Jim Caviezel, actor: How being a dad has changed his life

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By Julie Rattey

Since playing Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” Jim Caviezel has been anything but idle. Catholic Digest caught up with him by phone to discuss his latest news, including how being a dad has changed his life and how he hopes his new film, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” — out in theaters June 26 — will change others’. Caviezel, 40, spoke with us from one of his favorite haunts, a Jewish restaurant called The Meating Place in Agoura Hills, California, where he says he enjoys the best Israeli food he’s had outside Israel.

You and your wife Kerri have become adoptive parents to an orphaned boy, Bo, and girl, LeLe, from China. How has becoming a father affected you and your faith?

I don’t even know who I was before (laughs). Dennis Quaid told me a long time ago when he had his son Jack, 'You’ll have emotions in you that you didn’t even know existed before you had a child.' I now know what that feels like. Even though they’re adopted, it’s as strong as any instinct. That’s what blew me away. I always thought if I adopted that I wouldn’t have the same feeling [as I would] if they were genetically my own children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And how has that affected you and your wife’s faith life?

Well, you’re mirrors, aren’t you? Every day when we go to school we pray the Rosary. We don’t talk, we pray. I always feel we communicate better in the prayer. If I don’t stay consistent, they won’t be consistent.

How else has being a father changed you?

I guess you love more. I see my wife take care of the children, and (to see) how they respond and how my children are makes me love them more. To add to that, I’m more in control of my duties as opposed to being caught up in the world. I’m not ruled by my feelings, I’m ruled by love, which is a decision. And that is being implemented into my children — that it’s not how I feel, it’s what I’m going to do. That’s what my faith has taught me and now it’s teaching them, but it won’t mean a hill of beans unless they see that coming from both of us.

What are some of the things you find most rewarding about being a dad?

The other day my little girl jumped in my lap, put her hand on my face, and whispered in my ear, "Papa, I love you so much." It pulls on your heartstrings. When you come home and the kids run to you, come up and grab your leg. We have a little thing. They stand on my feet and I walk them into the kitchen and we just laugh.

How did faith play a role in the adoption process for you and your wife?

I was walking out of Mass and Susie McEveety, the wife of Steve McEveety (click here to read Catholic Digest's interview with McEveety), who produced “The Passion of the Christ,” said, 'Will you adopt this child?' And I saw (a picture of) a baby with a tumor on top of its head and in its brain. And I saw his eyes and — this sounds like such sentimental hogwash, but I’m telling you the truth — in my heart I heard this boy calling to me, saying, 'Will you love me?'

So I told my wife, 'I’d like to adopt this little boy. I think we’re supposed to.' I thought she’d certainly say no, and then she just said, 'I’m in shock that you would want to adopt not just any child, but this child. I never thought you were even open to adoption.' I said, 'I wasn’t open to adoption; I wanted my own children.' We’d been close before to having children and it didn’t work out, and that’s all I’ll go into [about] that, but we still hope to have our own children, but I knew in my heart as strong as anything, as strong as meeting my wife, as strong as becoming an actor, [that this is what God wanted].

Part of what had spurred the adoption was a pro-life challenge. Could you share a little about that?

This guy I know said, 'You’re pro-life. Tell you what, if you really believe in what you speak, adopt a child — not any child, he’s got to have a serious deficiency,' (and I will become pro-life). He never changed his (position), but it convicted me. I don’t think he thought I would step up to the plate.

I was listening to Johnny Mathis the other day and I said, “What an amazing voice.” I have yet to hear another person sound like Johnny Mathis. How are we so arrogant to think the 51.5 million babies who have died in this country… Look, I am for helping women. I just don’t see abortion as helping women. And I don’t love my career that much to say, “I’m going to remain silent on this.” I’m defending every single baby who has never been born. And every voice that would have been unique like Johnny Mathis’. How do we know that we didn’t kill the very child who could have created a particular type of medicine that saves other lives?

In [“The Stoning of Soraya M.”] this woman was brutally attacked by a group of Islamic people who believe in Sharia law (Islamic law), prevalent in many countries. Weekly, women are stoned to death. This story takes place [in Iran] and the man who wrote about it (Freidoune Sahebjam, in his 1994 novel The Stoning of Soraya M.: A True Story) went [to Iran and] came upon a woman who told (about an innocent woman who had been stoned to death for supposed infidelity).

The man who wrote this book chose to get involved in something that cost him his entire life. There were many a bully who went after him. They had been hunting this man down for years. Two days before I went to meet this man he died of a heart attack (in March 2008). You can’t tell me that this man was not stressed when this thing was going to go public. If the book got him a death sentence, can you imagine what the film is going to be? I met a group of Iranian actors and one of the women said to me, 'Often in the West you say, ‘We want free rights and free choices here in the United States.’ Well, what makes you think we don’t want to have free rights and free choices in our country? You guys always write us off because of some religious fanatic thing.' If you speak out in their area, you disappear or you get publicly stoned to death.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

When you go to church on Sunday, it’s absolutely worthless unless you apply what you’ve learned to your everyday life. What I hope they take away is the same story Jesus tried to tell years ago, which was the Good Samaritan. At some point, we all play a character in the Bible. We all think of ourselves, Oh, I’m Peter, I’m Paul, I’m John. I’m Jesus (laughs). But nobody says, “I’m Pontius Pilate. I’m politically correct here.”

You reprise your role as Jesus in The Word of Promise audio Bible. What was that like for you?

I had to do it in English. I knew that I would have an older voice someday, and I said, “While I’m still young I want people to hear the Jesus that I intended to play before [director Mel Gibson] introduced the foreign languages [into “The Passion of the Christ”]. My prayer was I didn’t want people to see me. I want people to see Jesus. The only difference between this and a movie is that you have no visual. You hear the lightning strike. You hear the birds chirping. You hear what it might have been like in that time. And it engages your heart and your emotions. And all of a sudden your life begins to change a little bit every day. And you won’t have to tell people whether you’re praying or not; they will know you’re praying. Because I’ll tell you, the difference between that person and someone who does not pray [is that] he has peace and real love. And if you change just a little bit every day, my gosh, you’re going to start experiencing heaven now, not waiting until you die to experience it.  CD

To learn more about “The Stoning of Soraya M.” and how you can help prevent violence against women worldwide, visit thestoning.com and stoningparable.com.

A closer look at Jim Caviezel

Favorite prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary, prayer to St. Michael

Role he’d like to play:
“I think I finally found a comedy, but we’ll see. I used to do Neil Simon. And [now] they go, ‘Oh no, he played Jesus.’”

Best advice he's received:
“Someone told me a long time ago what a man does in private is who he really is.”

One of his favorite things to do with his family: “I like swimming. That’s when I can get physical with my kids — actually pick them up and throw them. They say, ‘Daddy, do it again!’”

What he’s learned about family from basketball:
“A family to me can be a really bad team or a really good team. I refer to teams because I played on basketball teams for 17 years into college, and I played on good ones and bad ones.

I have a wife who is a basketball player, and both of us have that mentality that some days you don’t particularly want to go out and play that day or practice that day. But the only way to [succeed] is to practice. It can’t be tied to feelings. That’s not what it’s about.”

Did “The Passion” go too far?
Jim Caviezel on movie violence

“The Passion of the Christ” was both lauded and criticized for its brutal depiction of the Crucifixion. Caviezel’s new film, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” (from the producers of “The Passion”) is rated R for its depiction of the stoning of an innocent woman in Iran. Besides the fact that such depictions, Caviezel says, are less brutal than the realities they reflect, Caviezel says showing such atrocities is part of telling the story of what really happened.

“What I don’t understand,” he says, “is that [these events are] so horrific, but when good filmmakers try to tell a story, it’s almost as if it’s a greater evil that those filmmakers and actors — who are putting their lives on the line to show a story — are showing what really happened than for those men (depicted in “The Stoning of Soraya M.) to have taken that girl and beaten and killed her like that. And that’s what I feel we’ve become in the culture — that (people think) it is a worse evil to show the world what real evil is. It’s 'How dare you take away my naïveté.' That to me is like Marie Antoinette saying 'Let them eat cake.'”

Why Jim Caviezel nearly turned down the role of Jesus

And why doing the film was one of the toughest decisions of his life

“There were four things in my life that were really hard — where I could have easily said, ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’” says Caviezel. “Number one, becoming an actor. Number two, meeting my wife and deciding [whether to marry]. In this society when the girls are plenty and the world is like, “Keep taking your time,” I knew I met a special lady and I knew, If I don’t do this, it’s going to be a mistake. Third was "The Passion of the Christ". There were many, many people on my team who said, “Stay away from this thing.” And I would go to bed and I would say, "Okay, I’m not doing it." And then I couldn’t sleep. I had every indicator that this thing was not going to be the right thing to follow, but something in me just kept saying Do it. The fourth was my children, this situation (of adopting disabled children).

“[These four things are] all familiar, they’re all tied together. If I had been tied to feelings, I would have said no on all four of them. I think upon death, judgment, [God would have] said, 'This is what I had planned for you. And you said no.' And I (would have) said, “Well, because I was scared!” So that became the thing. I can’t make a decision based on feelings. Whenever I feel [Jesus] I feel a peace and a calm. And I don’t say that just goes with me everywhere. But I know it when I feel it and I say, ‘That’s the right way.’”

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.