Jon Voight on John Paul

The actor discusses what it's like to portray one of the most beloved--and most recorded--figures in recent history.

This interview originally ran in 2005.

Winner of the Academy Award for his portrayal of a paralyzed Vietnam vet in 1978's "Coming Home," actor Jon Voight is best known for his roles in controversial films like "Midnight Cowboy" and "Deliverance." Now, however, he's playing a beloved pope on the fast track to sainthood: John Paul II, who in his 27-year pontificate contributed to the collapse of Communism, battled secularism, and upheld the culture of life. Voight appears in the second half of the two-part CBS miniseries "Pope John Paul II," airing on Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. He spoke to Beliefnet about the challenges and rewards of portraying a towering religious and historical figure.

To prepare for this role, you read some of John Paul II's writings and watched a lot of footage of him. In researching his life, what struck you most?

When you have a person who's the most recorded person in history, you have a lot of information coming at you, and it's him-not people talking about him, but him. You can look at his behavior, feel his emotion, see how he touches people, hear his own words in your language, because he spoke so many languages. It's a treasury that's a tremendous gift for all of us.

I'm thinking, with all this available, why do we need a fictionalized portrait? But I found that interpreting him was a great joy for me, and I felt we did bring some things to the table that made it a responsible contribution.

What were some of those things?

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Jon Voight on John Paul II's character
When you talk to some of the people who knew him best, certain things sprang up: his toughness, his sense of humor. He was really a funny person. His wit and his sense of fun were really quite delicious. When I say toughness, I mean strength. He didn't suffer fools easily. He knew what was going on. He was a strong person, so when things were amiss he knew how to step in and take charge.

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