This interview originally appeared in The Seattle Times on January 8, 1999. Interview by Luaine Lee of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Copyright of The Seattle Times.
In spite of the high-profile cameos of George Clooney, John Cusack and John Travolta in "The Thin Red Line," the real star of the film is somebody most people have never heard of.
Jim Caviezel, who plays the Kentucky idealist who weaves a stream-of-consciousness narration throughout the bloody battle on Guadalcanal, earned the role mostly because of who he is. Not from Kentucky (but from a small town in Washington, Mount Vernon), Caviezel is a slow-talking, earnest guy who mostly dreamed of basketball when he was a kid. Along the way somebody noticed he was a deft mimic and encouraged him to try acting.
From a family of five kids (all of whom play basketball), Caviezel, 30, came to Los Angeles with the idea of studying acting.
"I was accepted at Juilliard and they gave me sort of a scholarship. Then they REALLY gave me a scholarship when I said, `Look I can't afford your school unless you give me more money.' And they did. Right after that, maybe a month, I got `Wyatt Earp.' I wanted to do both."
But he couldn't do both. So Juilliard lost out. Caviezel doesn't regret the loss. He says earning a role in "Wyatt Earp" built his confidence and encouraged him to keep trying. But there were many times when he considered giving up the dream. "I'm married and want to have kids," he says, in his slow drawl.
Caviezel has been married to Kerri, a high-school English literature teacher, for 2 1/2 years. He auditioned several times for Terrence Malick, the director of "The Thin Red Line."
"He was a real great guy, a sweet man and we went on to have several lunches and dinners and phone calls," recalls Caviezel, who refuses to change his name to something more euphonic.
"He called me at home up in Washington state. We never talked about the film, really. He asked me about baling hay growing up. Did I know the difference between a round bale and a square bale and what is the difference between alfalfa and regular grass weight. So we built up the trust."
Already there is a flurry of talk about Caviezel. But is he ready for the blast furnace of fame?
Caviezel says he learned a hard lesson about ego when he was still in junior high.
"I was a pretty good ball player. As the stakes got higher there were bigger kids than me, and I came in with a bit of an attitude, a bit cocky. And I got thumped. It hurt but I said to myself, `I'm never going to do that again. I'm never going to be like that again.' I was blessed to learn that early in life," he nods.
"Perspective is important. There are people out there doing far better things than I'm doing and that was the hardest thing about getting into acting because it's like: This is a lifestyle? This kind of life? Whatever I do I've got to treat others as I'd want to be treated.
"I know if you keep connected to who you are inside, happiness is what you're pursuing. You're never going to find it cheating on your wife or in the money. . .
"My dad had a heart attack and open-heart surgery this last year. I'm so close to him, and that sums it up right there. When I got off `The Thin Red Line' and we started shooting `Ride With the Devil,' I couldn't think about any film. I could only think about him. He's OK. He made it through and our family's a lot closer because of it. He said to me, `If I go, it's not because I want to. I want to see your movie and your children.' "Back to The Thin Red Line Interviews Page