Rumors are swirling around Hollywood that Mel Gibson is in talks to make a sequel to the “Passion of the Christ” (2004), a movie that Jim Caviezel, who played the Latin- and Hebrew-speaking Jesus, said will be “the biggest film in history.” 

But in the meantime, fans will have to satisfy their need for authentic Christian storytelling with Caviezel’s latest biblical film, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” depicting the life of St. Paul (played by James Faulkner) and his friendship with St. Luke (played by Caviezel) during the early Christian persecutions.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is producing the movie through its faith-based Affirm Films label and has set the movie for a wide release on March 23, a sign of the studio’s confidence that Christian movies still draw a crowd, at least when they are done right.

Caviezel told Angelus News he was drawn to the script (written by Andrew Hyatt) because of its authentic portrayal of Scripture. “You can’t water this down,” he said. “There’d be no respect to it. I’ve seen that with other films that are from the Bible and they’re a joke.”

Set during Nero’s persecution of the early Christian martyrs, the movie doesn’t shy away from moments of violence, although it avoids any graphic brutality. “It is hard to look at,” Caviezel said. “It is real, though, and it is now,” referring to the ongoing Christian genocide in the Middle East and the religious persecutions around the globe. 

The movie is dedicated to those who have suffered from religious persecution, a modern-day problem that Caviezel is keenly aware of and wants to draw attention to. 

“This film is about forgiving at all costs, and those people [who died for the faith] paid the ultimate cost. But that does not mean weakness. It does not mean the acceptance of evil. It means meeting people face-to-face with love.”

Instead of watering down any biblical event, the script blends the bitter and the sweet without compromising either. “There’s a kind of a balance here,” he said. “Years ago, you’d get a lot of fire and brimstone. If you can manipulate truth, then it becomes fire and brimstone. But if you take grace and water it down, then it becomes sentimental hogwash. You need both truth and grace, and that’s what we had to find in this.”

Caviezel was glad the script’s characters showed development and personal moments of weakness. 

“I see movies where you have a Bible film and the character’s good becomes good-er and good-est, pardon my grammar,” he said. “I can’t take that much sugar in my coffee, man. Life is bitter and it’s sweet.” 

He dips into an analogy of coffee tasting better without the sugar but needing a pumpkin scone to offset the bitterness. “There has to be a balance like that in a movie. You have to do that.”

The difficult moments are punctuated with moments of levity and banter between St. Paul and St. Luke, moments that Caviezel said Hyatt beautifully wove into the script (in some cases during filming) and allowed him to improvise with co-star Faulkner. 

The banter and levity was a tribute to the good times Caviezel spent with friend and lawyer, Frank Stewart, who passed away last year. “It came from a personal tragedy,” he said. “There’s a hole in my heart.”

Hollywood has had a difficult time casting Caviezel since the “Passion of the Christ’s” release, although he does star in the CBS-TV drama “Person of Interest.” But he said that he doesn’t need Hollywood’s affirmation. “I don’t do it for them, I do it for God. So, everything I do is about love because I want someone else out there to find that love.” 

Caviezel said he has no regrets about taking on the role of Jesus, since it is God who gave him the talent. “He gives that to me and he’s the one that multiplies it in ways that are so profound. And so, it’s an adventurous life. It’s not the one that I would have picked, but it’s far better than I ever dreamed.”