'Your home is here, Jon!'

Monika Kaniowska talks to Jon Voight, who played the title role in the film 'John Paul the Second'.

Monika Kaniowska: - How did your work on the role of John Paul II influence your faith in God and attitude towards people?

Jon Voight: - I am a believer, a Catholic, I graduated from The Catholic University of America in Washington, I knew the life of the Polish Pope. I grew up in Yonkers, New York district, where Catholicism co-existed with Protestantism and Judaism. So the very theme of the film was close to me, because of this as well. I felt a great responsibility for this role but the people observing our work on that film showed us part of the respect they had for John Paul II. I deeply experienced Mass on Ash Wednesday, celebrated by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in the Wawel cathedral, in which I participated the day before the premiere together with the group of people involved in the film. My meetings with people in Krakow were also extremely important. I will say it briefly: all of this had the value of a personal spiritual experience. Certainly, I understood better why it was Poland that such a great man and pope came from. I decided to change many things in my life, get closer to my family, especially to my daughter Angelina Jolie. I would like to give my close family more moments of real emotions.

- What new things about the Holy Father did you discover while working on the film?

- I am an actor and the Pope was an actor, too. So he was close to me, was my colleague and that's why I felt I would manage to play his role. This helped me to see some hints how I should show him.

- What was the most difficult thing for you in the role of John Paul II?

- For example, my height was a problem, I am tall and I had to play a hero who was one foot shorter than me. I did not want to create a figure that would contradict the image of the Pope in the media, the image whom we all know. He was strong but the important thing was the warmth he approached people with. Showing that was the most difficult thing since this behaviour of the Pope was as if most unique. I asked about this all people who had met him personally. My work on the role was difficult but at the same time wonderful. This was the work for someone you love.

- In 1980s your career was broken for a year because you wanted to look after your dying mother. You also played in Hal Ashby's film 'Coming home'; it was the role of the paraplegic, veteran of the Vietnam War, for which you won Oscar for Best Actor...

- Sensitivity to suffering of both your close family and other people is a part of everybody's life even if you try to forget it. Suffering can also become an experience of everyone, even the most wicked person. The thing is to find some time in your life to act in an unselfish way. Therefore, I have never refused to take part in charity actions and I supported financially children and the hospice movement.

- What impressions of Krakow would you take with you?

- First of all I am very glad that one of the film heroes Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the most faithful and closest collaborator of the Holy Father, was clearly moved by our film. When I got to know Archbishop Dziwisz, now Cardinal Dziwisz, I realised who John Paul II really had been. Cardinal Dziwisz welcomed me in the curia: 'Your home is also here, Jon'. The return to Krakow from the Vatican was coming home for Archbishop Dziwisz, and now in a way it was my coming home. Moreover, the heritage and important work of great Polish bishops and cardinals are wonderfully continued in the person of Cardinal Dziwisz. The present Cardinal also personifies all that we associate with the purity and openness of the heart of the Polish Pope.
Like the director of the film John Kent Harrison I would like to return here. My roots are also here, somewhere close to Krakow, because my father, Czech golf champion, emigrated from the Sudety Mountains to the United States in the 1930s.
Because of their strong faith Poles are a unique nation. I am glad that I met real, cordial friends here. John Paul II also had friends here and all over the world because of his kindness, cordiality and love he had for everyone. As a matter of fact this is the most important thing in our earthly lives, which is to lead us to God as the Pope said 'To the Father's House'.

- Thank you for the conversation.

Film's director John Kent Harrison told the journalists:

- God led us and the Pope's words 'Do not be afraid!' encouraged us to show the great Polish Pope. All scenes were hard for me and the most difficult ones were those connected with Poland's history that I did not know. We all felt that we had to begin our work in Poland, in the places where Karol Wojtyla lived. One must admit that every detail of the film set concerning the real places, which Krakow film set designer Marek Zawierucha found, is faithful (including the Vatican rooms that were reconstructed in the studio). In many scenes we managed to show the great emotions that had accompanied the Pope (the scenes with the youth in canoeing, meetings with the young people in the following years), as well as the pain that had accompanied the Pope's illness and death.

Written down by Wieslaw Adamik.

"Niedziela" 11/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl