Jim Caviezel

02/20/2004 at 10:15 AM EST

Facing whips and lightning strikes – not to mention a heated religious controversy – Jim Caviezel, 36, has weathered a storm in bringing director Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ to the big screen. The film, due Feb. 25, has the actor (Frequency, High Crimes) carrying his heaviest role yet: Jesus Christ. While some groups have claimed that Passion is anti-Semitic, others have objected to scenes depicting Christ's graphic torture (the movie's been called one of the most violent ever). Caviezel recently talked about the physical and emotional demands of the drama, and why he decided to put his faith in Gibson.

You went to great lengths while filming – you were even struck by lightning during the Sermon on the Mount.
I got lit up like a Christmas tree. About three seconds before it hit me, I knew that it was going to happen and I locked eyes with people, (and) it's just a sickening feeling. I looked up and I said, "You don't like that take, huh?" ... (People) were saying that they saw fire on both sides of my head, and they saw a light come around me. My hair was all standing up.

Do you think it was a sign from above?
No.

How is it that you ended up working with Mel – as Jesus?
When (he) initially came to me for this role, one thing led to the next. Here we are talking about the gospels, and then I said, "You want me to play Jesus, don't you?" I was thinking in my head, My God, all I want to do is a comedy. ...

I never thought about playing Jesus. I never thought that that would ever happen, and in fact, I'd been offered to play it twice: once on TV and once in a play, and I said no.

Are you satisfied with how it all came together?
Of course, yeah. It's everything that I want it to be.

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