Film & TV

The Convictions of Jim Caviezel

Actor Jim Caviezel is attends a film premiere in Los Angeles, Calif., August 4, 2014. (Kevork Djansezian/Reuters)
Caviezel is a rare bird in Hollywood. His career aspirations had nothing to do with fame or money.

‘I didn’t get invited by Hollywood to come to this industry,” actor Jim Caviezel says. It was God — not the executives, the talent agents, nor the filmmakers — that gave him his acting talent. “God believed in me, that He wanted me to be an actor. I felt it in my heart very deeply.”

A man of deep faith and conviction, Caviezel broke into Hollywood with an exceptional role in Terrence Malick’s 1998 war film The Thin Red Line. In 2004, he played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s international blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. Caviezel’s latest movie Infidel, directed by his friend Cyrus Nowrasteh, tells the story of an American journalist who is imprisoned by the Iranian regime after speaking out against the government’s Islamic totalitarianism. It is slated for release in four days.

Caviezel is a rare bird in Hollywood. His career aspirations had nothing to do with fame or money. He is motivated by something more profound than what usually drives a talented Hollywood star: fame and treasure.

“I’ve found my way into strip clubs, and I was so empty,” Caviezel laments, recalling the earlier stages of his career. “But I remember trying to do the right thing. A couple of my friends were like, ‘Come on, Jim, let’s go into the strip club.’ And I said, I can’t do it anymore.”

Since then, Caviezel has strived to do the “right thing, come hell or high water.” He says that “you have to hold onto your convictions regardless of what and how much money they offer . . . some fame is infamous.”

When Caviezel decided to play Jesus back in 2004, he took an enormous risk, personally and professionally. Actors in Hollywood are often advised to avoid roles that might polarize audiences and colleagues in the entertainment industry. Caviezel, however, thought it was his destiny. He welcomed the artistic and spiritual burden as “a gift from God.”

“It wasn’t a curse. It told me that I was going to have to step up and be a man, not just a guy who will never become a man, because he avoids responsibility,” Caviezel says. “I didn’t want the world to see Jim Caviezel. I wanted them to see Jesus.”

Caviezel has always been captivated by Jesus’s authenticity, and that of people he thinks embody Jesus’s spirituality and teachings, such as Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, and Billy Graham. “One thing they have in common is their authenticity. It’s unquenchable, and that’s what keeps me out of the flesh,” he says. “When I do fall, I have no choice but to get myself back up and fight, because we need people to look up to.”

One of Caviezel’s fears is that a secularized world lacking spiritual values harbors chaos and evil, and neuters religious citizens; namely, Christians: “These are things that need to be discussed immediately, because bad religion and bad politics equal war.” Caviezel cites the contradictions of the government’s response to COVID-19 as an example:

We can’t go into our churches now, can we now? We can go on an airplane. We can see everybody next to each other with cloth over their mouth. Of course, that’s science, right? We know that they can just put a piece of cloth on their mouths; that COVID-19 can’t travel; that we’ve gotta be six feet apart. . . . And yet we’re on each other’s shoulders all the time. For some reason COVID-19 knows not to spread on planes. We should have this conversation, because I want to know why we can’t go into a church and worship God, when there are a lot of people without work, people are really scared of what’s going on.

“If we really have the freedoms we proclaim, that we have our inalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which are being taken from us right now — then that requires people to push back on an agenda,” he says. “When people sit back and do nothing, that’s when evil prevails.”

Caviezel believes the values he passionately speaks of are universal, transcending party politics. “Before there ever was a two-party system in the United States,” he says, “there was God.” He adds, “There is a time to be conservative, to be prudent. And there is a time to be liberal, which means to give.”

But for Caviezel, “no one has ever moved to victory on the back of fake moral platitudes.” He hopes Infidel can rekindle that fight for authentic morality, and the universal values shared by peaceable citizens, whether they are Christian or Muslim. Caviezel also wants people to be honest with themselves, their faith, and their place in an extremely secularized world. “As far as American Christians [are concerned], we cannot begin to bridge the gaps that exist today between Muslims and Christians, by pretending . . . by not being true to ourselves in our own beliefs,” he says.

Is Caviezel worried that the film might offend Muslims? Not really, as he sees it. In fact, he believes the film could empower them. “While the rest of the world panders to extremists, the real victims are peaceful Muslims. The ones who aren’t extreme — they’re the group most oppressed by Islamic regimes, such as Iran.” He continues, “You’re not harming Muslims by taking a stand against radicals. You’re helping them.”

Audiences will be able to judge for themselves starting on September 18, when Infidel is released.

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