Photo by Albert
Watson © Spyglass Entertainment Group, LP
Even though Jim Caviezel's acting career is only 12 years old, his résumé and depth
of talent would make even a seasoned actor squirm in envy. He has worked with such
acclaimed directors as Gus Van Sant, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee and Terrence Malick. He
has shared the screen with such high-powered actors as Nick Nolte, Andre Braugher,
Helen Hunt and the legendary Richard Harris.
He has been critically acclaimed for his performances in The Thin Red Line, Frequency,
Pay It Forward and Angel Eyes. Jim's latest film, The Count of Monte
Cristo, which opened nationwide on January 25, may just launch him to even
Put simply, Jim Caviezel, 33, is emerging as a major player in the movie industry.
But all of the fame and adulation that he has achieved run a distant fifth to the
top priorities in his life: a deep-seated love for God, a successful marriage with
his wife, Kerri, and his family and friends.
When Jim sat down with St. Anthony Messenger last November at a stylish restaurant
called Marmalade Café in Westlake Village, California, he was on the threshold of
the publicity whirlwind for The Count. Jim's casual attireblack T-shirt,
khaki pants and a bomber jacketis in contrast to what is expected of a movie
star. But then again, he's unlike most stars in the business.
Wearing a golden cross around his neck, Jim almost immediately begins making the
connection between his lifelong spirituality and his career as an actor.
"I have no doubt that God put me in this business. When I was a teenager in a movie
theater in my hometown, I felt this huge pain in my chest, like a voice saying, 'Please
get into this businessthis is what I need for you to do.' And I asked, 'But
who am I? I know nothing about acting. I don't know any actors. I've never taken
any classes,'" he says.
Jim's self-doubt was evident but, nevertheless, a roadway to cinematic success was
already being laid.
Hoop Dreams to Movie Stardom
Jim's hometown of Mount Vernon, Washington, is a far cry from the bright lights
of Hollywood. Born in 1968 to a close-knit Catholic family, Jim dreamed of little
else but playing in the NBA. "Most people saw me with a basketball, working on my
dribbling, shooting, defense." His parents, Jim and Maggie, nurtured all the dreams
of their three daughters and two sons, provided those aspirations didn't interfere
"We always went to Mass. No matter what, we always went. It has always been a safe-keeper
for all of us and the one thing that's been very consistent in our lives. I think
the old saying, 'The family that prays together, stays together,' is very true," he
Jim played basketball throughout high school and early college, but when a foot
injury benched his NBA hopes, he sought a different career path. Armed with a talent
in mimicry, Jim answered his calling and, while in Seattle, auditioned in 1990 for
a role in Gus Van Sant's independent feature My Own Private Idaho.
After fooling casting agents into believing he was a recent Italian immigrant, he
won a role as a foreign airline clerk. It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-him scene,
but it was enough incentive for Jim to pack his bags for Los Angeles, eager for more
But bigger roles were hard to come by. Jim waited tables and labored in bit parts
on television and in movies before flirting with academia. He auditioned for New
York's Juilliard School of Drama and, to his surprise, was accepted, but education
would have to wait. At the time of his acceptance, Jim landed a role in 1994's Wyatt
Earp, a western starring Kevin Costner.
His personal life would take an upswing as well when, in 1996, he married his girlfriend,
Kerri, a high school English teacher whom he had met on a blind date three years
earlier. Jim described his feelings for Kerri in an interview with Caroline Eichenberg
of You! Magazine. "My greatest joy right now is that I know I met somebody
who loves me...but loves God more....I know I will see God, and I know she will,
too," he said.
With his faith as his foundation and Kerri as a source of great strength, Jim once
again focused on his career. He had only a short wait before capturing the role that
would change the course of his life forever.
In 1996, renowned director Terrence Malick, who helmed such '70s classics as Badlands and Days
of Heaven, began holding auditions for his first film in some 20 years, the
World War II epic The Thin Red Line. Most of Hollywood clamored to work
with the celebrated director. Not only did Jim win a part in the film, but he even
nabbed one of its five principal leads, no small feat considering the movie boasted
an array of big-screen heavyweights that included John Travolta, Sean Penn, Nick
Nolte, George Clooney and John Cusack.
Jim's audition alone was a memorable one. En route to meeting with Malick at his
home, Jim felt a need to say the rosary. As he made his way to the director's front
door, he realized that he still had the beads clenched in his hand.
When a woman Jim believed was the maid greeted him, he saw that she was wearing
a miraculous medal. Assuming she was Catholic, Jim, for reasons he can't explain,
felt compelled to give her the rosary.
Stunned, the woman confessed that she had recently lost a rosary that a friend had
given her from Mother Teresa. "She said, 'I prayed this morning that I would get
another one and you walked in and gave this to me.'" To his astonishment, the woman
wasn't a maid; she was Terrence Malick's wife. This has led Jim to believe that,
although God put him on this path, it is the Blessed Mother who has been his guide,
shepherding him through his career.
"I prayed the rosary and it took me to another level. She's been guiding me in this
career. I feel her hand, I feel her drawing me to her son. I feel her for what she
is: She is full of grace and giving me grace in times when I don't even deserve it," he
Winning a leading role in The Thin Red Line proved to be an auspicious new
beginning. Jim's performance as the self-sacrificing, conscience-driven Private Witt
was a triumph, as was the film, which received seven Academy Award nominations, including
Best Picture. Suddenly, Jim graduated from playing minor parts in mostly forgettable
films to being one of the most versatile actors of his generation.
Jim followed this success with Ang Lee's Civil War epic Ride With the Devil,
but made a bigger splash in 2000 with the drama/thriller Frequency. As John
Sullivan, Jim played a New York homicide detective who, through an old ham radio,
contacts his dead father, played by Dennis Quaid, 30 years in the past. Although
the film wasn't a colossal hit in theaters, its popularity has grown, achieving wide
success on video.
With those films under his belt, Jim had the credentials to demand leading roles,
but he scoffed at convention, opting for the supporting role of Jerry, the homeless
heroin addict in Mimi Leder's Pay It Forward, co-starring Haley Joel Osment,
Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. In his next film, Angel Eyes, Jim played Catch,
a man damaged by the loss of his wife and son but who is emotionally resurrected
through his love for a hardened police officer, played by Jennifer Lopez.
Despite these successes, Jim still wrestles with doubt and uncertainty when approaching
a character. "When I begin a role, I start again and I say, 'I can't act. I don't
know what to do.' I have to start all over again and find who this guy is.
"I always come to a place of complete vulnerability, so much so that it brings me
to my knees, and prayer becomes a major part of allowing God above to do any kind
of work he wants me to do," he says.
on a Challenging Role
Falling back on his faith would prove essential for Jim when tackling Alexandre
Dumas's classic The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Kevin Reynolds and
co-starring Guy Pearce, Dagmara Dominczyk and Richard Harris.
In arguably the most demanding role of his career, Jim plays Edmond Dantes, a noble
but naïve young sailor who is unjustly accused of treason and jailed in a deplorable
underground cell for 13 years. He escapes his captors, comes into a sizable fortune
and, with "the Count of Monte Cristo" as his new identity, systematically avenges
those who betrayed him.
Jim spent months mastering the art of fencing and hours in the make-up chair each
morning. Although the physical requirements were considerable, the emotional and
psychological demands were even greater.
Edmond Dantes endures a vast evolution in the film: a kind of spiritual and existential
roller coaster. He starts out idealistic and virtuous, loses his faith after years
of imprisonment and, after executing his intricate plan, reestablishes a bond with
"Edmond's faith is challenged and he believes in it to such an extent that he loses
it. That void must be filled, and I felt that had to be accurate," Jim says. "If
being a count is what makes you someone, then my character finally says, 'I'll be
a count and I'll be one greater than anyone has ever been.'"
Jim says he survived the rigors of filming largely due to God's presence. One day
when they were shooting in Malta, a massive rainstorm hit. Director Kevin Reynolds
desperately needed to shoot the scene, and, miraculously, the clouds directly above
them parted. Every inch of land around them and for miles beyond was saturated with
heavy rain, except for the small area where they were filming. The moment the scene
was shot, the clouds above them closed once again and a hard rain began to fall.
Cast and crew alike stood in amazement at their good fortune.
"I have no doubt that God's hand had a part in this film. I feel there was something
divine going on when we were making this," he says.
Will Give Me Justice'
The Count of Monte Cristo, which I was fortunate enough to preview at Disney
Studios in Burbank, California, isn't simply an adrenalin-fueled swashbuckler of
swordplay and intrigue. The film, which is rated PG-13, tackles an assortment of
weighty issues, but the pounding theme behind it is the same message carved on the
stone wall of Edmond's cell: "God Will Give Me Justice."
Jim says, "My character is so consumed with hatred. A big thing that was going through
my mind was a ticking clock: Will this guy get his salvation or will he go down in
hatred? Will hatred fill him?"
Because of Edmond's long and undeserved imprisonment, he feels cruelly abandoned
by God. After he escapes, Edmond tries to fill the abyss of his soul with animosity
and retribution, before realizing that vengeance is a directionless journey. It is
placing one's complete faith in God that offers a clearer road to salvation. "It's
in you to want [revenge], but God will give you justice. God will take care of you.
My character is full of hatred and revenge and, finally, he comes full circle," Jim
Looking back on the experience, Jim is often reminded of the scenes he shared with
Richard Harris, who plays Abbé Faria, an old priest who is also wrongfully imprisoned
and who educates an embittered Edmond.
"One of my favorite lines in the film," Jim says, "is when Richard's character says
to Edmond, 'Remember, don't commit the crime for which you now serve. God sayeth:
Vengeance is mine.' Edmond replies, 'I don't believe in God,' and then Richard's
character responds, 'It doesn't matter, he believes in you.'
"Things like that drove me to the role, knowing that we might be able to make something
wonderful here," Jim says.
It may seem contradictory that a young actor can be so grounded in his faith and
survive the sometimes murky waters of Hollywood. But Jim is able to keep the two
worlds apart, separate and entirely unequal, with priorities unscathed. Mass is something
that anchors him.
"Mass is everything to me. It is my life and that's what it all revolves around.
So you ask, 'What does it feel like to be Catholic in Hollywood?' That's who I am."
That doesn't mean that Jim is blind to life's temptations. "I have a wife that I
have to be responsible to, and there are always temptations out there. Adam and Eve
lived in the Garden of Eden and they gave up quite a bit to have a nice taste of
an apple. Well, I'm in the Garden of Eden and I'm going to be held accountable for
everything I do.
"Chasing the world, chasing riches or fame or fortune isn't going to make me any
happier. In fact, from everyone I've talked to, once you win an award or have a hit
film, you want another, but it won't fill the void," he says.
Jim is more concerned about living a life of integrity than he is about impressing
critics or scoring at the box office. And although Jim is humble, he is aware that
he's been given a remarkable gift. He is also mindful of how responsible he must
be with that gift. "Everybody has a Michael Jordan talent. But even so, when much
is given, much is expected, and much is expected of me in my profession.
"As an actor, I have to take it upon myself to serve the people. That will help
check your ego at the door. People say to me, 'Wow, that's a great film.' My response
is: 'HeyI'll give glory to God for that one.'"
Jim's need to keep God as the focal point of his life is evident in a tradition
that he shares with the team of people who work for him. Once, while riding to work,
he and his driver, Michael, prayed the rosary together. From that day forward, Jim,
and anyone else who wishes to join him, keep their beads within reach.
"We start our day off the right way, in prayer, in total submission to God, and
allow this to be God's work," he says.
And God's work can be filled with frustration, but Jim is philosophical about his
career; he realizes that there are no guarantees. "I don't know how much longer it'll
last," he says. "You only get one shot in this business and I want to make sure that
I do the right thing. Sometimes it's difficult."
He often questions the violence and profanity in films, including his own, and understands
that he may endure criticism from people who question the authenticity of his beliefs
when one of his characters commits an act that is less than honorable.
But to Jim, acting allows him that very freedom, to inhabit characters whose motivations
and ideologies may not necessarily correlate with his own. It's simply a part of
the job. Therefore, as an artist, Jim has no objection to journeying into the heart
of an evil character, provided it's a worthwhile endeavor. "I look for projects that
are redeemable. I love playing different characters and searching for the message
of the story," he says.
Jim is delighted that he's been able to do quality work consistently, but is still
thirsty for new opportunities in his field. Worried that he might be typecast as
the troubled, sullen leading man, Jim says that he's been searching high and low
for a well-crafted romantic comedy. Given his love and proficiency for humor (which
includes, among other things, a mean impersonation of actor Christopher Walken),
it should only be a matter of time before he finds one.
Jim insists that his job as an actor has been a calling, not only to entertain,
but also to serve others. His father, a chiropractor, once conveyed some words of
wisdom about his medical career that Jim now uses to encapsulate his own. "My dad
said to me once, 'You can look at a job as a lot of money to be had, or as a service
to other people.'" Jim has obviously chosen the latter.
"So when people have pain in their lives and they go to a film, I want them to get
away from it for a while, to take a journey and maybe say, 'Hey, there is hopeI
know that there's something better out there.' Hopefully, I'll continue to get the
opportunity to do that."
And Jim is interested in accompanying people on their journey. Occasionally, he
will buy a ticket to one of his own films, sneak into the darkened theater, quietly
take a seat in the back and observe an audience's honest, unrehearsed responses. "I
love thatto get the live feedback and to see the audience enjoy something.
That excites me as an actor."
Jim Caviezel looks forward to making more films, wrestling with challenging and
redeemable characters, doing his part to offer at least a fleeting moment of hope
and escapism to those who are willing to take the journey with him.