“I made a choice,” the actor, 49, tells PEOPLE. “But what you find out is that some choices are viewed as evil and I don’t see it that way.”
The Mel Gibson-directed film, which focused on the last hours of Jesus’s life, was a box-office sensation, earning over $600 million to become the highest-grossing religious film of all time, despite allegations that it contained anti-semitic undertones.
Caviezel, an outspoken conservative Catholic, returns to religious-themed projects with his most recent film, Paul, Apostle of Christ, in which he plays the disciple Luke.
“I wasn’t out to do a faith-based movie,” he says. “I wanted to do something that everybody could go and see and feel something when they walk out. Hopefully, that’s the message of love.”
While Caviezel steadily rose to fame starring in the Oscar nominated war epic The Thin Red Line (1998), the Jennifer Lopez-starrer Angel Eyes (2001), and period action film The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), he says his career took a different turn after The Passion of the Christ was released.
“If there was a comedy out there I would do it, but after playing Jesus you don’t really get offers like that anymore,” he claims. “As soon as I did Passion, other [film offers] stopped coming in.”
After The Passion of the Christ, Caviezel found success on the small screen with the CBS hit series Person of Interest from 2011 to 2016. He also appeared opposite Denzel Washington in the 2006 thriller Déja Vu.
“I’m a big boy and I’m not going to play a victim,” he says.
The actor also courted controversy after appearing in a 2006 advertisement opposing Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2, which allowed embryonic stem cell research. The commercial was a response to one featuring Michael J. Fox, who favored embryonic stem cell research.
As a devout Catholic, Caviezel says he feels a calling to spread the word of God through his work, and is drawn to projects that “speak the truth” and aim to make a difference in the world.
“The light is much brighter in the darkest of places,” he says. “In those darkest of places, I wanted to be the center of it. I was drawn to that.”
That drive influenced Caviezel and his wife Kerri Browitt to adopt three children with health problems.
“I’ve been to places around the world where orphans are and we have three of them,” he says of his children Bo, 18, Lyn, 16, and David, 7. “Two of them had brain tumors and one had cancer sarcoma. Their chance of survival wasn’t great, but I wanted to help.”
The couple adopted Bo from an orphanage in China in 2007 and returned shortly after to adopt Lyn from a foster home. “When you have your first child it’s like a feeling you never knew,” he previously told CBS19.
Both Bo and Lyn were diagnosed with large and benign brain tumors at the time of their adoption. David, who was also adopted from China, had cancer.
“They make me want to be a better man,” he told the outlet of his children. “Love is a decision.”
Caviezel is set to reprise his role as Jesus in an upcoming sequel to The Passion, tentatively titled The Resurrection.
“My faith makes me strong,” he tells PEOPLE. “We all have choices to make and I made mine. When The Resurrection comes, who knows what will happen.”
Paul, Apostle of Christ is in theaters now.