Actor Jim Caviezel believes that all three of those men are reflected in Coach Bob Ladouceur, the character he plays in the new film “When the Game Stands Tall” (opening August 22nd).
Inspired by actual events, “When the Game Stands Tall” shares the story of Concord, California’s De La Salle High School football team, the Spartans, who, between 1992 and 2004, went on the longest winning streak in sports history with 151 consecutive wins. When Coach Ladouceur retired in 2013, his lifetime record stood at 399 wins versus 25 losses.
The ironic thing about those statistics is that Ladouceur wasn’t especially focused on winning. Instead, his goal was to build character in the young men put in his charge, to instill them with skills and virtues that would serve them not just on the football field but in life. The wins, according to Caviezel, “are just a byproduct of love.”
Role Models, Authenticity, and the Perfect Effort
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Caviezel explained that one of the reasons he took the role had to do with the power that movies have exerted in his own life. In his younger days, when the Catholic actor was somewhat spiritually adrift, he credits films like “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Glory,” “The Mission,” “Ben Hur,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “waking me up, getting me moving in the right direction.”
In fact, it was Caviezel’s encounter with “It’s a Wonderful Life” star Jimmy Stewart many years ago that influenced his choice of acting roles. Doing an excellent Stewart impression, Caviezel recalled the veteran actor telling him, “Young man, whatever you do, make good movies.”
And what qualifies as a good movie in Caviezel’s mind? “A story that has redemption to it, a story that has real love. That’s what Ladouceur teaches: real love, real responsibility. He said to his team, and I quote him, ‘We’re not asking you to play a perfect game. That’s impossible. What we’re asking of you – and what you should be asking of yourself – is to give a perfect effort on every play from snap to whistle, that you can be depended on. Love means that you can depend on me.’ Those boys would look him in the eye [and know] he loves them. That is true authenticity. Why aren’t more coaches like that? I’ll tell you why. It’s the worst three-letter word ever: Ego. Edge God Out. When you look at the Christian life, many people go out and claim one thing, but they do another. So I think authenticity is very important because there was no one more authentic than Christ. And Ladouceur takes that seriously. He really follows the Savior.”
Caviezel added that he also admires Ladouceur for living up to his responsibilities as a role model for youth. He says, “Things changed in the 80s when the saying came out, ‘I’m not your kids’ role model.’ I think that’s hurt our culture tremendously – [this belief] that I can do whatever I want whenever I want it. When Pope John Paul came to the United States, he said that every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought. And he also said to set yourself up to be a saint. You weren’t made to fit in; you were born to stand out. Bob Ladouceur has these principles…He truly loves his boys. And let me tell you, he really put his money where his mouth is.”
Selflessness versus Selfishness
In light of his winning record, Coach Ladouceur received many offers to coach college or NFL teams and earn a seven-figure salary. Yet he turned them all down because he believed that his high school students needed his guidance and training more than those who’d already made it to the next stage of their sport. That decision to put the needs of his students ahead of his own desire for advancement again reminded Caviezel of Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who put the needs of his family and town ahead of his own.
Why did Ladouceur choose selflessness over selfishness? Because he wanted to build the next generation of leaders who would do something positive in society and become “men” in the best sense of the word.
Caviezel adds, “We see a lot of boys who are teenagers, and you think that when they turn 25 or 30, they become men. That’s not necessarily true anymore. I know a lot of 40-, 50-, and 60-year-old ‘guys.’ What’s the difference between a ‘man’ and a ‘guy?’ The guy never accepts responsibility. In order to be a man, you have to step up to your responsibility.”
Ladouceur always demonstrated responsibility toward his team, and Caviezel notes one time in particular that stands out: “There’s a scene in the movie where one of the boys loses his mom, he lost his dad, he’s got nobody. Ladouceur looks at him and says, ‘You’ve got 68 brothers out there right now that love you. They are your family.’ That’s the De La Salle community. Those guys come together. And a lot of them [are being raised by] single parents. How are you going to teach a boy who doesn’t have a father how to be a father? Well, that’s built into the program [through Ladouceur’s example].”
Family, Prayer, and a Zest for Life
Caviezel models that same kind of responsibility in his own life as the father of three adopted children – and as husband to his wife Kerri, with whom he is obviously still very much in love. He never hesitates to tell his children that he loves them, and he calls his family and friends “the walking presence of Christ in my life.”
Despite his busy schedule working on the hit TV series “Person of Interest” and making the occasional movie, the actor always carves out time for prayer. He says, “If I don’t pray, I have no gratitude and no appreciation. If I lose those two things, I have no zest for life. That’s why prayer is so important. Because what the world thinks of me is far less important than what God thinks of me. The world at its best can like you. That’s it. The world does not produce love; love only comes from God. So you can choose to either be liked by many or loved by One.”
In addition, Caviezel always makes time for fasting and exercise in order to bolster his level of self-discipline: “When I got into swimming. I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to be in the swimming pool by 5:30. Sure it was hard getting up that early, but then the habit was formed and my body got in incredible shape. After I was swimming, I would go out with my friends and have a Starbucks coffee and I felt so alive…I realize I’m not being run by my flesh, that I’m not a slave to my own body. God gives me the strength and fortitude to overcome that.”
Caviezel hopes that audiences turn out to see “When the Game Stands Tall” in theaters to both send a message to Hollywood that movies like this can make money – and to simply enjoy an entertaining film that’s appropriate for the whole family. He says, “When I had the opportunity to go out and play up Bob Ladouceur, I said, ‘Lord, I want people to see this film. I want them to be moved. And I want those out there who think that they have no hope and no chance to know they’re loved, to know they can feel Your love.’ This is not just a football movie. It’s about life. The value of this film is role models, and the focus is love.”
(To listen to the full interview with Jim Caviezel, click the podcast link:)