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You’ll best remember Jim Caviezel as Jesus in The Passion – until you see him as a deranged bomber in Déjà vu, starring with Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer in Tony Scott’s new thriller with a time-warp twist. He gets dark and dangerous, to scare the bejeezus out of us - which is what he was asked to do, as he tells Andrew L. Urban.

Contrary to the story that is banging about on the internet that Jim Caviezel refused to play a love scene with his on-screen wife Ashley Judd in High Crimes (2002) because of his fervent religious beliefs, he actually talked the director Carl Franklin, out of the scene. “I didn’t refuse to do the sex scene,” he says when asked about the story, “I just felt it was gratuitous … there was no need for it. I feel the same way about gratuitous violence …” While he doesn’t rankle at the topic, he does make the point that when he gets a tradesman to do a job – say, a decorator – he doesn’t ask the man about his religion. “I just expect him to do the job well.”

"the film’s darkest character"

Caviezel has certainly done his job well in Déjà vu, playing Carroll Oerstadt, the film’s darkest character, a man who sets off a bomb on a New Orleans ferry. It’s not gratuitous; it’s the central event that triggers the story. The extent of the transformation that was needed is evident as Caviezel sits cross legged, his feets encased in stylish brown-white brogues. His silk shirt is a muted pale green, matching smart slacks. Short, black hair is unfussed and his eyes pierce the calm Sydney morning as a minder – an elderly gent – sits behind him, doodling. Outside, a young personal trainer exchanges small talk with the publicity team. Caviezel is quiet and even a little intense at first, but after a few minutes he becomes more animated as we talk about his work on the film – with some of Hollywood’s biggest names: producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott and stars Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer.

Bruckheimer, the epitome of a hands on producer, fielded all the questions during a pre-production media and mayoral meeting in New Orleans, where the locals – in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, wanted reassurance that their town wasn’t going to be exploited. Caviezel found Bruckheimer not only totally involved every day, but a pleasant, often entertaining boss. “If you don’t hear anything from Jerry Bruckheimer you know you’re doing a good job.” Caviezel never heard from him – except to be invited to join the producer and Tony Scott for dinner, where they found a common interest: “nice fast cars”. Caviezel has one; “one too many, according to my wife,” Bruckheiner has several. (Caviezel lives with his wife, Kerri, a school teacher whom he met on a blind date in 1993 and married in 1997.)

After a bomb explodes on a New Orleans ferry with devastating consequences, FTA Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is asked by FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) to assist them to investigate and recover evidence. During his investigation, he discovers that a beautiful young woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), found dead in the water, had been killed prior to the explosion. Carlin is assigned to a new unit that uses secret, advanced technology enabling multi-angle surveillance by satellites, but can only be decoded and compiled with a four day delay. But this technology turns out to be something other than surveillance. Carlin believes that by viewing footage of Claire, they could discover the identity of the terrorist responsible for detonating the bomb.

"dark terrain"

For Caviezel to play Oerstadt, he had to get into some dark terrain and he made a conscious effort not ‘defend’ himself as the actor. “Some actors let you see that they’re not really like that bad guy … but that’s just protection and it doesn’t create a real character. If it’s dark, then that’s where you have to go; and when I look at people like the 911 bombers, it all comes back to destiny. They all think they are good … but if there are many truths, there can’t be one truth. But when you see my character being interrogated in the film, there’s a point where the guy’s arrogance has to come out, where his narcissism kicks in.” That was one of the keys to the character for Caviezel. “You see his horns come out!”

As the bombing’s prime suspect, Oerstadt, Jim Caviezel was especially put to the test, over and over again. In one riveting scene, Oerstadt is smashed right through with a car—which necessitated that Caviezel shoot the stunningly realistic scene inside a steel cage for his own safety. Notes the actor, “They put me in a cage and then ran two cars into me. It took everything in me not to say no. All I kept thinking was if this cage collapses, there go my legs.”

Caviezel also had to shoot physically demanding MP-5 machine guns. To prepare, he trained in preproduction with ATF agents who let him feel the full throttle of these powerful weapons by practicing with live rounds. “I knew my gun-toting had to look believable for the scene to get the intensity it deserves. Even though on film I had blanks, I wanted to show that realistic torque and pressure. Especially against Denzel Washington. I had to prepare on the highest level.”

The Washington born actor remained relatively unnoticed in small roles and even thought about quitting acting until 1998 when he received critical recognition for his role as idealist Private Witt in The Thin Red Line (1998). The following year, he gained further recognition with roles in Ride with the Devil (1999) and Frequency (2000). In 2001, his role as Jennifer Lopez's love interest in Angel Eyes (2001) helped to establish him as a versatile actor and leading man. But it was Mel Gibson’s decision to cast him as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ (2004) that made Caviezel a recognised star.

Published January 18, 2007

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