The film Paul, Apostle of Christ opens in theaters nationwide on March 23. Produced by Sony’s Affirm Films label, the movie is set in the time of Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians.
The apostle Paul, played by James Faulkner, is in a Roman prison because Nero has accused him of setting half of the city on fire. St. Luke the Evangelist (played by Jim Caviezel) risks his life to visit his friend and fellow Christian. Paul’s eminent death motivates Luke, a contemporary of the apostles, to begin writing the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles.
Caviezel — known for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in the Mel Gibson film The Passion of The Christ (2004) — spoke to Catholic Digest about playing Luke (who also wrote one of the Gospels), The Passion of The Christ, and his Catholic faith.
Q: What drew you to the role of Luke?
A: I look for stories that have great redemptive qualities to them because that’s the truth that I know. Paul is the first biblical film I’ve done since The Passion of The Christ, but regardless I am still looking for great material.
When I read Paul, I immediately said, “Wow! I have to do this,” because I could see the message of the film was that “love is a greater motivator than fear.”
I learned that the name Saul means “great one,” while the name Paul means “little one.” I also learned [from Paul’s story] that in order for us to become great in the eyes of God, we have to become incredibly small. Our culture needs this message right now.
Because of my faith and how I was raised, [my focus] as an actor is: “What can I do to help affect the culture? How can I get man’s glance on redemption?”
Q: Since The Passion of The Christ, did you hope to play another biblical character?
A: No, I just look for great stories. What I loved about The Passion of The Christ script was that it wasn’t saccharin. I can’t have too much sugar in my coffee, and many religious films I see are [too sweet]. People say, “Well, we don’t use swear words, and we don’t show violence.” The Passion of The Christ had some Aramaic swear words, and it also was incredibly violent. So, you have to ask yourself, “Is it a bad film then? Is Saving Private Ryan a bad film? Is Schindler’s List a bad film?”
I don’t make Christian films. I make films that are going to affect [people]. It just so happens I believe in the universality of our [Catholic] faith — that it’s the truth and it will endure, and it did so even during the times of the Romans when Nero tried to squelch Christianity. Every generation has these big devils that seek to divide us from God.
In contrast, now and then you have an individual in history that stands up and says, “No, I am not going to do that.” Whether it be Braveheart — William Wallace — or those who stood up to the tyranny of Nazism, there are people who have the heart of St. Paul, who said, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” [Philippians 1:21].
Q: Did you do anything special to prepare for this role?
A: I go to Mass on a regular basis, pray the rosary every day, and frequent confession. The sacraments are powerful because they can help me differentiate between who I am and the character I am playing. It’s how we are different, but how we are the same.
For example, I may play a killer in a movie. I don’t go to the devil to ask how to play the killer. I go to God; God keeps it very clear for me. I have a responsibility to the audience to show [that] if you choose this way of evil, this is what is going to happen. It’s a warning. At the same time, I also try to find the grace. It can’t be all grace because if it’s all grace, then it’s sentimental hogwash. If it’s all truth, then it’s fire and brimstone. You have to find the balance between both of them. Our Church gives us that.
Q: From what I have read, I gather playing Christ was a grueling role for you. How about Luke? Was this a grueling role in any way?
A: Nothing will ever be like The Passion. Unless we do Resurrection, which could happen very soon, and that will have its own suffering. [It’s been reported that Mel Gibson is making a sequel to The Passion of The Christ that will be titled Resurrection.]
There was definitely suffering involved in The Passion of The Christ. I always look at it from the perspective, “God, why would you choose me to play these characters? You know I am a sinner. You know what I am.” A friend of mine told me a long time ago, “God doesn’t always choose the best; he chose you. So, what are you going to do about it?”
If you think Paul or Luke weren’t sinners, well, you really don’t understand humanity. A great saint once said, “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.” That right there is good enough for me to say, “All right, I can do this role.” I just let God work through me. I think that was the biggest miracle in The Passion of The Christ. I didn’t have to play Jesus. I let him play me.
Q: Why should families see Paul?
A: If love and obedience belong in a family, then families should see Paul. The themes of the film are “love is a greater motivator than fear” and “obedience.”
Does obedience belong in a family? Many families today are disobedient, and they’re broken. At least half or more are divorced families. I heard a long time ago that the family that prays together stays together. A world at prayer is a world at peace. A family praying together will bring peace into the home. A film like this causes a family to want to pray together, which will instill obedience and, more importantly, love.
Q: Why is the Paul movie important?
A: One reason the film is important is that we all struggle to forgive. Luke in the movie struggles to forgive a Roman who butchered his friend. At the same time, he had to help that Roman’s daughter from dying.
Q: Could you share a memorable moment from filming Paul?
A: I remember I was standing by the man who played Paul, James Faulkner, who has this beautiful velvet voice like Nat King Cole. [In one of the scenes,] I could hear the words coming out of his heart as he was speaking to the Romans. Hearing him say Paul’s words, I was so proud — so proud to be a Christian. I thought, This is what it means to be a Christian and why I am proud to be one.
These men were sinners like us, and despite that, they were still called to do the ultimate, which was laying down their lives for a God who has already done so for us — though many of us have forgotten this.
Q: For The Passion of The Christ film, many amazing events were reported to have taken place on the set. Was there anything unusual that happened on the set of Paul?
A: Not like that one — no lightning strikes.
Q: You’re quite open about your faith. Why?
A: I learned a long time ago that we weren’t made to fit in; we were born to stand out. The great saints, I think, [knew] that the secret was just to let God do the work. Just make one change of a letter. One change of a letter can alter the lives of millions. One change in Paul’s life going from an S [for Saul] to a P [for Paul] changed the lives of billions. Christianity would not have endured if not for Paul and the other apostles.