“You’ll never work in this town again,” Mel Gibson warned Jim Caviezel after he accepted the role of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ (2004). Caviezel told this story to the congregation of First Baptist Church of Orlando. His response to Gibson was just as resolute: “We all have our own cross to bear.” Gibson’s prediction was only partially accurate. Two decades later and despite some career setbacks, Caviezel now stars in the summer’s most controversial surprise hit film.
Amid all the excitement about Harrison Ford’s final appearance as Indiana Jones and the highly anticipated releases of Barbie and Oppenheimer, a dark horse is making a run at the summer box office. Premiering on July 4, Sound of Freedom has already raked in $100 million in the United States. An impressive feat considering it languished in Disney’s vault for years, had a modest budget of under $15 million, and was turned down by the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Jim Caviezel, the only well-known actor in Sound of Freedom, plays a former U.S. national security agent who leaves his government job to establish a non-profit organization dedicated to dismantling pedophilia networks.
Crowdfunded by a Christian film production company, the film was accused of links to far-right QAnon conspiracy theorists. The producers disavowed any association with QAnon, which has been connected to the January 6 assault on the Capitol, as well as surreal events like the thousands who gathered in Texas awaiting the resurrection of John F. Kennedy Jr. so he could become Trump’s VP running mate. A popular QAnon conspiracy theory suggests that a group of Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Hollywood stars like Tom Hanks, kidnap and torture children in satanic rituals. Additionally, they allegedly extract adrenochrome from the children’s blood, a substance believed to have anti-aging properties. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde, the movie does not mention adrenochrome, but Jim Caviezel has tweeted about it several times recently. “It’s a chemical compound. It’s an elite drug that they’ve used for years. It’s ten times more potent than heroin.”
The film has been boosted by an advertising campaign launched by the far right, led by Donald Trump, who sponsored a Sound of Freedom screening at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey on July 19. Caviezel is backed by Mel Gibson and right-wing figure Steve Bannon, who recently interviewed him on his War Room podcast. ”It [adrenochrome] has some mystical qualities to make you look younger,” repeated Caviezel during the interview.
Caviezel has repeatedly thanked Trump for his support. “I want to tell you that when you see it [the movie], you’ll feel a profound sense of peace because you, more than anyone, have accomplished the remarkable deeds that Jesus preached,” he said on Bannon’s podcast. “I firmly believe that Donald Trump was chosen by God Almighty — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
It’s not surprising that Caviezel supports the ultra-conservative agenda. Twenty years ago, he took on the weight, almost literally, of Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ, which depicted the final hours of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth. Known for anti-Semitic and racist remarks, as well as instances of domestic violence, Gibson wanted non-Anglo-Saxon actors for the sake of authenticity. The blue-eyed Caviezel certainly did not resemble a Hebrew, but the devout Catholic who considers Pope John Paul II to be his greatest influence threw himself wholeheartedly into the film.
During filming, Caviezel was accidentally whipped, had his shoulder dislocated from the weight of the cross, had constant migraines, came down with pneumonia and was even struck by lightning. Some critics derided the film for excessive gore and open anti-Semitism. “While the words say love, love, love, the sounds and images say hate, hate, hate,” wrote Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. But no one criticized Caviezel’s performance. The brilliant and handsome actor could have become a classic movie heartthrob, but he chose a different path.
Caviezel made his film debut in My Own Private Idaho, a poetic tale directed by Gus van Sant. The movie follows a narcoleptic hustler who is in love with his best friend. This queer cinema gem stars Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, with Caviezel making a brief appearance as an airline clerk. Interestingly, he secured this role by pretending to be Italian. The son of a chiropractor and homemaker, Cavielezel was raised in a religious family in Washington state. Basketball was the expected path for Caviezel and his four brothers, but he chose a different route and pursued acting.
He began to stand out as Wyatt Earp’s brother in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1994 film, and went on to have small roles in The Rock and G.I. Jane. Then, Terrence Malick returned to filmmaking after a 20-year absence and made The Thin Red Line (1998). This film, a thoughtful exploration of war from a spiritual and aesthetic perspective, received seven Oscar nominations. Many of Hollywood’s biggest names wanted the role given to Caviezel, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Matthew McConaughey. “Caviezel is heavenly in the role, irreplaceable and a big part of why the film is so special,” wrote The Guardian.
After The Thin Red Line, Caviuezel’s face became more familiar to moviegoers. He played Dennis Quaid’s son in Frequency (2000), Ashley Judd’s shady ex-husband in High Crimes (2002), Jennifer Lopez’s mysterious lover in Angel Eyes (2001), and Edmond Dantes in the adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). Caviezel’s career was now on solid footing, enabling him to reject the role of Cyclops in X-Men. Then came the role of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ — J.C. playing J.C. “There are no coincidences,” he told a Polish media outlet that pointed out the coincidence in the initials. “God doesn’t believe in luck. But even when He raises the dead, people still say it was luck.”
After The Passion of the Christ, it seemed like Mel Gibson’s prediction would come true. Caviezel blames rampant atheism in Hollywood. “It really makes me sad to see that a lot of people in my country don’t seek holiness. Instead, they choose drugs and hedonism,” he said. He found refuge in television playing John Reese in the gripping Person of Interest series, a crime procedural produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan that received critical acclaim and aired for five seasons. “All of a sudden, I wasn’t popular anymore, and not because I did anything wrong. I mean, I just played Jesus. So, did this rejection affect me personally? Well, we all have our own cross to bear. But hey, in the end, none of us will live in this world forever. Not even those Hollywood producers. At some point, everyone has to answer for what they’ve done in their lives.”
Hollywood’s hesitance to hire Caviezel may also stem from his rejection of specific roles. He doesn’t want to be part of violent movies for entertainment, and he avoids explicit love scenes. “It’s difficult for me to get naked in a movie,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right. In my faith, I am taught that chastity is important... You will never see my rear end in a film, unless it happens during the Holocaust.” It’s a stance also followed by actors like two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, and Caviezel doesn’t care if it’s a casting problem. “If they’re genuinely interested in my work, they’ll be open to changing the script. If not, it just means they’re not really looking for someone like me.”
When filming a love scene with Jennifer Lopez in Angel Eyes, Caviezel made it clear from the start that he would not agree to any kind of nudity. “I told them, ‘Put a top on her, and we’re both going to keep our shorts on.’” He states that the reason is his devotion, love and respect for his wife Kerry Browitt, an English teacher he married in 1996. They met on a blind date and have three adopted children from China, two of whom have health issues.
His faith and strong anti-abortion stance has caused conflicts with other Hollywood stars. In 2006, he appeared in a documentary opposing the use of stem cells in research, partially in response to Michael J. Fox’s advocacy for such research to fight Parkinson’s disease. As he enjoys his latest and unforeseen triumph, Caviezel hopes that a long-awaited project — a sequel to The Passion of the Christ — will be helmed once again by his friend Mel Gibson. If it happens, it may lead to Caviezel’s own Hollywood resurrection.
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