Actor Jim Caviezel—best-known for portraying Jesus in the movie The Passion of The Christ, and for his hit TV show Person of Interest—has a praiseworthy new movie coming out in August 2014: When the Game Stands Tall.
Based on the book of the same title written by Neil Hayes, When the Game Stands Tall is inspired by the real life story of Coach Bob Ladouceur. “Coach Lad” has been dubbed “the world’s most successful coach” by sportswriters. From 1992 to 2004 he led the De La Salle High School Spartans to an unprecedented victory of a 151 game-winning streak.
Catholic Digest talked with Caviezel about why When the Game Stands Tall is more than just another football movie.
Your character in When the Game Stands Tall seems different from your past roles. What motivated you to take it on?
There has to be something that really grabs a hold of me in any project I choose to work on. In this case, I was immediately drawn to Coach Lad’s philosophy and his method of achieving success. Instead of placing importance on fleeting things like the number of touchdowns scored or victories won, he really focused on creating young men who were willing to devote their all to serving the greater good.
What message do you hope your audience takes away from this movie?
Coach Lad, from the very beginning, taught his players to focus on achieving greatness through the combined effort of the team. He taught his players to focus on how they could best serve their brothers. Coach Lad’s core philosophy is that when everyone gives their absolute best—the perfect effort, not for themselves but for the community—they are able to achieve greatness.
How does faith relate to acting?
When I act, I try to embody the person that I am portraying: every detail, every nuance. That is what makes it real, and people of all walks of life can relate to what is real, what is truth. Isn’t that really what faith is? Living in the truth…
Did you play football in high school or college? If so, did this help you to better play the character of Coach Lad?
I played a little defensive back when I was younger, and I am a huge football fan, so I think that my love of the game and my knowledge of the game helped me from that perspective. I have played team sports, specifically basketball, my whole life, and I think my familiarity with the inner workings and dynamics of a team, as well as of player-coach relationships, was very helpful in my ability to confidently deliver my performance.
What scene in the movie was the most important to you?
There are a ton of great scenes in the film, but two really stand out for me. The first is an intimate scene shared between Coach Lad and one of his players who has recently suffered a great personal loss. It’s a scene that is simultaneously filled with both despair and hope. The second scene that was extremely important to me is a wonderful moment of prayer shared by the coaches and players prior to one of the more important football games in the film. It was an amazing experience to feel the participation of everyone involved and to be able to express such devotion with one another.
To get into character, how did you prepare for this movie?
I started watching lots of inspirational sports documentaries. There are so many amazing stories about real people and teams to be discovered.I was lucky enough to have had the chance to visit with the real Coach Lad and learn more about him as a man. Hearing some of his former players speak with such reverence about him, his humility, his wisdom, and his down-to-earth nature really impressed me. I also began to think about the deeper messages he was trying to send his players about universal truths and the value of selfless and disciplined work for the greater good.
One of the movie’s messages is the importance of the effort of a team working together rather than the glory of individual players. How do you think Coach Lad’s philosophy can be compared to how the Catholic faith works?
Rather than emphasizing the importance of raw athletic ability and championship rings, Coach Lad—with great care and wisdom—knew that success begins with the proper foundation of attitude and work ethic. Equally important in this recipe for success is the struggle between the achievement of personal success and the self-sacrifice required to help humanity succeed. This resistance to the temptation to gratify your own desires and instead place the importance of the community above self-importance is a very Catholic message that I think the film deals with in an insightful manner.
Why should families watch and support When the Game Stands Tall?
The story behind this film is a real-life example of what can and will happen if people embrace every opportunity to do the right thing, with complete discipline and focus, on behalf of their fellow man. The perfect effort toward the perfect cause will create miraculous results. That is truly the core message of the film, and I think it is an important idea for all people to learn. Coach Lad focused on the importance of selflessness, discipline, and work ethic in every aspect of life. By focusing on building a positive moral foundation in the lives of his players, Coach Lad created an environment in which it became a natural course of life for his students to devote their time and skills not toward personal gain but the benefit and success of the guys standing next to them.
Why do you believe Coach Lad was one of the most successful coaches in football history?
The thing about Coach Lad that many may find surprising—and which is something I think ultimately contributed to his success—is that he did not set out with the goal of creating one of the most successful football programs in history. His goal, from the very beginning, was simpler and nobler. He wanted to instruct boys on how to become men of virtue and instill in them the attributes that would help them contribute to their community and to humanity. The by-product to this formula just happened to be unprecedented success.
What would you say to those who believe this is simply another football movie?
I believe that the best films, regardless of genre, are the ones that present their audiences with universal human truths. When the story is about something more than just the subject matter and asks questions that are provoking and touching to someone who might not normally find themselves interested in that subject matter, I believe a film has done its job.
If you look at Braveheart, for example, on the surface you have a historical drama that deals with war in medieval Scotland. At its heart, you have a love story and a nation’s struggle for freedom. Neither of these themes is inherently associated with the historical war genre, but the reason the film was so successful is because it captured human truths that are accessible even to people uninterested in either history or war.
I think When the Game Stands Tall does a similar thing. If you are looking for a great, exciting football movie, you will be pleased with what it has to offer. At the same time, people who have no knowledge of the game are going to be able to appreciate this film because it involves deeper thematic elements about humanity. It is a film about perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds, and it is a story about dedication, commitment to others, and self-sacrifice for the greater good. These elements of life, I believe, make the story really special and appealing to a much broader audience.
Bonus: The real Coach Lad
The real-life Coach Ladouceur (Coach Lad) teaches religion and coaches football at De La Salle, a Roman Catholic private boy’s high school located in Concord, California. He retired from a 34-year career as the Spartan’s head football coach in 2013 and is now the assistant coach. We talked with him about how his Catholic faith has influenced his coaching style, the movie, and what it was like meeting Jim Caviezel.
Coach Lad says that his Catholic faith has had a tremendous impact on his coaching philosophy. He told Catholic Digest, “Football for me is building a community—a community of kids that care, love, and respect each other—all of which are gospel-centered values. I use football as a vehicle to teach them to live those values out.”
He went on to say, “Catholicism provides a set of rules for thinking, believing, and acting that give you a road map—a game plan for life. It’s solid, and it’s beautiful—especially when you hold it up against Jesus’ deeds and words.”
Coach liked the movie
“I thought When the Game Stands Tall did a good of capturing the essence of De La Salle’s program and what we represent,” he says. Coach Lad found Jim Caviezel to be thoughtful and genuine. He told me, “When you play a real person who is alive, you want to be very respectful of how you approach that role. You want to do your very best.”
Coach Lad says that he appreciated that Caviezel took time to study him and the team by reading the book, coming to one of their games, and visiting the locker room. “I think he put his whole heart into the film. He really believed in what he was doing and in us. I think he was very proud of working on the film. I really love Jim; he’s a wonderful guy and a devout Catholic.”