The following are excerpts from an interview Ken Duncan conducted with Mel Gibson in the backlots of Cineciita Film Studios, Rome, during filming of The Passion...

Jesus (Jim Caviezel) in the crucifixion scene from The Passion of The Christ.. Picture: Philippe Antonello.

KD: What made you decide to do this movie?
MG: I"d reached a horrible place where I was thinking about jumping out of a window. I wasn"t maintaining myself spiritually at all. I believed, but there"s a difference between knowing that something exists and actually doing something about it...I was looking down from twelve floors and seriously thinking I didn"t want to stay, but I was too much of a chicken to go splat. So I was stuck in this suspended agony, and it was like I just had to give up. I cried out in prayer, "Help! I need some help here."... It was strange but things actually got worse for about six months. It was like a trial by fire. But I think you get to a place where, humanly speaking, there"s no solution to the Gordian knot that your life has become. So I thought, okay I just have to let what happens happen, and suffer, and hand it all over. And I watched very slowly over the course of six months this thing that had been the most hideous knot drop out into a straight line. I was staggered that my prayer was so effective...

Was this when the movie idea was born?
In a way, yes. Because of my experience I started to focus on the Passion of Jesus, which for me, growing up as a kid, had always been sanitized and not real, like a fairytale. It sort of struck me that it really happened, the Word of God tells you that it happened, and it"s backed up by every kind of historical detail. So I started to investigate. You know, it"s that old thing: "The more you seek, the more you"ll find." I was led to certain literature and books, and even medical reports on what must have happened during the Passion. And then I came across the book that this movie is based on. So I read that and was very moved by it.

And what book was that?
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich, a nun in the Eighteenth Century. She was always taking other people"s illnesses and she had these visions of the Passion of Christ. All of it completely meshes with the four gospels. It"s incredible the minutiae of what she gets into. She tells you about what Jesus was wearing, what the stitching was like... Now there"s nothing to say that you have to believe this, because it"s a vision and it can"t be one hundred per cent verified. But in reading you become deeply involved in the emotional aspects, and from your other reading you start cross-referencing in your brain.

Do you think this is the most important film you"ve ever done?
Yes, I think so. It"s all been working up to this. It was even in the background when I"ve made other films, as if they were dry runs for this one.

Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) in a scene from The Passion of The Christ. Picture: Philippe Antonello.

Do you feel there has been any supernatural intervention?
It"s hard to explain, but there have been all sorts of things going on, even down to the small things. Sometimes the weather isn"t how you want it, but you set up for the shot anyway and then bingo it just happens. Some really wild stuff too, like with a certain type of dialog, a big clap of thunder. It"s weird. It almost makes you want to laugh. You think, I"ll probably have to cut that out because it"s too corny!...

Spiritually and emotionally, how has working on this project affected you?
In a very positive way. Every day we"re focusing on the Passion. It begins to inhabit you. At this stage I feel like I"m up to my ears in it, and the effects of it are unavoidable if you do it with the right kind of attitude. There is less ego, and that is a happy byproduct...

What impact do you hope the movie will have on audiences?
I hope it spurs them on to investigate the life of Christ for themselves. And I don"t think you can"t be impacted by it. Some of the images are really strong, and I"ve decided not to hold back. Jim Caviezel (the actor who plays Jesus) said it really well. He said there will be some people that it will freak out...(b)ut there will be other people who can"t stop watching it, and even though they are horrified and terrified by it they will sit through the whole thing...By speaking very loudly, image and sound wise, it"s going to make people think very deeply.

Interview excerpts printed with permission of Ken Duncan.