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The Passion of Christ: An interview with James Caviezel, the actor who played Christ in the movie, The Passion of Christ, by Mel Gibson.

Interview conducted by Sister Maria Luisa Dias Ferreira, Reparadora of Fatima
translated by Mary Ann Sullivan

Republished from the Spring 2004 issue of STELLA Magazine, a National Catholic Magazine in Portugal published by the Reparation Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows of Fatima.

On December 9, 2003, in the headquarters of Stella Magazine, in Fatima,  a group of our sisters and other invitees, had the privilege to see, beforehand,  in almost finished form, The Passion of Christ, a feature film by the producer Mel Gibson, winner of the Hollywood Oscars.

It is publicly known that the film thematically recreates the last 12 hours of the life of Christ, the Paschal Mystery (Passion, Death and Resurrection). The film relates historical events, and highlights physical and emotional violence.   Since it’s preview, the film has generated much controversy throughout the world, principally in the United States of America, a fact that caused James Caviezel, the main character (Christ), to come to Fatima to ask prayers and to implore the intercession of Our Lady to bring this work to a good end.

During Caviezel’s three day stay in Fatima, Armando Mendes, the owner of the hotel Solar da Marta where Caviezel stayed, brought the actor to several religious communities, including: the Alliance of Holy Mary, The Cloistered Dominican Nuns at the Monastery Pius XII, the Order of the Holy Cross, the Claritian Sisters and the Reparation Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows of Fatima.  It was during this time that he agreed to the following interview, that you are going to enjoy.

Stella Magazine: James Caviezel, tell us how it happened that you were asked to play the role of Christ?

Caviezel:  It began with the Catholic producer, Mel Gibson, who in the past had made a promise to produce a film about the last moments of Christ’s life, the way of the cross.  He wanted an actor who would be the age Christ was when He died (thirty three years old) and who would have the same initial as His name (J.C.), and I, by coincidence fit those conditions exactly.  Gibson telephoned me, making me a proposal, insisting that I think about the millions of people who would see the reality of the death of Christ and who would be converted.  Truly, the sole motive that led me to accept the offer was the conversion of others.

Stella Magazine:  How did you respond to the invitation?

Caviezel:  Although I was surprised by the offer and felt I wasn’t worthy of it, I accepted it immediately.  My Christian life had made a sharp turn.  In 2002 I was in a very difficult situation professionally which forced me to confront my limitations and blocked me from professional fulfillment.  During that difficult time of my life, I turned to God for help, asking him to give me certain special graces that would lead me to a radical change in my Christian life.  I must say that during the production of the film, I intensified my life of prayer with daily reception of the Eucharist. I recited the Rosary daily, so that Our Lady would guide me to her son, so that in the film nothing of me would be evident; the only thing that would be manifest would be her Son.

Stella Magazine:  How did you feel while you were interpreting the role of Christ?

Caviezel:  I felt that I truly was dying on the cross.  It was so cold when we were doing the scenes that I felt frozen. I felt that everyone was striking me and I could not move my hands. The pain in my shoulders seemed like it would kill me. I dislocated my shoulder while carrying the cross.  Despite all the precautions, they wounded me two times with the whip. I was injured several times when carrying the cross ad couldn’t rest, because we didn’t have time to rest.  On the last day of work, we filmed the Sermon on the Mount and a bolt of lighting struck me.  People began screaming because they saw me burning. There was another torture…While on the cross, I felt that I loved Christ more than my wife and my family…..

Stella Magazine:  Any setbacks along the way?

Caviezel:  The first occurred shortly after my contact with the actor/producer Mel Gibson.  Because the film in question was of a distinctly religious character, Mel Gibson, with good reason, feared that it would compromise my professional future, and he telephoned me to say that he would release me from the role of the main character.

Stella Magazine:  How did you react?

Caviezel:  I said to him, “no.  It is a role that I have to do, even if it’s the last role of my life.’  I was prepared to die in order to do the film, and I told him up front: ‘Mel, you waited fifteen years to fulfill a promise that you made to God. Do you want God to wait another 15 years?

Stella Magazine:  What more can you tell us about the process of making the film? 

Caviezel:   -   It was a very complicated process.  It was attacked two times, once while it was being filmed and the other time while it was being edited… Some friends besieged us with insulting telephone calls, and hung up in our face.   The film was accused of being anti-Semitic even though it represented the historical truth of the Gospel.  Until now, the thousands of people who saw the movie beforehand, didn’t perceive an anti semitic sentiment, for them it was the condemnation and all the suffering of Christ for our sins.   The film is something that stimulates us and leads to the merciful pardon of God and to His infinite love and not to revolt.  In the month of September last year, in Houston, in Texas, Gibson showed the film, yet unfinished, to Catholics, Jews, and protestants, who signed a promise of confidentiality.  On the following day, however, the rabbi Eugene Korn, Director of the Ecumenical Affairs for the Anti defamation League, divulged to the press certain details…..

Stella magazine:  Do you think the film will still open on February 25, Ash Wedensday?

Caviezel:  Absolutely.  We trust in the power of God and in prayer.  We came to Fatima to pray and ask prayers (he and his wife).  Also, Mel Gibson was here in Fatima in September, to pray at the feet of Our Lady and implore her intercession to overcome all the obstacles to finishing the film.  He made attempts to show the film to the Carmelite nuns in Coimbra where Irma Lucia, the seer of Fatima resides, with the hopes of bringing the Community to pray for this intention.  But his attempt failed because  he did not have Vatican authorization.

Stella magazine:  From the long and interesting dialogue that Caviezel had with those present we record the following.

Caviezel:  …Everyone dies, but not everone lives a true life.  Sister, live well, so that you will die well… We cannot conquer anything unless we are at the side of Christ, and then He it is who conquers us.  He wins us over by the truth.
     Many people wanted us to make changes to the film, and we did not makes those changes because the truth cannot be distorted or hidden.  Only the truth saves.
      Sisters, I hope and had confidence in your prayers, because you have left everything to follow Christ.”