It’s been a long time since Jim Caviezel did television. In the eighties he appeared as a young actor on Murder She Wrote and The Wonder Years. But after that his career took off with roles in My Own Private Idaho, Wyatt Earp, G.I. Jane, The Thin Red Line, Déjà vu and as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
An updated re-imagining of Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 classic series, Caviezel plays Number Six, a man trapped in a compound known as The Village, not knowing why or how he got there, which is run by a mysterious man, Number Two (Sir Ian McKellen).
Can you tell me what attracted you to this project?
I was actually set to shoot another film, and without going into that, there was a little glitch in the financing. And that day, I got a phone call from my agent saying, ‘You need to read this script that Ian McKellen is doing.’
And all I heard was Ian McKellen. I didn’t hear The Prisoner, because I had never seen The Prisoner.
I didn’t know what it was. And the first two episodes that I read were phenomenal, and he says, ‘Well, wait until you get the next two.’ This was film for television, no difference; it was like shooting a regular movie with a brilliant filmmaker.
Did you watch the original series?
No, I hadn’t seen anything that Patrick McGoohan did. I still haven’t seen it. I saw pieces of it here and there and kind of got the gist of it, but I knew that was what it was for that time.
This was for this time. And I always look at material first, and this just blew everything out of the water that I was planning to do for the big screen.
There seems to be a big physical requirement for this role.
Yeah. It’s all those sand dunes. There was a lot of hauling somebody around on my back up and down those sand dunes.
How did you get ready to handle that?
I played 17 years of basketball. You do a lot of lunges and squats and things like that. I didn’t do anything differently than I normally do. I always train. I’ve always kept a little athlete in me because you can use it anywhere.
What was it like working with Ian?
I loved playing his adversary.
Any preconceived ideas of him?
I thought of Richard Harris, working with him. I was very close with Richard; I was very close with Ian.
What I loved about him is that, at this level, you hope you have great actors but they’re not exactly great people. When you find out he’s a great man, it makes it special.
So it made it very comfortable for me. He’s a teacher.
I call him maestro. I can walk up to him and say, “Tell me about this scene.” Being that he’s done this longer than I have, I said, ‘I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here. How can we get this right, so years down the line it’ll be more of a poem, I don’t to ever want it to be dated.’
Did you learn anything in particular from him?
Yeah, he’s a great listener. And that says something being at his age, that he would even listen to someone who was in diapers when he was in King Lear.
Did you have a chance to talk to Patrick McGoohan?
No, I never did.
Did you even know who he was?
Yes, I did. What happened was I asked Mel Gibson. I said, ‘When you were filming Braveheart, I really liked that king’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s Patrick McGoohan.’
Mel’s the one that talked about The Prisoner, and when I [received the script for] The Prisoner, I said, ‘Is this what you were talking about?’ I think that Mel was looking at remaking this for the big screen.
Is Mel Gibson mad that you got it done before him?
No, no, no.
Why do you think the time is right for this story to be remade?
I understood the story that I was reading in much the same way that I did in The Thin Red Line, where Terry Malick wrote an allegory to what’s going on in the world.
I thought this was the same, in this time period. But it’s universal. It transcends not just this time period. In much the same way we’re still talking about the old show, which is a lot of universals. We have universal feelings.
Someone asked the question about what about the combination of using an American Six. But we all love, we all hate, we all have certain emotions that transcend our countries.