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Jim Caviezel played Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ. Immediately after offering Caviezel the role, Gibson warned Caviezel that playing the role would damage his career.

Appearing at the First Baptist Church of Orlando in Florida on Saturday night, Caviezel revealed, “He (Gibson) said, ‘You’ll never work in this town again.’"

blog.sfgate.com

The warning came true to some degree:

Prior to filming, Gibson reportedly warned Caviezel that playing Jesus would hurt his acting career. In 2011, he admitted that good roles had been hard to come by since, but stated that this movie, in particular the role of Jesus Christ, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

wikipedia.org

Why would playing the role of Jesus Christ damage the actor's career? (Or in other words, from what hazards did Gibson warn Caviezel away from the role?) What were the specific reasons, or if none are publicly known, what are the best speculative reasons?

edit: specified that the question is why playing the role might damage Caviezel's career, not if or if not it actually did

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    Didn't seem to do any harm to Willem Defoe's career, who's had an incredible run of mainstream and indie movies. Mel Gibson's personal opinion doesn't really count for much, and a one-off example of a career that didn't reach the next level isn't exactly statistically significant.
    – iandotkelly
    May 19 at 4:28
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    The Passion of the Christ was a very controversial film, and Gibson was likely aware of that even during pre-production. It's very well possible that he wasn't referring to portraying Jesus in general, but rather to playing the lead role in this particular depiction of Jesus.
    – Philipp
    May 19 at 11:26
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    The controversy of the movie doesn't even hold water as a theory that Gibson is leaning on here. Jesus Christ Superstar was a huge mainstream hit as a musical and movie - Ted Neely isn't exactly well known today. The Last Temptation of Christ was incredibly controversial, Willem Defoe is now a well regarded and known actor.
    – iandotkelly
    May 19 at 12:09
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    @iandotkelly Willem Defoe/Last Temptation of Christ is an entirely different case. Conservative Christians HATED that movie, so "liberal Hollywood" would never blackball you for making it
    – Kevin
    May 19 at 16:09
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    Not just liberal Hollywood, but presumably the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who described it (after reading the script, but before its release) as having, "precisely the storyline that fueled centuries of anti-Semitism within Christian societies." May 19 at 18:42
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Gibson didn't give a reason so we can only speculate.

The Passion of the Christ was a controversial movie. Over and above its religious themes, it contained extreme scenes of violence and torture, and no English dialog. (Gibson originally intended to release it without subtitles, but that decision was changed). It also attracted controversy for its portrayal of Jewish leaders, particularly laying the blame for Jesus death on them. Starring in a movie that attracts negative attention can certainly damage an actor's career.

Gibson was clearly committed to the project regardless of the effects the controversy would have on his career, and may have wanted an actor who would also not back away from the project because of controversy.

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    If I understand you, you're saying that GIbson wasn't talking about playing Jesus in general, but about playing him in this particular movie.
    – Barmar
    May 19 at 15:12
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    That's what I took from the question. If there is something to indicate otherwise, it could be included in the question. It didn't hurt Robert Powell to play Jesus in Zeffirelli's work. May 19 at 15:44
  • Considered releasing it would subtitles? What an insane move that would have been. May 20 at 5:22
  • Watching a movie not spoken in your native language, what an unthinkable hardship.
    – Shadur
    May 20 at 13:55
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Has he been blackballed?

a quick look at his IMDB history shows that before Passion of the Christ he had 23 acting credits over 13 years. After he has 19 in 17 years , although this included a regular TV role on Person of interest

His lead role in a major film didn't translate into becoming an A-lister, but that could be said about many people.

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    Maybe I didn't formulate my question accurately enough. I'm not asking why this specific actor was (or maybe wasn't) blackballed, but why playing the role of Jesus Christ would damage his career. I've edited my question to reflect this.
    – sorbet
    May 19 at 4:00
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    @sorbet But this answer still stands: it points out the premise of your question is wrong, and that based solely on that fact there is no reason to assume playing the role of JC is detrimental for one's career.
    – Joachim
    May 19 at 9:52
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    The premise of the question is not wrong. The question is "Why did Gibson warn Caviezel about potential damage to his career?". Whether or not that damage came to pass does not impinge on the question. May 19 at 14:51
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    The quote from Caviezel is from 2011. So only roles between 2005 and 2011 should be counted. Also, note that he specified good roles. It's hard to know which of those roles he considered good.
    – Barmar
    May 19 at 15:08
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    I have no real insider knowledge on the thought processes that went into the warning so will leave this as a comment for now, but my suspicion would be that due to Mel's public conservative and anti-Semitic views and the perceived bias of Hollywood as being very liberal as well as having a large Jewish contingent in positions of power he might have assumed that the film would not go down with Hollywood insiders and would therefore taint anyone associated with it, especially those with major roles
    – mgh42
    May 20 at 0:49
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There is a perception (I won't go into whether or not that perception is accurate) among conservatives that "Hollywood" hates Christians and conservatives/Republicans. Therefore, portraying Jesus in a Christian movie being directed by a conservative Christian would, according to the aforementioned perception, cause Hollywood to hate you too.

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    You don't need to go into the accuracy of the perception by conservatives. However you do need to go into whether there's any possibility that it would "cause Hollywood to hate you". There's a wide spectrum of religious beliefs amongst Hollywood actors, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence of these beliefs affecting their employability. Gibson's own career was not stymied by his film choices (after The Passion of Christ, his next film was the highly successful Apocalypto) but by an antisemitic rant whilst drunk.
    – Graham
    May 20 at 14:00
  • @Graham, I will edit it to be clear, but it is implied that the result (Hollywood hating you) is as questionable as the premise (Hollywood hates Christians and conservatives)
    – Kevin
    May 20 at 14:09
  • @Kevin Your last name isn't Sorbo, by any chance? :-P
    – TylerH
    May 20 at 14:43
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There is a phenomenon where an actor becomes inextricably linked to a particular role, to the point where they have difficulty getting new roles. (See I Am Not Spock on TV Tropes1). Mel Gibson may have been thinking of this when warning Jim Caviezel.

Although based on recent Qomments, he may soon have even more trouble finding good roles.


1 Obligatory TV tropes warning

0

It's the people, not the role.

  • Jim Caviezel only plays one type of guy: dour, serious. Look at his performances in Count of Monte Cristo or Person of Interest. In those works, as well as in The Passion of the Christ, he plays the roles as a very fatalistic, driven, and detached person. Even on talk shows he is the same kind of person.

    He's also extremely open and passionate about his personal religious beliefs (as a devout Christian), which would probably make him uncomfortable to have around in a lot of Hollywood scenes... "oh here comes Jim, he's going to preach to us. He doesn't drink. He's a goody two shoes", etc... That, and Jesus movies aren't particularly good sellers in America. They tend to make people feel bad about their own shortcomings, and reminds them of the 1 to 2 hour religious sessions many of them already experience every single week at church. That's the worry that Gibson was getting at, I think.

  • Take Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings for another example, for some reason he declined the role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek, despite acting as Kirk in the pilot. We may have never known William Shatner as anything other than a bit part actor if Jeffrey Hunter had stayed on as Captain Kirk. After that Hunter kind of faded away.

Others, however, who portrayed Jesus went on to have great careers... people like Max von Sydow or Christian Bale have quite the range and huge amounts of charisma. I mean, Christian Bale is both Jesus Christ and Batman.

It's also not unique to Jesus flicks. As others have already indicated, folks like Leonard Nimoy as Spock or Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker were instantly and forever typecast/shoehorned into that role... they're so unique and memorable that real people literally can't imagine such actors as their real selves, only as the characters they portrayed.

Many heavily typecast actors don't appear to be suffering from the same fate, because they were lucky to be typecast as "action" actors... think Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, etc. and to a lesser extent people like Dwayne Johnson. You just can't picture them in a role where they aren't an action hero (even Qui-Gon or Action movies are very enjoyable experiences to repeat for audiences, because the contents of the film are novel and outlandish... so they make big bucks. Likewise, these typecast actors never seem to be out of a role.

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