Story by: Jack Foley
PLENTY of actors have suffered for their art, but few would appear
to have gone through the ordeal that Passion of the Christ star,
Jim Caviezel, went through, in order to depict the final 12 hours
of Christs life.
Having been selected by director, Mel Gibson, at an early stage
in the development process, Caviezel, who is a practising Catholic,
set about trying to deliver as authentic a portrayal of Jesus
as he possibly could - going to extreme lengths on several occasions.
But not even he could have anticipated the journey the role would
take him on.
"For day after day of filming, I was spat upon, beaten up,
flagellated, and forced to carry a heavy cross on my back, in
the freezing cold. It was a brutal experience, almost beyond description.
But I considered it all worth it to play this role."
Gibson was adamant, from the outset, that he intended to film
Christs suffering with as much authenticity as possible,
never flinching from the chaos and violence that Christ was swept
up in, according to accounts.
Even for Caviezel, the torment Jesus endures throughout the film
was terrifying, but a necessary part of realising Gibsons
"No one has ever showed Jesus in this way before, and I
think Mel is showing the truth," he maintains. "Mel
hasnt used violence for violences sake, and it has
never felt gratuitous.
"I do think the realism will probably shock people, but
that is why the film is so incredibly powerful."
During the demanding production, Caviezel had to face his own
physical vulnerabilities in a profound way.
In one of the films most graphic sequences, Chris is scourged
- or whipped - extensively, then further flayed with an infamous
Roman torture device, known as a flagrum, or the cat o
nine tails - a whip designed with multiple straps and embedded
with barbed metal tips to catch and shred the skin and cause considerable
To capture Christs resulting wounds, Caviezel had to undergo
gruelling, full-body make-up sessions that lasted for hours. But
such was the extent of the make-up, it quickly became an irritant,
and caused his body to blister, preventing him from sleeping during
He also spent more than two weeks filming the crucifixion scenes,
during which he had to carry, or more often drag, under great
duress, a 150-pound cross (about half the weight of a real crucifixion
cross) to Golgotha, and later be suspended from it.
Caviezel trained for the torturous positions he would have to
stand in by holding squats against a wall for up to ten minutes
at a time, and lifting weights to strengthen his lower back.
In addition, he spent these weeks working in a loin cloth in
the middle of the Italian Winter, and experienced several bouts
with hypothermia, often becoming so cold that he could no longer
speak. At times, the crew had to put heat packs on his frozen
face, just to warm up his lips enough to move.
It was fire and ice, almost literally, for Caviezel, culminating
in one of the most shocking moments on the set, when both he and
assistant director, Jan Michelini, were struck by lightning while
shooting in the midst of a thunderstorm.
The bolt went right through Michelinis umbrella and zapped
Caviezel as well, yet, fortunately, neither man was seriously
The toll of physical and mental stress did not stop there, however,
as Caviezel also suffered a lung infection at one point, as well
as an excruciating shoulder dislocation, and numerous cuts and
But he remains remarkably candid about the whole process, stating:
"If I hadnt gone through all that, the suffering would
never have been authentic. It had to be done."
Needless to say, the actor feels that the role has changed his
life: "Im no longer afraid of doing the right thing.
Im now more afraid of not doing the right thing."
In Caviezels case, however, the suffering would appear
to have been worth it, for no matter what people think of the
movie itself, most have praised his performance.
Gibson, too, was impressed with his stars dedication, stating:
"Jim is just perfect. He doesnt actually make one single
mistake, anywhere, in this film.
"Its perfectly unflawed. He just was. You never see
him acting or anything, he just was, he was Jesus. Theres
nothing that takes your attention away from that, you can just
watch him and think Wow. Thats Jesus."
But perhaps the most significant achievement to have emerged,
thus far, from his performance, was being granted a brief meeting
with Pope John Paul II, who blessed him in the presence of his
wife and parents-in-law.