AND I WAS CONVERTED
A famous American actor playing the role of Jesus in ‘Passion’ by Mel Gibson – Jim Caviezel, arrived in Poland to the invitation of the Columbus Knights to promote the film entitled: ‘Liberation of continent: John Paul II and the collapse of communism’. One could watch the documentary on 2 April 2017 on the death anniversary of St. John Paul II. The actor works with the best film directors from Hollywood and now it is possible to watch him in a serial ‘The impersonal’. Together with his wife – an English teacher – they adopted three children suffering from cancer and whom they bring up, caring about their development and health recovery.
On the occasion of his visit in Poland, Jim Caviezel made his personal pilgrimage to places connected with our country, particularly with John Paul II. In Cracow the actor visited, among the others, the Cracovian Archbishops’ House and the cathedral at Wawel. He was in the sanctuary in Łagiewniki where he visited a cell in which St. Faustyna had died. Later he visited the sanctuary of St. John Paul II on the White Seas. He also visited the former German death camp Auschwitz –Birkenau, and in Warsaw he got to know the history in the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. He was a visitor of the XXIII Fair of Catholic Publishers in Warsaw, during which a meeting with him was very popular among readers.
MARIA FORTUNA-SUDOR: – Jim, it is the first time you have been in Cracow. How do you perceive the city of John Paul II?
JIM CAVIEZEL: – In some sense, I met the Pope again, as I visited places where there are his relics. This is incredible to me that I can be in the country of Karol Wojtyła. He is my spiritual father. I also visited cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz whom I know from Vatican where was first at the audience with John Paul II, and then at his funeral. Here I saw an interesting world. I met Cracovian priests, nuns. I see people praying in churches. I like your faith in Our Lady who, as I read, loves Poland a lot. What surprised me was the tomb of president Lech Kaczyński and his spouse. I strongly experienced the tragedy in which they died. You have a lot of heroes. Certainly also other nations have them but it is your country in which we can get to know fates of courageous and saint people who influenced the history of not only Poland. This is an unusual pantheon!
– I am asking about your feelings also because you have Slovenian roots but we say in our country that the Slovenian soul is romantic. Do you find a little part of yourself in this part of Europe?
– Yes, it is possible. I was created for adventures! A danger provokes me, encourages, calls me. Somebody told me that evil is helpless if we are not afraid of it. I do not want to be like a coward. As a little boy I was afraid of this feature.
– And what does a man need not to be coward?
– John Paul II, Ronald Reagan or Mother Theresa were courageous to be themselves. Thanks to their life I realized that we do not need many people in order to change the world. Because it does not depend on the number of people who are engaged in it, but on the degree of their faith. If we serve the truth, if we have good purposes, we can achieve a lot and we do not have to be afraid. I remember when John Paul II arrived at America and told young people: ‘Go away from this corrupted generation! Be saints!’. It was the moment I realized that I had not been born to get adjusted to others, but to stand out of them. And then when I was getting to know John Paul II, his steadfast attitude and teaching, I understood that in order to move the mountains, you must have faith. But in my life it was not always so. In 1983 I did not go to meet with the Pope. I excused it with preparation for a test in Spanish which I did not do well anyway. I think that at that time I was afraid of the look of John Paul II. As if it was the touch of the thunder (laughter) which was to happen later. It happened when I was acting Christ, during filming a scene of the Sermon on the Mount.
– You often emphasize that John Paul II played an important role in your life.
– What I love in him the most is his assurance that God loves us. I perceive John Paul II as my pope. He arrived in America, he was also speaking to young artists, he raised a standard of achievements. When I heard him, I tried to find such films which contain a message and show the conversion of a man, his salvation in order to act in them. Now I am working on roads, on streets along which Karol Wojtyła had walked and I think how proud you must be that he was you compatriot. Some Americans of Polish origin are losing their faith. I feel like saying: don’t you remember that John Paul II was from your country?! After all, this pope said: ‘Totus Tuus’ and taught me why I could go to Jesus through Mary. He also used to say: ‘Do not be afraid! Sail out into the depth, cast your nets!’. (The actor perfectly imitates the Pope’s voice, quoting his words. This moment is particular to me). I understood that I cannot be satisfied with mediocrity. And I got converted, to act the role of Jesus in the film ‘Passion’.
– I read that this film impressed on you a lot.
– When I was getting prepared for this role, I began to think on faith, on Jesus more thoroughly. And I concluded that he is. I noticed it in some people I had met. Surely, He was in John Paul II. All these people resembling Jesus to me, gave me an image of Christ whose role I played.
– Were you certain that you could manage?
– I heard an inner voice that I should not play the role of Jesus, that I was not good enough. I had that thought all the time. Those were voices of the devil, he was trying to make me doubt. He used to say: ‘You are not good enough for this role. I know you, boy. I do not want to see you!’. It was not easy to face up those doubts…
– How did you cope with it?
– At such moments I recalled the story of Adam and Ewa, the question of the Creator: ‘Who told you that you are naked? I was wondering whose opinion it is that I am not good enough. First of all, I was praying.
– During making the film, you also experienced pain, suffering.
– This role nearly killed me physically. Every day, for many hours, I was having make-up done. I was struck by a thunder. I really experienced painful wounds during the flagellation. I had a heart operation, I experienced hypotherma. On the hill, during the last photo-shooting, I felt the presence of evil. It was like a haunted place, or it might have been wind which I heard…. However, I was aware that my fear was not from God. I heard an inner voice: ‘You are a dead man’. When I was going up that hill, I saw that clouds were getting lower. I was feeling fear with all my body. I was full of fears but at the same time power was in my heart. I said: ‘Devil, this is the best news which I have ever heard. I can die today but I will not die as a coward’.
And it was just the film ‘Passion’ which helped me understand the sense of Transfiguration during Eucharist. Since the time of making this film, I know that every time, it is not the same bread on the altar, but this is Jesus’ body shared. Every time He transforms on the altars of the whole world. He comes to me as the Good Shepherd.
– A lot of people accused the film makers of exposition of suffering, that the image is too cruel. What do you think about suffering?
– We like people who succeed. Such idols who are liked by everybody. Whereas Jesus is suffering. It was the most difficult part of the role to play. I was even feeling pain which He experienced. At that time I realized that Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, was suffering the most because of loneliness, that He is not loved. On the cross I was feeling suffering of Jesus, His loneliness and pain. It is us who make God suffer. Therefore I am trying to live in such a way so as not to hurt Him.
A lot of Catholics came to me to say: ‘You know, I do not like this film because there is too much suffering in it…’. They do not see, do not perceive that salvation comes through suffering. Whereas people are trying to avoid it. They turn their backs to it, depart from those who are suffering. They say that it is too difficult for them to bear. This is sad. John Paul II taught me to accept suffering.
– You are only one of very few actors in the Hollywood environment who courageously admits to faith in Christ. Is it easy to a famous believing actor?
– I love my faith and thank God for it! And this is the most important. And it often happens in life that if we reject the world, people turn their backs to us. Fearfulness is the sin of the contemporary life. A man, who wants to be liked, can get subjected to others. That is it; the world can only like you, but love comes from God. So, what do we choose? Being liked by many people makes one depart from what is the most important. You resign from being yourself. And I do not have passion or courage then. I am putting them aside. I think that love to God is reserved for knights, for real fighters, like John Paul II. I know men at my age and the older ones. They have got loads of money but are still immature little boys, teenagers. It was the film ‘Brave Heart’ in which Mel Gibson shows us a message that every man dies, but only few men are really alive. I want to live in a responsible way and my faith helps me in it. Is it easy? Surely, not, but we must try to do it!