‘The Passion of the Christ’: The Cast Member Who Needed Two Open-Heart Surgeries After Filming

Sixteen years ago, The Passion of the Christ released in theaters. Audiences were warned to brace themselves for a truly authentic depiction of Christ’s crucifixion.

'The Passion of the Christ' opening in New York City, 2004
‘The Passion of the Christ’ opening in New York City, 2004 | Evan Agostini/Getty Images

From the beatings to the floggings and finally, the act of being hanged on a cross, actor Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Christ in the film, can say he has truly suffered for his profession.

How Jim Caviezel got the role

Jim Caviezel accepted the role of Jesus Christ, feeling it was an honor to portray such a central figure in history.

Actor Jim Caviezel
Actor Jim Caviezel | Vera Anderson/WireImage

He explained to the National Catholic Register in 2004 that director Mel Gibson didn’t come right out and ask him to play Christ. The Lethal Weapon star had to check Caviezel out first.

“It all started when I got a phone call from my agent saying that . . . Mel Gibson’s [business] partner, wanted to meet with me . . . What I later found . . . was that was just a front to see what I was really like. . . [Mel] asked, ‘You know how Jesus really died?’ And it hit me and I just said, ‘You want me to play Jesus, don’t you?’ He stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Yeah.’ “

The actor was severely injured on the set

Caviezel’s physical injuries were significant. As much as the director and crew tried to protect the actor from being injured, he nevertheless sustained wounds.

“This movie was torture right from the beginning in all forms,” he continued in his conversation with the media outlet. “I was spit on, beaten, and I carried my cross for days, over and over the same road; it was brutal. . . People have asked me, ‘Were you scared about getting this film?’ And I say, ‘Yes, a part of me.’ ”

Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ in ‘The Passion of the Christ’

The 51-year-old described how, during a scene in which Christ is whipped with a leather rope, most of the strikes avoided him, as they were supposed to.

But “one of them missed and it hit me, flush, right on the back,” he said. “It ripped the skin right off my back, but I couldn’t scream because the pain knocked the wind out of me. It was so horrendous that my voice got away from me, quicker than I could scream.”

Caviezel had to have two heart surgeries after filming ‘The Passion of the Christ’

Filming in Italy in the dead of winter wearing nothing but a thin loin cloth took its toll on the actor. He developed pneumonia and couldn’t feel anything on his limbs.

The most intense and frightening injury for the actor and the crew was witnessing Caviezel get struck twice by lightning. Once in the scene on the Sermon on the Mount and then again in the crucifixion scene.

Actor Jim Caviezel
Actor Jim Caviezel | Steve Rogers Photography/Getty Images for SXSW

“We were shooting the┬áSermon on the Mount,” Caviezel told Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. “About four seconds before it happened it was quiet, and then it was like someone slapped my ears. I had seven or eight seconds of, like, a pink, fuzzy color, and people started screaming. They said I had fire on the left side of my head and light around my body. All I can tell you is that I looked like I went to Don King’s hairstylist.”

As funny as he may have looked at the time, what wasn’t so humorous later on for the actor was finding out he needed to have open-heart surgery because of the lightning strikes.

Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ in ‘The Passion of the Christ’

He told Catholic News Service in 2018, “[The film] nearly killed me. Not many people get struck by lightning; I did. Five and a half months of cold. I had to have two heart surgeries, including open-heart surgery, because of that film.”

In the end, Caviezel feels the agony of portraying Christ in his suffering was worth it all.

“Going out in the cold, at night, and the wind chill, was tremendous. We were at a thousand-foot cliff and the winds would come down on top of it. I had a dislocated left shoulder. On top of that I had pneumonia. I got really sick,” he recalled. “But if we had shot that film in a studio, you wouldn’t have seen that performance. Was it worth it? Absolutely.”