James Faulkner, 69, played the lead role of Paul in the 2018 film Paul, Apostle of Christ, produced by AFFIRM Films in association with Giving Films and also a production of ODB Films. The film recently released on DVD after playing in theaters this spring. It tells the story of Paul in his last days in a Roman prison awaiting execution, comforted by his friend, Luke, who is played by Jim Caviezel. [Editor’s note: See CWR’s March 11, 2018, interview with Caviezel about the film.]
Faulkner is a long-time English actor known for such roles at Lord Sinderby in Downton Abbey and Randyll Tarly in Game of Thrones.
CWR: What made you want to play the role of Paul? I understand you were a late addition to the cast.
James Faulkner: I was a late addition to the cast! Imagine, I had just three days’ notice before flying off to Malta to begin rehearsals. It was alarming to have to prepare so quickly, but it was exciting all the same. I’m an old pro, so when this landed in my lap, I was ready for it. And, I would say that this role was a game changer for me, both as an actor and an individual.
I wanted to play Paul because having read the script, it was of such great quality any actor would have wanted to play him. It is a timely story, as we live in a world in which the Christian faith is still persecuted every day. Paul’s faith is one that has love at the very heart of it, a love that not every religion seems to possess.
CWR: How did you prepare for the role, and what did you discover about Paul in the process of portraying him?
Faulkner: I was brought up in the Anglican faith, and was relatively familiar with the New Testament. I was able to read the letters of Paul, which was useful in understanding him. I spoke to friends who were far better educated on the subject than I am. It is a good thing I am a quick study, as I had to condense all my research into just a few days.
But when you’ve been an actor as long as I, you get adept at tapping into other people, understanding their motivations and being able to accurately portray them. You develop a good understanding of human nature. That, in fact, is my job. You then memorize your lines, and get going!
Paul was in individual of great strength. He was able to resist all kinds of torture inflicted upon him, all the while maintaining his capacity to love other human beings. I was able to put myself there, in his place, transformed by Andrew Hyatt’s writing. Paul understood the human spirit, and how it can be transformed by love.
CWR: What was the secret to getting the character of Paul right?
Faulkner: It was a combination of paying attention to what Paul has written, and listening to the director. I also had to be comfortable with the character no matter how difficult he is to portray.
CWR: How was it to work alongside Jim Caviezel? Was it your first time acting with him?
Faulkner: Yes, it was the first time we worked together. It’s always interesting working with a new actor, especially one who has such a strong on-screen presence as Jim. It was great wrestling through the story with him. Off camera, he’s a nice guy, and a better person than I am!
We had some other fine actors as well. Jo Whalley [Priscilla] is a delight; John Lynch [Aquila] is a sweet, decent soul. Oliver Martinez [Mauritius] is an incredibly generous person, and has become a friend.
CWR: Did you have any particular challenges in filming Paul, Apostle of Christ?
Faulkner: Sandals! Biblical sandals must be avoided at all costs! They’re not easy to wear, especially when walking over stony ground. Can you imagine that Paul walked all those kilometers in his life in that awful footwear? Modern man doesn’t realize how much he owes to trainers!
The robes were great, though. They were very cool when it got hot. I didn’t mind wearing them at all.
CWR: How has the film been received, and were you pleased with the result?
Faulkner: I think the film has been received quite well. I would have liked it to have done a bigger box office, but the problem was that ours was released around the same time as another faith-based film, I Can Only Imagine.
Many people have spoken highly of Paul, however, and that has been extremely gratifying to me. I very much appreciate all the compliments that I’ve received.
CWR: Are you open to performing in other biblical films in the future?
Faulkner: I’d be very happy to, if the right role came along. Our industry does wield a soft power, and if I can affect a certain percentage of the audience in a positive way, it would be my pleasure to participate. It is my goal to get people to think differently about themselves and their relations with others, so that they may act and behave in a more positive way towards their fellow human beings.
CWR: What are you doing next?
Faulkner: I’m off to do a mini-series, Summer of Rockets, made up of six, one-hour episodes. It is directed by Stephen Poliakoff. It is set in 1958, when MI5 was infiltrated by Russians, and many in Great Britain were seething in anger that the British empire had been given away.