Enough has been written about actor James Caviezel and his sultry, mysterious eyes. This will be about his soul. But first, you must look through the window.
When you meet him, he extends his hand and introduces himself as if you really might not know who he is. Then he tips his chin, peers from beneath his dark eyebrows, and fixes you in the crosshairs of those eyes. They look more green than the blue you remember on screen.
You look into the eyes of this 33-year-old man, standing outside a cafe in Westlake Village, California, on a hot Friday afternoon. You invite him inside to talk. He holds the door open. He takes off his glasses. You begin.
Caviezel is a second-oldest child, born into a Catholic family in Mt. Vernon, Washington. He has three sisters, one brother. He is married to a woman named Kerrie, a high school English teacher. While growing up, basketball was his passion. Caviezel gently pats his chest in the region where he believes his soul resides to express how deeply he still loves the game. Some days he wishes he were in the NBA.
But he believes he was called to be an actor.
"I felt this strong feeling in my soul, yet it was very depressing, because how could I tell my dad? He'd always say, 'You don't want to get into that crap.' But it wouldn't go away, it kept surfacing, and I think Our Lady had something to do with it."
Caviezel got his start in an eighth-grade play, cast in a role no one else wanted because it had too many lines. He performed so well that people told him that he'd found his calling.
"I had the nuns telling me to be a priest," he remembers. "Everyone else was saying 'Be an actor.' So I said there are two things I do not want to be ... a priest or an actor. Well, um, I'm married right now, so if I'm going to be a priest it would have to be somewhere in the future."
Moviegoers will see Caviezel play Edmond Dantes, the lead in The Count of Monte Cristo, a Disney film based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas.
"The movie defines evil, naiveté, and what revenge does to human nature," Caviezel says.
Edmond Dantes is wrongly imprisoned as a young man. While incarcerated, he meets a priest who offers spiritual advice, education, and bequeathal of an immense fortune. Eventually Dantes escapes, collects the money, and reinvents himself as the flamboyant Count of Monte Cristo. He goes back to live among his enemies, spending the rest of his life seeking revenge.
"Dantes goes into prison believing God will give him justice. He believes God is everywhere and in everything, but eventually he loses that hope. He believes that God has abandoned him. So, he carries with him a complete void. Something has to fill that void, and what replaces hope is pure hatred," Caviezel says.
This explication produces a moment of Caviezel theology.
"I think ultimately God is not concerned with whether justice is done here on earth, but that justice is eventually done in heaven. God is in pursuit of the soul. A soul filled with hatred and revenge is not what God's after."
Caviezel says he would have preferred not to have played the Dantes role. But, he says, he does not make these decisions alone. He has lots of conversations with the patron saint of acting, St. Genesius of Arles, and St. Anthony of Padua, who helps him find scripts.
"Is Monte Cristo a moral man who does the moral thing? No. There's revenge. Then, he sleeps with Mercedes. He is very definitely an imperfect man."
Caviezel thinks a lot about the moral impact of his roles. "When Angel Eyes [first] came to me, I turned it down. I had problems with certain parts of the scenes, the love scenes," he explains.
Caviezel's eyes cloud and he lifts both hands, palms up like a balance. "It's always difficult for me. I'm sitting there going, Well, OK, do a love scene. Then I go and talk to kids about abstinence. It just doesn't work out."
After agreeing to a role, Caviezel relies on faith to get him through it. "Every film I do, I feel like I cannot do it. It's [when I am in] that complete void, that complete place of nothingness that I call out to St. Genesius. But that's where I have to be to allow God Almighty to help fill me, to get me where I need to be."
Caviezel says he has always been a strong Catholic, but there were times when he was less faithful.
"I always felt this hand on my back, and I would go like this (he swats the air). I would go my own way and eventually this gentle hand would be there. I would always say that was [the Blessed Mother] guiding me the right way."
A former altar server, he maintains a special affinity for the Mass. "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Every time I ever tried to get away from it..."
His voice trails off.
When he left Washington for California, Caviezel says he did get lost. He never stopped believing in God; rather, he compartmentalized, ignoring the connection between his actions and his faith. Begging off specifics, he says simply that his behavior was less than Christlike.
"I remember one night, walking down a street, an alley. The fluorescent lights were on, the show of Hollywood. I remember thinking, If I feel this empty right now, if God graces me with success, I will be miserable. I [do not believe] my flesh and my soul are separate. How I sin in my life hurts here."
He points to his chest again.
Caviezel's faith has grown in fits and starts. Some of his spiritual awakenings revolve around the Blessed Mother, the Rosary, and Medjugorje, Bosnia, where many believe the Virgin Mary has been appearing since 1981. He visited the site in November 2000.
And he recalls the first night he prayed with Ivan Dragicevic, a visionary from Medjugorje who travels the world speaking about Mary, drawing inspiration from his daily visions. At first, Caviezel was doubtful about Ivan and his visions, but praying with Dragicevic changed the actor's mind.
"I said to Ivan, 'Hey, I'm here, is she in this room?' " Dragicevic assured him that Mary was there, so Caviezel prayed, saying, "I don't know if I can believe you're here, but if you are, go ahead and microwave me. Go ahead and do whatever you have to do to my soul." He felt a sudden, encompassing peace. "It was one of the most beautiful days of my life," he says.
Now, Caviezel wears a gold medal of Our Lady of Medjugorje on the gold chain around his neck, one of the trinity of medals that hangs there. He also has a cross-shaped scapular that declares: "I am a Catholic, please call a priest." The third depicts Pope John Paul II.
Caviezel grows animated as he explains how Mary brings him closer to her Son Jesus, whose presence in the Eucharist is so meaningful to him. The Eucharist, he explains, inspires him to turn away from sin. That, in turn, makes his prayer life more sincere.
"Then grace is bestowed on me. That allows me to have an [even] more meaningful prayer life. It gives me a reason why I should be here. And from there you hit the road to becoming a saint. And that's what God is calling all of us to be, to be saints."