''Working with Mel Gibson is a little like waltzing with a hurricane,'' says James Caviezel, who plays Jesus in ''The Passion of the Christ,'' in an interview in the latest issue of Newsweek. ''It's always exciting, and you're never quite sure where it's going to take you.''
The ''Frequency'' star tells the magazine of the intense challenges of the project, including withstanding the winter winds while wearing a loincloth, being scarred by the whip of a Roman soldier, and watching director Gibson defend his production against concerns expressed by religious groups that the movie may inflame anti-Semitism by appearing to blame the Jews for Jesus' execution. ''It's been the most frustrating thing to watch,'' Caviezel says of the controversy. ''I can tell you this much, the guy [Gibson] is not in the least anti-Semitic. I never saw it. Maia Morgenstern [who plays the Virgin Mary] is this beautiful Jewish Romanian actress whose parents were in the Holocaust. Every day he'd say, 'Maia, tell me about your traditions. Is this OK to do?''' Morgenstern herself said in an Associated Press interview last week that she did not think the film was anti-Semitic.
The dark-featured Caviezel says of Gibson: ''He wanted to make this film very Semitic. Instead of having an Aryan, blue-eyed Jesus, he wanted to have a very Semitic Jesus.'' Of Jewish activists who have expressed concerns about the movie, the Catholic Caviezel says: ''They have every right to defend their faith. But I believe that when all my Jewish brothers see this film, they will realize that it's not about assigning blame. It's about love. It's about sacrifice. It's about forgiveness and hope.''
One critic who may have already weighed in: God. Caviezel confirmed earlier reports that he was struck by lightning during production. He says, ''We were shooting the Sermon on the Mount. 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.'' He jokes that he responded by saying to God: ''Didn't like that take, huh?''