The second part of our conversation with the actor who stars in the first multi-season series about the life of Christ.
Zoe Romanowsky: Many children seem to be loving The Chosen (Warning to parents: younger children may find scenes in Episode 1 of demonic possession frightening), and many parents have told me that their favorite episode is the one with the children and Jesus. Do you have a favorite episode or scene?
Jonathan Roumie: The first day on set when we began in the the winter of 2018 was Episode 3 with the children and with the whole episode being outdoors, it was a great way to begin because it felt chronological … like Jesus sort of testing out his ministry with kids before he has a public ministry, by teaching them. I was able to then transfer that experience to my time with the apostles later on. I love kids and I had a really great time filming with them.
The most impactful scenes for me were in the two book ends of Season 1. My introduction in the first episode in the bar with Mary Magdalene and her subsequent healing was very moving for me to perform and for everyone on the set. Dallas and his team wrote that so beautifully and did such a wonderful job building the story to this moment for Mary Magdalene’s redemption. When you have such a quality build for the storyline and then you have that moment, the payoff is extraordinary, especially when you invite the Holy Spirit to come in and affect people watching it. That’s why I truly believe the writing is led by the Spirit. All of us have experienced what that’s like on some level — it may not be demonic possession or addiction, but we can relate to this moment of this possibility of an encounter with God redeeming us at our lowest moment; it’s something we’re all striving for, hoping for, if we haven’t yet experienced it.
And then the last episode, the woman at the well, experiencing her conversion and the hurt and pain that she’s gone through, and her healing. She herself was in the gutter, so to speak for a long time, not having a true sense of faith or her worth and Christ comes and reveals Himself to her as the Messiah and gives her hope. Seeing this woman’s conversion before my eyes as we did the scene was super emotional for me. It was such a joy to watch and such a joy to play.
And then the scene with Nicodemus … John 3:16. That’s another beautiful moment that I got to have with Erick Avari who plays Nicodemus, so I’ve been so blessed and humbled to have these opportunities and experiences. As an actor, it’s a dream role.
I know there are plans for more seasons — Season 2 is being written right now. Are there scenes in Jesus’ life that you hope will be written for you to do in future episodes?
I’ve got a host of stuff I’d love to do. Dallas and his writers pretty much know the arc of each season and the entire show, but they don’t have all the moments and scenes worked out yet, so there’s room for development and to see how new characters affect the trajectory of the show. For instance, Zebedee was never written for more than an episode or two, but he just pops off the screen and is such a favorite to watch that they wrote him into other scenes.
I’d love to see the Transfiguration, and I’d love to see Christ walking on the water, or asleep in the storm at sea. But I also know that Dallas is keen on stuff that has emotional resonance — that’s the priority for him. And then my favorite chapter in the Bible is John 11 — the raising of Lazarus. It’s one of the most impactful of the New Testament and resonates for me personally. I think we’ll probably do that, there’s so much there, but we’ll see. Dallas is not beholden to time lines explicitly as they’re written. There will be creative license. But I’m looking forward to playing it all.
From inhabiting the character of Jesus, have you learned anything new about Him or has anything surprised you?
What was new for me was learning theologically about the correlations between the Old Covenant and New Covenant, By having our Messianic Rabbi consultant Jason Sobel, I’ve learned a lot about Christianity — even the origins of the Mass and learning about the significance of certain events that took place in the New Testament and how much they correspond to things that happened in the Old Testament and what the significance was, like the Passover Seder and what it all means and how it applies to the Last Supper and to the Mass. Unless we study theology, most of us don’t ever learn these things. Learning about Jesus’ culture was new to me in a way I had never studied before and it made me want to learn more … which is why I’m doing all the reading that I’d doing now. I’ve also been to Temple to get a sense of that.
More personally, I think what playing the character of Jesus has done is open up my heart and spirit to try and emulate His values and His moral aesthetic. It’s brought me to a place where I’m trying to have more compassion and love for my fellow man on a daily basis. Playing the role has made me want to be the best version of myself. I think it has made me more compassionate, more open, more ecumenical, and more appreciative of our faith and the sacrifice of the Mass even more. Learning about Christ in the context in which he came, his culture and his time… it’s broadened my knowledge and opened my heart.
You mentioned that you recently led a 40-day Holy Hour over Facebook and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. How were you drawn to the devotion to the Divine Mercy?
My father discovered it about 10 years before I latched on to it. I was always interested in the image and didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was powerful and I started looking into praying it myself, learning the Chaplet.
There’s a story I tell about how one day I decided I wanted to start praying it. I was living in a one bedroom in Queens, New York, and wishing there was an image more like a version of a Greek Orthodox icon … I was in a phase where I was really appreciative of the arts and the beauty behind the Orthodox celebrations … and I literally said to myself, I wish there was a version of Divine Mercy that was a Greek Orthodox icon that could fit in my apartment. And literally three days later, a Divine Mercy icon showed up outside my apartment … on the mailboxes outside my door. That was the first sign that there was something about this devotion that God was trying to reach me through.
About three yrs after I moved to LA, a friend sent me an audition to submit to play the role of Christ in a one-woman traveling show about St. Faustina by St. Luke Productions … It wasn’t until the show that I learned more about the devotion and how amazing and miraculous it is, and about St. John Paul’s devotion to it, and how it’s been able to truly affect the world in a positive way. I felt called recently to start praying that with people, trying to spread the message that all of us can receive God’s mercy we just have to ask for it and this is a way to do that and to receive special graces. Explaining this to non-Catholics can be a little tricky. But like anything else, if you do it with love and gentleness and humility, people will be so much more open to it, which is exactly what has happened. And at the end of the day, God placed this Holy Hour of prayer on my heart, so I’m completely fine if folks aren’t into it. But for those who are interested, this is what we believe and I think it can only help us and heal people. [Roumie has begun another 40-day Holy Hour on Instagram which he invites everyone to join – @jonathanroumieofficial.]
A lot of people are being moved by this show, and by your portrayal of Jesus, and they’re looking forward to more, but the complexities of a pandemic are something none of us expected …
Yes, people keep asking what’s happening, and I tell them it’s being written, but we’re in a quarantine so there’s not much we can do at the moment. Pre-production is usually a three month process and then production is about a three month process, and then post production is a three month process, so it takes time. God has given us a moment to reflect on where we’re at, what we believe, and what’s important in our lives right now. Everything else is gravy. So I think we just have to stop and breathe and take care of the people we’ve maybe been overlooking, and come back to Him. This is a beautiful opportunity to deepen our prayer life and our spiritual missions and to really be a light to the rest of the world that’s in darkness. I’m trying to see it as that, and to follow this spiritual inclination right now and see where He leads me.
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