Jim Caviezel has had memorable roles in movies like "Pay it Forward," "High Crimes," and "Frequency," but he is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
In Caviezel's new film, "The Stoning of Soraya M."—based on the novel of the same name by French writer Freidoune Sahebjam—he plays a journalist who learns about a small Muslim community's dark secret. Academy Award-nominated actress Shorhreh Agdashloo plays Zahara, the woman who tells the heart-breaking story of her niece Soraya.
A conservative Catholic, Caviezel spoke to Beliefnet's Entertainment Editor Dena Ross about why we need to be more like the Good Samaritan and his hopes for making people's lives better through his work.
As a Christian, what was it like immersing yourself in Muslim culture for your role in the new movie? Did you learn anything new about the religion or the culture that you hadn't known before?
Oh, it was interesting. There was a man when I first got there, he was a Sunni Muslim. He drove me around. He [brought] my luggage to my [hotel] room, and he says, "I cannot believe I'm driving the man who played Jesus!" So, right away, I thought we were in a good spot there.
But he had a very peaceful countenance to him. We had a situation where we had to go across the border, and the guards were giving us a hard time. And he had a great, calm countenance to himself, and got out of the car and basically let them have it. I was in real good hands there.
Did you know much about stoning before you took on the role?
I knew that, yes, stoning existed, but [not] to the degree [that it does]. It's very hard to accept that stoning still exists in the world today. I was floored to realize that this story was relatively recent. However, I was also caught by the universality of the story.
While the stoning is an extreme example, power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous, whether it is another part of the world or down the street.
In the film, the power is based in religion. It is particularly frightening to me to recognize that people can misuse religion in such extreme and frightening ways. I was also drawn to the courage of many of the characters, particularly the two ladies, and, of course, the journalist that I was asked to play, [who was] in a community where no one spoke up or stopped to question out of fear. It was intriguing to work on a character who was an outsider and who was willing to risk his life.The character I played, Freidoune, was tried in absentia and sentenced to death for perceived anti-Iranian writings from this book. He was in hiding for a number of years. About 48 hours before I was going to meet him, he died. I would think that probably bringing the whole story back was as much disturbing to him to have to live this whole thing over again.
Do you think that the new movie is going to affect people of faith the same way Passion of the Christ did?
Well, in the "Passion of the Christ," even though we don't go into this particular story, but in one of Jesus' sermons he talks about the Good Samaritan, where you have a man who was beaten up on the side of the road. Two people come by, one being a regular [man] and the other who was a priest, and they [each] did nothing. They sat there and watched the guy and went past [him thinking] "None of my business."
And so, the man that comes and helps him is his enemy, supposedly, the Good Samaritan. Picks him up, puts him on his camel, and takes him to the hotel and provides for him, and then tells the innkeeper, "Hey, I'll be back in a while, and I'll give you more than you basically need."
And he said, and Jesus is telling us, "That's what you need to do as Christians." So much of the time we try to convert through either judging or saying they're Muslim or they're another religion. Is it possible that, if we lived our faith, that people would want to be like us? And so much of the time they are repelled by it because of the lack of love, the lack of calm, the lack of peace, and really no strength.
It's really until the last 30, 40 years where Christians have become amalgamated to the world--not being able to accept the cross, not being able to accept suffering. And that's part of the secular environment here, where we live every day in this place of "You deserve more. You deserve this." We don't deserve anything. [It's] just by grace that we're here and that we have to live our lives for Heaven, and to understand that, whether it is this story or the Christ one. The Christ [story] kind of hits [Christians] over the head because they can identify that, but [the question is] can they find the Christ in this [story]?
The point I'm trying to make is that you go to church on Sunday. But the real Christ is out there in your life every day, whether it be the guy you help on the street, how you live your life, and your countenance that makes people want to be you. And that comes with suffering, and part of that suffering is what draws others into it. It shines a light upon them [and] it's a part of the persecution that [Jesus] underwent as well.