Tuesday, November 15, 2005
From Male Prostitute to Pope
It's an acting transformation of Biblical proportions. Perhaps best remembered as the male prostitute Joe Buck, opposite Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo, in the brilliant Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1969, Midnight Cowboy, Jon Voight -- who has also portrayed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor and Noah in Noah's Ark, and won the Oscar for his portrayal of Vietnam War veteran Luke Martin in Coming Home -- will now portray Karol Wojtyla (better known as Pope John Paul II) in the miniseries Pope John Paul II, airing on CBS in December. Rival network ABC (of course) has planned a competing TV movie on the pope entitled, Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II. Thomas Kretschmann will portray John Paul II in that version. It was really just a (short) matter of time before films were produced about the life of the late pontiff, who died in April of this year, after serving for 27 years (and whom the Catholic church already has plans to canonize as a saint). While the ABC version will beat the CBS production to the screen, the Voight film will be screened privately for the current pope, (John Paul II's successor) Pope Benedict XVI this week. Ironically, before entering into religious life, John Paul II was an actor in his native Poland. Voight, a lapsed Catholic, who had a rebirth of spirituality later in life, is an interesting choice to play John Paul II. According to Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia, Voight "underwent a spiritual reawakening near the end of the 1980s, often exhorting puzzled interviewers of the need for man's transcendence of evil." In an interview, he gave to Daphne Small of www.AskMoses.com, Voight said, "I want to recommend that we say a little word of gratitude for being here in this adventure of life, grateful for all the gifts we've been given. And that we dedicate ourselves to helping other people enjoy the benefit of these very blessings." In acting style, I have always thought of him as a direct predecessor to actors such as Christopher Walken and Kevin Spacey. (All have won Oscars.) As the prostitute Joe Buck, in the only X-rated film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar, Voight gave a soul to a disenfranchised member of society that would otherwise be tossed aside and forgotten. He also helped to put a face on the Vietnam War with his Oscar-winning performance as a paralyzed veteran in Coming Home.