Jim Caviezel, the Catholic actor best known for playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and the current co-star of CBS’ Person of Interest, also has ties to Western Washington. Caviezel was born and raised in Mount Vernon and played high school basketball at both O’Dea High School and John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Seattle. He still has a home in the area.
Caviezel’s latest film, When the Game Stands Tall, focuses on the championship football team at California Catholic school De La Salle High School. The team famously won 151 games in a row before its unsurpassed winning streak ended with a loss to Bellevue High School at a 2004 game played in Seattle.
At a June screening of the film for Catholic media, Caviezel said his personal faith leads him to projects involving “redeemable characters.” After the screening, Northwest Catholic sat down with Caviezel for a few more questions.
Interview by Anna Weaver
Did your own experience as a high school athlete influence your decision to do When the Game Stands Tall?
[Playing basketball] was a major part of my life. I went to Mount Vernon for two years and then O’Dea and then Kennedy to play. You reach your last shot at making the state tournament and being a big part of that [final game]. We had to play Mercer Island because they had lost the previous night to Mountain View. They weren’t going to lose a game twice in a row. The level of what I felt in that game was a level of fearlessness in not letting my teammates down, and I connected to that same love that I read in this script. I think that in all the roles I play, there may not be a redemption side to my character, but the story has a redemptive quality to it. That connects me to my faith.
The film mostly focuses on the De La Salle football team after their historic winning streak ends and the team’s struggle to work better together post-streak. What was appealing about that plotline?
Taking the harder road, the road less traveled, it’s really the right way to take. [De La Salle head coach Bob] Ladouceur does that with his team. In other words, if I’m a great running back and I can run faster than the wind blows, I come into Lad’s school and I think I’m a big deal or whatever. Well, your ego is going to get shot up pretty good. He’s about a team and not “I” and “me.” He connects it all to love.
Ladouceur tells his players he doesn’t want them to be perfect but he does want them to put in “a perfect effort,” in football and beyond. Do you see a larger connection between that phrase and faith?
There are two parts of it. There’s the world and then there’s that inner self and what motivates you, what gets you up in the morning, what gets you burning inside. In the movie he says, “We’re not asking you to play a perfect game. That’s impossible. What we’re asking of you and what you should be asking of yourselves is to give a perfect effort on every play from snap to whistle so that you can be depended on. Love means I can count on you and you can count on me.” One of the first things I noticed in documentary footage on him, is how those boys looked at him, how they stare at him. Their eyes are glossed over, and when the eyes are that glossed, it’s because something’s burning in their hearts. It makes me go back to that game when we played Mercer Island and my heart was on fire.
What do you think Catholics can take away from the film?
Like our saints, you’re going to experience adversity, but it’s what you do with that adversity [that matters]. The saints just kept getting back up. It’s not how hard you’re going to hit somebody in a football game. It’s how hard you’re gonna get hit and if you dare get back up. The saints always got back up.
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NORTHWEST CATHOLIC - Sept. 2014