What is it like for an actor to play Jesus Christ? Is it similar to taking on any other challenging role, or does it change you, especially if you’re a believer? A handful of actors have had the opportunity to discover this first-hand, and native New Yorker Jonathan Roumie is one of them. As Jesus in the recently released first season of The Chosen, written and directed by Dallas Jenkins, Roumie has given us one of the most engaging depictions of Christ in modern film. Aleteia editor Zoe Romanowsky spoke to Roumie about his experience…
ZR: The Chosen was released the week before Palm Sunday and all eight episodes are currently available online via the web site, You Tube, and VidAngel’s streaming app. The series is the top crowdfunded media project in history and is being shown in about 180 countries. Tell me how you learned of this project.
JR: I’ve had a relationship with Dallas Jenkins, the creator of the show, for six years. We first met when he was the media director for his church and I was cast for the role of Jesus in a short film he made called The Two Thieves. I read for the penitent thief and then he had me read for Jesus a couple of days later, which I was initially disappointed about because it meant I likely didn’t get the role I wanted, plus Jesus had like just five lines. (Laughs) But I was happy to do it. It was the second opportunity I had to play Jesus on film. The following year we did another set of vignettes, and then another set, and then he did the short film called The Shepherd, which was the pilot for what would become The Chosen. Six months later I got a call from Dallas who said, “I think we’re going to do a series, would you be up for playing Christ again?” And I said, “When do we start?”
Playing the most significant religious and historical figure to have lived, let alone the man we believe is the Son of God, is a daunting prospect for any actor — were you reluctant to take it on?
No, because in addition to the vignettes I had filmed, as well as a project for St. Luke Productions in which I had played Jesus, I had been doing a “living” Stations of the Cross so it had started to become clear to me that playing Christ was going to be in my life for a while. And being a man of faith. I felt that God must have a reason for it and I tried to stay open to that. I had some sporadic thoughts about whether I’d get pigeon-holed playing Jesus or just doing faith-based projects, but I tried not to give into that fear and allow myself to trust that God had a plan.
How was it to play Jesus once the cameras were rolling?
During one scene I had a moment where I felt completely overwhelmed and whether it was my own fears, or the evil one working on my mind feeding it with all sorts of nonsense, I had to stop for a moment and talk to Dallas because I wasn’t feeling right about it. I said “This is really difficult for me,” and he asked me why, and I said, “Because I don’t feel worthy to be saying these words, filling these shoes, preaching to these people …” And he said something to the effect of, “None of us are worthy [to be doing this] … you’re not worthy, and neither am I … that’s the story of this project,” but that God wouldn’t let us fail. So his reassurance reminded me what we were there to do, specifically us … and that moment stuck.