Jim Caviezel: He Got Game

He's ardently faithful to his wife, favors conservative Republicans and once planned either to play pro basketball or join the priesthood. What's Jim Caviezel doing in Hollywood?

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Have I got a fish-out-of-water story for you. It's called "Jim Caviezel in Hollywood." Although he's been making movies for almost 10 years, there's a clear case to be made for why 31 -year-old Caviezel, the tall, dark, chiseled actor who costars with Dennis Quaid in the time-travel drama Frequency, is actually far removed from the Tinseltown mainstream.

Exhibit A: In an industry full of egos that run as wild is the bulls of Pamplona. Caviezel still doesn't mind auditioning. Indeed, though he was the star of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line last year, he auditioned for Frequency director Gregory Hoblit. "I don't think Greg had seen The Thin Red Line," he says with no attitude whatsoever. Nor does Caviezel gnash his teeth after being edited out of a film, as he was on Any Given Sunday. "I had a nice day working with Al Pacino," he tells me. "I played his son.'' Even being turned down for jobs is OK by him. "I'm up for director Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, but I'll probably lose that one," he says with a shrug. "It keeps my ego in check. It's good to be humbled.' Would somebody please mention this to Madonna?

Exhibit B: Caviezel's still married to the high school English teacher he met on a Wind date in 1993. Not even after The Thin Red Line, when the temptations of celebrity came nipping at his heels, did he think to stray. On the subject of the babefest that is Hollywood, he echoes Coleridge... "There's lotta water around here and nothing to drink.' On the subject of his wife, he rhapsodizes, "I'm lucky to be with Kern. It's more important what she thinks of me than what others do." He and his wife don't have children, but, he says, "We're trying."

Exhibit C: While many of his movie star cronies are sleeping off sybaritic Saturday nights, Caviezel and his wife spend their Sunday mornings swimming across a mile of Santa Monica Bay.

"Aren't you worried about sharks?"

"Yeah, but I want to overcome that fear. Challenges make me better."

Exhibit D: In Hollywood, where big shots funnel millions into campaign coffers, most Industryites gather nearer to Tim Robbins's pro-choice liberal camp than Charlton Heston's NRA bunker. So where does Caviezel line up? Behind Alan Keyes, a Republican who's anti-abortion and whose favorite form of birth control is (producers, hold your ears) sexual abstinence. It occurs to me that if Caviezel weren't acting, he could be one of those earnest, well-dressed gentlemen who show up at your door and hand you pages of Scripture. In fact, Caviezel once considered becoming a priest, and one of his favorite singing groups is called For Him, "They sing Christian pop, and their lyrics are deep."

The question, then, is how did this softspoken, morally upright, philosophical chiropractors son from rural Washington ever end up in the Sodom of the Southland? I wonder if, on gloomy Saturdays. Caviezel haunted the local multiplex and dreamed of a land beyond the apple orchards. Surely there must have been role models who inspired his move to Hollywood. I expect to hear names like James Dean or Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. Instead, I'm told that his major influence was Eric "Sleepy" Floyd.

"Who?"

Caviezel explains that for the first 21 years of his life, acting meant nothing to him. Basketball was his passion, and his gift for mimicry was first applied to basketball moves. "I watched Sleepy Floyd, who played for Georgetown. He had this great rake crossover move, and I worked on it until I could do it like Sleepy.' Caviezel would do the same thing with people's voices--in fact, he got his movie debut as an airline clerk in 1991's My Own Private Idaho by tricking the casting agent into believing he was really an Italian immigrant. I ask if I can hear a few impressions, and between bites of his Cobb salad (hold the bacon) he does dead-on renditions of Bill Murray; and Terrence Malick.

Because by professional basketball standards the six-foot-one Caviezel was height-challenged, he was open to the suggestion that he audition for a dinner theater production of Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn. An agent who saw him told him that he had what it took to be an actor. "I needed someone to say that because I never would have believed it, he says. "I was never interested in any of it."

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