‘Paul: Apostle of the Christ’ Touches Hearts, Both On and Off the Set

James Faulkner, who played Paul, says the film “changed his life.”

(photo: Sony/Affirm Films)

Affirm Films' newest release, “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” has had a profound effect on many who have seen it – but its impact was felt by those on the set, as well.

James Faulkner, the British actor who portrayed the elderly and imprisoned Paul of Tarsus, talked to the Register recently from his home in the south of France. Faulkner spoke candidly about his childhood in the boarding school at Wrekin College, explaining how from an early age he'd immersed himself in the school's music program. Faulkner's youthful activities as a member of the choir and a soloist at the Royal College of Church Music at Addington Palace helped to prepare him for his future career as an actor.

Later, Faulkner played supporting roles in numerous films including Murder on the Orient Express and X-Men: First Class. His television roles included Lord Sinderby in Downtown Abbey and Randyll Tarley in Game of Thrones. Video game aficionados may recognize Faulkner's booming voice as the voice of Professor Severus Snape in the game Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.


Faulkner Had Never Seen a Movie Set Like This One

In all, Faulkner has appeared in 28 films, 10 television shows and seven video games. But the experienced actor found something on the set of “Paul” that he'd never seen before on a movie set. What he saw, he explained, was love.

“I will tell you,” Faulkner mused in our phone conversation, “the most important thing to me – what was really refreshing for me – was that the subject matter changes everybody's behavior on the set. It was really rather extraordinary, refreshing and wonderful, to work on a film where there was a great deal of love on the set. That is quite rare!”

Faulkner explained that during filming of “Paul: Apostle of Christ” he never felt under duress. “I don't think I've ever felt more relaxed on a set,” he added. Both the content of the script, and the people themselves contributed to his sense of well-being.

“The producers, Eric (Groth) and T.J. (Berden), and the director Andy (Hyatt) are Christians, brought up by the Jesuits. It was extraordinary to work with people like that. There was such a great deal of love on the set, a real appreciation in the right way for what we were doing and trying to give back.”

Faulkner had a word of praise for his co-star, Jim Caviezel, as well. “Jim, as you know, is a devout Christian. Much more so than I!” Faulkner admitted. “I'm just an actor. But Jim was able to draw on the strength of his Christian faith. If I had a question, he showed me that it had already been answered by three or four people.”

The spirituality on the set of “Paul: Apostle of Christ” was evident, also, among the film's crew – the cameramen, the makeup artists, others on the set in Malta. “It was just another job for me,” said Faulkner, “but for them, it wasn't actually 'just another job.' I was impacted by their spirituality. Their kindness was fantastic – and they knew that they were doing something important.”

In more than 40 years of film-making, Faulkner has experienced a lot of backbiting on movie sets. Not so this time: He reported that on the set of “Paul” everyone was extremely supportive and caring toward him. At the conclusion of the last scene, what's called the “golden wrap,” there is a tradition that those on the set applaud. That applause is usually polite and brief. “Not so on this film!” Faulkner revealed. “The applause went on and on. I have to tell you, I wept.” He recognized that the applause was intended not just for him and for Jim Caviezel, his co-star, but for the story itself – for the writers who developed the script, and for Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, and for God.

Later, I had the opportunity to meet James Faulkner in person at the Dallas red carpet premier of the film, and to question him again about the role he played. Listening to the actor's description of daily life on the set and his growing awareness of the early Christians' strength in the face of persecution, I asked, “So are you telling us, then, that being in this movie has changed your life?”

James thought for a minute, and then answered, “Yes! Yes, I believe it has.”

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“Paul: Apostle of Christ” opened in theaters on March 23, and it's a great film for Catholics and other Christians to see during Holy Week and the Easter season. I appreciated the fact that it drew heavily upon the Scriptures, that characters spoke the familiar words of scripture at the dinner table or when walking down the Roman streets.

Some Catholic critics have complained that the film was speculative, not based on the Acts of the Apostles; but in fact, the producers had spent months studying all of Paul's letters as well as other sources. They used what they found in Paul's letters, drawing upon the characters and situations he describes to construct a storyline that is factual or, at least, plausible. The central theme – that Luke the physician visited Paul in prison, and that the two enjoyed a deep friendship buttressed by their common faith in Christ – expanded upon Paul's personal remarks in 2 Timothy 4:11 when, writing from prison near the end of his life, he says, “Only Luke is with me.”

Bishop Edward J. Burns, bishop of Dallas, was in the audience at the Dallas premiere, and called the film “powerful.” “Our society is in need of more Christian films like this,” he told the Register.

“…. Jim Caviezel and James Faulkner do an amazing job of bringing these two very important followers of Christ to life. The film leaves us with the clarion call to do more as disciples of Jesus Christ, and to never grow complacent.”

Bishop Burns was edified to know that the entire film is dedicated to those who are persecuted for their faith.