NEW YORK – Jim Caviezel is best known for playing Jesus in the hugely controversial 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ.” But the 43-year-old native of Washington state has been on the Hollywood radar since his mesmerizing performance as pacifist Pvt. Witt in director Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” in 1998. Caviezel is currently starring in the hit CBS series “Person of Interest” (Thursdays at 9 p.m.), in which he plays John Reese, an ex-CIA hit man who turns crime fighter in partnership with a computer genius played by Michael Emerson.
Lewis Beale interviewed the actor during a break in the show’s production, during which Caviezel was extremely uncomfortable discussing “The Passion” and declined to comment on his well-reported conservative political beliefs.
Q. What attracted you to “Person of Interest”?
A. The concept. It read like a movie, and it was great material. I tend to go where the material is the best. It read like a great superhero script, but it wasn’t done in Gotham City, but New York City. The combination of things I’d seen in the “Bourne” series was in there, and some elements of “24.”
Q. Your character is a very internalized guy. Very dangerous, seemingly without emotion. How do you see him?
A. He’s more an observer than one who sits there and tells you how cool he is. He’s a combination of a few guys I’ve seen in my life, one being my father-in-law, who doesn’t really tell you things, but you see in his actions that he has a great love there. That and my own father, some of the guys I’ve seen growing up, from Gary Cooper to Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Bronson. A lot of times there’s too much talking, not enough doing.
Q. You’ve been shooting on the streets of New York. What’s the upside and downside?
A. Most of it’s upside. The architecture is vast. You can be in certain areas and think, “Are we in Europe?” The most incredible parks. There’s only one city like that. And the energy, that’s one of the greatest parts, the energy of the people. The downside would be sound; I spend a lot of time in looping (rerecording the dialogue in the studio because of street noise).
Q. You originally wanted to be a pro basketball player but were injured in college and turned to acting. Why?
A. I had a knack for impersonating people. I saw a similarity to basketball, where you spend a lot of time studying your opponent, and when you’re studying a script, you’re studying your character, and the other characters.
Q. Your big breakthrough was “The Thin Red Line,” directed by the notoriously reclusive Terrence Malick. What was working with him like?
A. He’s close to the chest, but when you get to know him, he’s very sensitive, strong, very funny, but extremely mysterious. Even today, when I talk to him, I can’t ask him how he comes about his process. The process is very unforced.
Q. You’ve reportedly said that good roles have been hard to come by since you appeared in “The Passion.” Is that true? If so, why do you think that is?
A. I lose in discussing it. The movie’s there, people can buy it or rent it. It’s a movie about love. It had a great effect in a good way, overall, in my life.
Q. Since you’re a former basketball player, I was wondering if you still follow the sport.
A. I don’t have a Seattle team anymore, they’re in Oklahoma. I follow the Knicks, and that’s not all of a sudden because I came to New York and now I’m a Knicks man. I knew (former Knicks coach) Mike D’Antoni when he was with the Phoenix Suns.
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