gibson was aware that it could damage Caviesel’s career. Gibson had initially offered him the part, only to call him back hours later and beg him not to take it! Gibson was concerned for Jim’s future, and he wanted him to be aware that some doors leading to fame and fortune in Hollywood would inevitably close if he took the part,
“He [Mel Gibson] said, ‘You’ll never work in this town again.’ I told him, ‘We all have to embrace our crosses. Jesus is as controversial now as he has ever been. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.“
As a committed Christian, Jim says he learned to accept that the destruction of his acting career was a price worth paying.
“We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth.”
Near Death Experience.
There were a number of supernatural occurrences during the making of the movie, but the most dramatic event came during the filming of this vital scene.
Jim became very ill during the filming of ‘The passion.’ During the final filming of the crucifixion scene scene, he was already suffering from pneumonia and constant pain from his shoulder which kept popping out of joint. He was also suffering from hypothermia due to the many hours of filming often wearing only a loincloth in cold winds. His heart was constricted by the unnatural stretching of his body on the cross, something which would kill a person if they were left too long in that position. A doctor listened to Jim’s heart with a stethoscope and told both Jim and director Mel Gibson that he could die if they continued with the filming. Jim said that he knew there was a price to pay and that God was allowing him the privilege, including severe pain, of suffering with Christ in what he did for mankind on the cross. Jim was ready for anything and wanted to continue with the filming. It was a powerful spiritual experience for him, but also for the other actors.
A large group of actors extras were standing before Caviezel as he hung on the cross. Suddenly, there was a huge lightening strike which hit the cross and ran through Jim’s body. Jim had a brief out-of-body experience (often medically referred to as a ‘Near Death Experience or NDE’) where he was outside looking at himself on the cross. Simultaneously, the crowd in front of him saw the actor lit up by the lightening! He looked like the real Jesus Christ as his face was lit up and a bright light shone all around the cross. It was especially bright around his head. The whole crowd of actors fell on their faces and the reality of Christ’s death was suddenly and dramatically revealed to everyone present. Nobody left the filmset unaffected that day.
The Passion of the Christ was a massive world-wide hit in 2004, taking more than 600 million dollars worldwide after attracting huge numbers of Christian moviegoers.
Watching Jim Caviezel as he spoke to an audience of thousands was very moving. Here was a man who had been brought up to follow Jesus Christ and was already a committed Christian, but it is clear that the experience of playing Jesus Christ has had a profound effect on him. He became very emotional as he pleaded with the audience to follow Jesus Christ and to love one another as Christ loves them. Aware that playing the part of Jesus Christ had hindered his acceptance in Hollywood as an actor, Jim still knows he did the right thing. The movie not only changed the lives of many hundreds of thousands who watched the film, it also drew many of the actors closer to God and caused some to choose to follow Jesus for the first time. Most dramatically affected was clearly Jim Caviezel himself who has turned from an already committed Christian into a powerful evangelist.
Jim admits that it was not the easiest decision at first to give up the profitable lifestyle of an upcoming ‘A list’ actor to star in a controversial film, but he knew it was the right decision when Mel Gibson first suggested him for the part. His faith has been dramatically strengthened in the years that have followed. Speaking philosophically about his acting career, he said,
“I would rather be an unknown down here and have my name up there!“
In an interview on The 700 Club, Jim told interviewer Pat Robertson,
“We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth,”
.Story by Ralph Burden
Photo by Ewen Roberts.