Living Out Faith Jim Caviezel Takes on the Life of Luke
He played one of, if not the most memorable, portrayals of Jesus Christ on-screen in the Mel Gibson directed movie The Passion of the Christ. With more than a decade of film roles under his belt before becoming Christ, Jim Caviezel became a household name. He would continue to take on movie roles and more recently spent five years on the small screen in the CBS drama series Person of Interest. This spring, Caviezel will return to his first biblical role in fourteen years portraying Luke in the new film Paul, the Apostle of Christ. Risen sat down with the veteran actor to learn more about his decisions when it comes to filmmaking, his personal faith, and convictions so strong that he wants to shout from the mountaintops for all to hear.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: This is your first biblical role since 2004 when you played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. Why did you feel playing Luke in Paul, the Apostle of Christ was the right fit for you?
Jim Caviezel: It’s not so much whether it’s the right fit for me, it’s the right screenplay. They’re really hard to find. The majority of the screenplays you read are not good regardless of genre. I never look at it like, Is this a religious film? I’m looking at it and saying, Does it have substance in it? Is it going to affect you? There were a lot of things that I saw in Braveheart that I loved. And things like Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur. It’s a great film, but they brought it back and tried to make it again, and it didn’t have the same substance to it. So that is imperative in any screenplay.
I’ll go through a year’s worth of screenplays and I might be lucky to find five good ones. And not every one of those is coming your way. It’ll be between you and two or three other guys. So, in this particular case, it was the right screenplay, and I was their first choice.
RM: Talk about the character because Luke visits Paul and he smuggles his letters in order to get them out to a community of growing believers. What did your preparation for the role look like, and what do you think from playing this character will stay with you long past your performance?
JC: Preparation for Luke was actually a little more difficult than the Jesus role, because everybody has kind of an understanding of who they think Jesus is. There are plenty of pictures of Him – the Shroud of Turin, images all over the world, and then you certainly can read what He says. With Luke, he’s writing about the gospel of what was going on, per se. He’s narrating it, he’s there, observing it from a physician’s point of view. I took that and then also, I think there’s only this one part where [Paul] says, “I’m here with Luke in the prison.” And that’s what we know about that part. I went with the screenplay, and then cross-referenced it with Paul’s writings, the Gospel of Luke, and prayer.
Prayer is the thing that bypasses my brain. And look, I’m a Christian. If I were talking to a non-believer, that non-believer might say to me, “Okay, how do you explain Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Explain to me how three can be one.” And I say, “I can’t give that to you.” The response might be, “Well, then, you can’t give that to me, then I can’t believe.” And I said, “That’s right, because it’s about faith. I believe without seeing. I know in my heart. It makes perfect sense in my soul. I can pray for you, but I don’t know how to convey that.”
When I was a young guy, I would listen to people speak about Jesus, and the authentic ones moved me profoundly. Some of them were Catholics, some of them were Protestants; the ones that loved Jesus, moved me profoundly.
And then I ask that source in Heaven, “Hey, please help me out here. You know Luke. Lord, can you tell me how you work Luke?” You know, I pray to Him quite a bit, and it starts to work into my DNA as an actor and into my soul. And that then starts to influence my thoughts and I started to see him [Luke] as a man; as a man who was a physician, who was a Greek. He hears Paul speak, and he’s so profoundly moved. He hears the Son of God in him, and that’s in the screenplay. It’s fantastic.
And I thought of how many people that I’ve known in my life that would say, “You mean you didn’t have any faith in all your generations?”
“And you heard?”
“Yes, and I was convinced.” So, I would ask people that kind of had some similar stories like Luke and then kind of came up with this character.
RM: With Paul, he changed from persecuting Christians to becoming arguably the most influential apostle. Talk a little bit about the transformation that can happen with God in one’s life.
JC: Well think about this, all of our names have a definition to it. I read somewhere the name James means “friend.” With Saul, what I’d read was that his name means “great one.” And by one change of a letter, to P [from Saul to Paul], it means “little one.” In order for us to be great in the eyes of God, we have to become absolutely small. I find that incredible. If we looked at our lives and how with just one little change in our name of who we are, [we’d see] what kind of world this would be.
I learned that these individuals, these saints were just like us. They were ordinary sinners like us, but chose to change a little, and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. And without these few martyrs, Christianity would not have existed. Why? Because God needs our participation. He needs human being participation in His whole plan between God and man. The yes to God was, “Yes, we will drink from the cup that You drink from. We choose to be Your disciples.” For what can stop a burning heart in the freezing cold? Absolutely nothing.
RM: What has your faith journey looked like from early on to present?
JC: When I was a young guy, I would listen to people speak about Jesus, and the authentic ones moved me profoundly. Some of them were Catholics, some of them were Protestants; the ones that loved Jesus, moved me profoundly. I grew up with Catholics and so I always thought everyone was Catholic. Michael W. Smith is one of my best friends in the world and so is Steven Curtis Chapman. Both of those guys carry their cross. They’re closer to me, in my faith, than many people that claim that they love Him and believe in Him.
I heard a man say a long time ago, Jesus’ words, in the Aramaic, “I am the way, the truth and the light. Nobody comes to the Father but by Me. But you call me way, you walk me not. You call me light, you see me not. You call me truth, you believe me not. If I depart from you, blame me not.”
In this country now, we are only too happy to go with the flow. We have tried the freedom, where all choices are equal, no matter what the consequences are. In my responsibility in putting this film out there, I did not want to make a lukewarm Christ. Not in this time, I couldn’t do it. Not during The Passion, not now. We have to stand by with the Gospel saints, where Paul has been, and that is good enough. And you’re not going to please everybody. Not everybody loves Jesus the same way. Jesus says, “Who’s my brother, who’s my sister?” You know, some of us in our family, they don’t love Jesus the same way. We might be from the same bloodline, but they don’t love Him the same way. But we’re all adopted. I have a lot of adopted friends and adopted family members now, they are my family, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. And all of them are not of the same denomination, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ because they love Him the way I do.
And so, the film is going to break denomination boundaries, it’s going to hit people really hard in the heart. There are two types of films. Some films are more cerebral and they’re good, but this is like Braveheart. God’s after a few good men, like the Marines. He’s looking for men with brave hearts. This is one of those. I want to say, and I could say it from the mountaintops, “Jesus, I know you’re not loved like you should be. I know you love us, but I want to love you more. I want the world to know that, that I love you.”
I want to show people the reality of the power of prayer, and the reality of evil in the world. That’s what I want to show. And also the power of love and what it can do.
RM: You mentioned a couple singers that are close to you, but I feel like you really seem to live out your faith in both family and work. When it comes to boundaries that you’ve set within your career, how did you develop the strength to stick to those convictions?
JC: Well, I assumed there would be bad times. I mean, we have a military for a reason. Right? It’s not just guys running around marching with rubber guns. We have military, because there is evil in the world, and we know that evil can strike at any time. We have to be ready and stay on our guard. Jesus often talks about that. Many times, but He goes even into the further level where He talks about the bridesmaids. And that some of them brought oil, and then brought extra, and those that weren’t prepared they ran out. They had to go and they said, “Give us some of yours.” They said, “No. You have to get it yourself. We are waiting.” So, they went and then the guy comes and brings them all in. And the bridesmaids come back, and the groom comes back. He’s gone, they won’t let him in. And I thought, “Whoa. God, he’s probably talking about the end there.”
But that will come. That will come. When the stiff times come, what our Lord does is allow me to be able to do extraordinary things, because He is alive in me. We don’t get the resurrection without the crucifixion. We’re all going to be put on our cross at some point. I want to be ready for that. I wanted to understand that it’s going to take everything I have.
These dark days are coming, you can feel it. I mean, you don’t need me to say it. The Holy Spirit tells you, “Be ready.” And so, they’re going to get darker. Eventually the light will come again. We’re going into a storm, but not without Jesus, He is our rudder. And this film had to portray that. They were going through the end of the world at that time and Christians were being annihilated. The devil was probably saying to each man’s soul, “God has abandoned you, hasn’t he?” But love won out.
Some people would say, “Yeah, it’s worth my name, my reputation, even my very life to stand for the truth.” I don’t prescribe to the gospel of Happy Jesus. I know our Lord is alone, because many people who He loves have abandoned Him. And I’m not going to do the same. I just think of it that way. “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” I know my Lord loves me, but I know He would love it if I loved Him back. So, I proclaim it from the mountaintops. That is my dream.
Paul says, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” To stand up for our faith. “Wow, you got your head chopped off by Isis. Wow. Man… what a great … and you didn’t even [fight] back?” And he responds, “No, I didn’t.” See, the modern-day Christian would be like, “Oh, forget it. Whatever Isis tells me to do, I’ll do it. I’ll negotiate, whatever, so I can live a little bit longer.” I don’t prescribe to that, man.
I love Luke’s story because Luke is a wealthy Greek physician. He doesn’t need Jesus. He has the world at his fingertips. And then, he hears Paul speak. A man who was so wrong, and then went so right. And he could hear that, and it changed him forever. He’d never be free once he hears the truth. I heard the truth and I couldn’t go back. My only thing was, “Lord, you want me to be an actor? Pssh, I’m stupid.” No way, I’m the wrong guy. But my friend told me a long time ago, “You know what Jim, Jesus doesn’t always choose the best. He chose you, so what are you going to do about it?” So, I thought, “All right, if you [Jesus] believe in me that much, I don’t need to know how. I just know you believe in me,” and that was it. I didn’t know I could learn any of those Aramaic, Hebrew, or Latin languages, let alone… I was terrible in Spanish. But you know, our Lord, like in the Garden of Eden, “Who told you you were stupid? Who told you you were naked?” He knows.
And I love that guy. I love Him, and I want to spend eternity getting to know Him more and more. And so, my little thing is out there. I say, “Lord, let’s just help make the greatest movies there ever were about you. Let’s find moral, redeeming, quality films. We can change people’s lives.”
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to have Christians coming after me and saying, “You swore in that movie. How could you do that if you’re a Christian?” And I say, “Well, it’s a little hard, you know, landing on D-Day beach when Tom Hanks is having bodies being blown up, and you’re so worried about the language. What would you want me to have Hanks say, “Get your rootin-tootin butts up here?’” This is ridiculous. These are the stakes.
Look at what we did in The Passion. If I had to come to you and tell you that I was going to have the cat-of-nine-tails ripping in our Lord’s side and flesh, someone would have said, “No way can that be in the movie.” But that’s what happened. So, I’m in that mindset. But I want to show people the reality of the power of prayer, and the reality of evil in the world. That’s what I want to show. And also the power of love and what it can do. I’m very lucky that I get that opportunity to do that. Hopefully soon, Mel [Gibson] and I will be doing the resurrection.
RM: That would be amazing. Has there been any more talk on that?
JC: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s been writing, writing, and writing, so we’ll see.