Actor Jim Caviezel, made famous by his starring role in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, returns to the biblical genre in the new film Paul, Apostle of Christ. Produced by AFFIRM Films in association with Giving Films, the film opens on March 23.
Caviezel plays the Evangelist Luke, who risks his life to visit Paul (portrayed by Downton Abbey star James Faulkner) who is held captive in a Roman prison under Nero’s rule in A.D. 67. The pair live in a world filled with danger and death for Christians struggling against hostile political forces and their own human weakness as they seek to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spread His message to the world. Filming took place in Malta; other stars participating in the film include Olivier Martinez (S.W.A.T.), Joanne Whalley (A.D. The Bible Continues), and John Lynch (The Secret Garden).
The new film is a production of ODB Films, “a Catholic ministry dedicated to fostering an encounter with Christ through artfully made, spiritually rich films.” Founded in 2005, ODB produced and distributed more than 200 short films in its first decade, reaching thousands of young people in Catholic churches, dioceses, and other Christian faith communities throughout the world. In 2016, ODB produced its first feature film, the award-winning Full of Grace. ODB helped recruit Caviezel for Paul, Apostle of Christ.
Jim Caviezel recently spoke to CWR.
CWR: What made you want to be cast in Paul, Apostle of Christ?
Jim Caviezel: There are not a lot of great scripts out there in any genre, including the religious genre. It was producer David Zelon, with whom I had worked on the film When the Game Stands Tall, who suggested I look at the Paul script. It appealed to me because I liked the relationship between the two main characters, with Paul serving as a mentor to Luke.
As I’ve been sharing in some interviews, their relationship reminded me of one I had in my own life with my lawyer, Frank Stewart. He helped my wife and I adopt our three children. He was not just a friend but a role model, in the same way Paul was to Luke. He was Paul to me throughout my life.
He had been sick with cancer for a time, and recently died. At the end of the film Luke says, “Paul has to move on.” It was the same experience I had when Frank had to go back to God. So I dedicated my participation in the film to Frank.
Also, the script for Paul came to me shortly after I returned from a trip to Poland, where I had been working on a project about Pope St. John Paul II. I had the chance to visit Auschwitz, where St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered by the Nazis, as well as the site where Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was murdered. So, as I was reading the script for Paul, the witness these two martyrs gave on behalf of Christ and His Church were in the back of my mind, and the need to share such stories with the world.
CWR: When preparing to play Luke, was there anything about Luke or Paul that particularly impressed you, or that you did not know before?
Jim Caviezel: I learned that Luke was not a Jew, but a Greek. And, I learned that he was a doctor, which I did not know before. He became a disciple of Paul’s and followed him until Paul was martyred. He was a faithful follower, but not a leader in the Church like Paul.
Paul, of course, has a remarkable story. He went from being sort of the ISIS of his day to becoming a leader in the Church. Paul had many great talents, but before his conversion, he didn’t use those talents for God’s purpose. He didn’t wake up one day, for example, and discover he was great at preaching. That was a talent he’d always had, and after encountering Christ on the road to Damascus, put it into His service. In fact, my favorite line in the film is when Luke tells Paul, “I never saw Christ in person, but the moment I heard you preach, I saw Christ in you.”
Paul is also a reminder to us that we’re not merely the sum of our worst actions. We all can have a value and worth as adopted sons and daughters in Christ.
CWR: I’ve read that the rosary, reading Scripture, and attending Mass were part of your preparation.
Jim Caviezel: Yes. In fact, I went to Mass every day. The Eucharist is so powerful. It doesn’t just go into you and leave, it becomes part of your DNA.
CWR: How difficult is it taking a character like Luke from the written page and portraying him in a way that will resonate with audiences?
Jim Caviezel: It starts with having a good screenwriter, whether you’re portraying Luke, or Hitler, or Attila the Hun, or Pope St. John Paul II, or Winston Churchill, as was done recently in a popular movie.
Then you take what is written and try to portray the person in an organic way. The art comes in not overdoing it.
CWR: Who should go see this film? Certainly Christians, but what about non-Christians and skeptics?
Jim Caviezel: Yes, it’s for them, too. I showed the film to a friend of mine who does not believe in God. He was impressed, and said, “Whoever wrote this script is a great philosopher.”
He may be open to seeing The Passion of the Christ. I think a seed may have been planted. The Lord tries to reach out to us in any way He can.
CWR: You’ve said “love and forgiveness” is the central theme running through the movie.
Jim Caviezel: We don’t love Jesus enough. If you go to church, you know He loves you, because you hear it all the time. But do we love Him? I know I don’t tell Him enough. As part of my personal relationship with Jesus, when I get up in the morning, I tell Him, “I need you to know I love you.”
And, forgiveness the heart and soul of the movie: forgiving at all costs. It’s hard for Christians, whether we’re working in the film business, or living in the Third Reich, but that’s why we’re Christian. Our Lord has told us to pray “… forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …”
We may feel this is hard, but how we feel has nothing to do with it. What is important is obedience; we must obey Christ’s command.
Is following Christ’s command easy? No. But it is the way of the great.