Stephen K. Bannon, the incoming White House chief strategist, has built up a unique roster of fans over the years: rabid white supremacists, Breitbart commenters, Matt Boyle, and Hollywood actor Jim Caviezel.
Before becoming the head of Breitbart News and then Donald Trump’s top guy, Bannon tried to make it big in Hollywood as a conservative filmmaker and documentarian, one openly influenced by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. When he wasn’t developing hagiographical docs about Ronald Reagan or Sarah Palin, he was drafting wild script ideas—including a Shakespearean rap musical set during the 1992 L.A. riots, and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s blood-splattered tragedy Titus Andronicus but with space-monsters and “ectoplamsic sex.”
His time as a right-wing filmmaker, operating in the Democratic stronghold of liberal Hollywood, kept Bannon in good company with many of the elite members of Hollywood Republican cliques, including those in the secretive GOP group Friends of Abe. One of the conservative-Hollywood heavy hitters who became an ally of Bannon’s was Caviezel, star of the CBS drama Person of Interest and most famously Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
“I’ve gotten to know Jim Caviezel, and I consider Jim a buddy,” Bannon offhandedly mentioned to RedState’s Ben Howe during a podcast taping in late 2010.
Bannon’s friendship with Caviezel was struck up in the early aughts, when Bannon was still working with his longtime Hollywood writing partner Julia Jones (who now describes herself as a “Bernie Sanders liberal” who is “so disgusted at what Bannon has become”). According to Jones, the pair had been tapped by producer Stephen McEveety, who worked on The Passion of the Christ, to write a screenplay about the Rwandan genocide.
McEveety, who knew Caviezel from the small Christian-conservative crowd working in Hollywood, introduced the actor to Bannon, then a rising star and professional schmoozer in the right-wing, activist corners of Los Angeles.
As their friendship grew, Caviezel started checking out Bannon’s filmography, and was particularly taken by Bannon’s 2004 directorial debut, In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed. The documentary is a Rush-Limbaugh-endorsed film that tells the story of “good versus evil in this epic tale which chronicles Ronald Reagan’s crusade to destroy the most tyrannical and depraved political systems the world has ever known.”
Caviezel’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Bannon. But according to those close to Bannon at the time, this piece of Reagan propaganda became essential viewing to Caviezel, who would host exclusive parties promoting the film.
Caviezel, it seemed, had also managed to memorize the movie.
“One time in 2005, I was talking to him and he just started reciting the script,” Tim Watkins, an In the Face of Evil producer, told The Daily Beast. “[Caviezel] said he’d seen it many, many times.”
Jones, who (despite her personal politics) co-wrote the enthusiastically pro-Reagan doc with Bannon, recalls that Caviezel became one of her partner’s most high-profile fans in Hollywood.
“Jim Caviezel would throw parties at this house and host screenings, and invite Steve [Bannon] to come often, sometimes as a filmmaker to speak,” Jones said. “These were [gatherings] thrown for Hollywood conservatives, and [Jim] would screen it for people he wanted to see it, people he knew. Steve told me that Jim loved the movie and was having all these screenings up at his mansion in Santa Barbara in 2005.
“Jim was very friendly with Steve in part because he thought our Reagan film was the greatest thing ever made,” Jones continued, chuckling.
Aside from his Reagan worship, Caviezel’s politics are firmly rooted in his Christian faith. He is anti-abortion and against embryonic stem-cell research, for instance. In his Hollywood days, Bannon was closer to your run-of-the-mill Reaganite conservative—albeit a “militant” one, according to Jones. This was years before he grew into the full-blown nationalist and anti-globalist who became a ringleader for the racist alt-right.
And as their friendship carried on, some of Bannon’s Hollywood contemporaries recall him aggressively name-dropping Caviezel, his new, famous, Christian-right buddy.
“I had a [film] project I was involved with at one time in which Steve leveraged the idea of bringing Jim Caviezel to the picture as a means of involving himself,” one Hollywood Republican, who asked not to be named while discussing Bannon, told The Daily Beast. “It ended up not getting produced and he didn’t bring Jim in.”
Bannon’s relationship with Caviezel, a right-wing celebrity with a distinctly higher profile, perhaps foreshadows his current relationship with the incoming leader of the free world.
“Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination,” Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart employee who worked under Bannon, wrote in August.
“Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not. He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition, and he will use anyone bigger than he is—for example, Donald Trump—to get where he wants to go.”