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The Chosen’s Elizabeth Tabish speaks from the heart about playing Mary Magdalene


© Angel Studios

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 11/21/22

The actress also gives a few words of advice to fans of the show before they watch Season 3.
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Season 3 of The Chosen (Inside The Chosen) hit over 2,000 theaters across the nation on November 18 and will be available to stream very soon. The wildly successful crowd-funded show is a historical drama created, directed, and co-written by Dallas Jenkins about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Among the well-known characters in the series is one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, Mary Magdalene, played in the series by Elizabeth Tabish. Tabish received her M.A. in theater and B.A. in film studies from Oklahoma State University, where she studied experimental and classic film and theater through a psychoanalytic lens. She has produced and directed a number of award-winning short films focusing on female archetypes and exploring a variety of vintage aesthetics. She is the co-creator and art director of Arthouse Film Festival.

Tabish spoke with Aleteia about what it’s been like to take on the iconic role of Mary Magdalene, and what viewers can expect from Season 3.

Elizabeth Tabish who plays Mary Magdalene

Zoe Romanowsky: When you began playing Mary Magdalene, did you find it intimidating?

Elizabeth Tabish: Yes, especially the way they wrote the first episode in Season 1. It was daunting to play the “Lilith” part of her. It was a challenge but also my biggest fear … what she goes through. It felt really ironic that this is my fear and I have to play this, but I was also really connected to the despair she was going through, so it was surprisingly easy to get into.

I think over the course of these three seasons I’ve had these little moments where I’m also daunted by her role in history, the importance of who she is to Jesus … and you just want to get it right, for her sake and for the fans. And anytime I veer too much into the saintly-very-removed-and-perfect interpretation of her — which is not her; she’s so human and so relatable — any time I go too far in that direction, I’m reminded that I just need to bring my heart into this. I need to trust the writers, trust God in this, and just keep my heart open for it, instead of trying to make it a perfect thing or try to do it in a perfect way. I think the beauty of her character is that she’s not perfect and there is grace in that. 

In playing her so far, what has she taught you?

There’s a scene in Episode 6, Season 2, where she has returned to some of her old vices out of fear and being triggered a number of times, and she comes back to the camp and apologies to Jesus and says, I can’t live up to this, I can’t repay you … essentially I’m unworthy of all this. And he responds to her You don’t have to be perfect; I just want your heart.

God just wants our hearts, and everything will come in time. And he says Did you really think you’d never sin again? There is so much grace and mercy in her character arc, in her story line, which affords me the same grace and mercy and reminds me this is all a process of growth and of getting to be a kinder and better human. This has been so personal and so influential in my own life, in my own growth.

Yes, it seems inevitable that this would change you and have a profound affect on your own spiritual life and your personal life…

Yeah, I’ve been so cynical about religion for so long and I think I threw the baby out with the bath water … that all religion and people’s belief in God is what they need because they’re … I don’t know … instead of understanding this immense, beautiful, benevolent, brilliant power that is God, that is interactive with us, that speaks to us, that guides us.

This whole experience has been so personal, almost uncanny in moments where I feel seen by God. Whereas growing up in some of the teachings in certain churches I always felt watched by God, which I think is more intimidating, less personal. Now I realize that God sees us, sees through all of our pain, all of our resistance, all of our personality issues, and sees our hearts. I think there is peace that comes with understanding that and feeling that.

Women of The Chosen with Jesus

How do you think Mary Magdalene and the other main female characters in The Chosen can inspire women in particular?

Jesus has so much respect for the women and brings them on the same playing field as men. He has such love and respect and compassion for everyone, and there’s such a vast array of types of women [in the show] — mothers, daughters, wives, ex-addicts, entrepreneurs … I think any woman watching the show will be able to relate to one of us.

It’s also about seeing how everyone’s very specific and very different personalities can be used to help this ministry grow, to help take care of people, to extend compassion and love to each other and to others, and I think that as different as we all are,the mission is the same together which I think is so beautiful: it’s following Jesus and taking care of people.

Without giving too much away about the new season, do you have any favorite scenes or moments that really stood out for you when you filmed them? 

Yes. In Season 3, Mary gets to have these one-on-one conversations with different characters and there are three that really stand out for me … One is with Eden and Salome, it’s short but really meaningful. And there’s another beautiful scene with Matthew where they’re talking about the mysteries of all of this and it’s a really sweet and peaceful scene. I don’t know if that’s giving stuff away!

But I think the scene I’m proudest of is a scene with Tamar, where Mary and Tamar have been sort of misunderstanding each other for a few episodes and accidentally hurting each other’s feelings. It’s great at showing how tension can build and grow from mistakes and misunderstandings. They finally confront each other and because of that they can finally understand each other and it’s this beautiful very long scene, very emotional, ups and downs, and shows how necessary it is to communicate and to be open and honest and vulnerable with each other. After all that’s said and done they’re stronger together and can solve more problems with better solutions. It was a wonderfully written scene that I was really excited about.

How do you think playing Mary Magdalene will affect you professionally as an actor?  

It has been the most artistically fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of it, so grateful for it. She means so much to me. I look back on some of my beginning acting roles and my acting style and realize that I don’t think I’m that good unless my heart is really in it and it feels important and meaningful. And I’m realizing that over the last few years I’ve gotten really … I don’t know … I don’t really want to do much else (laughter). I’ve had auditions for other things and I’m like I don’t know if I really care about this. I have found this thing that I’m so moved by that I don’t know how anything else is going to compare.

The irony is that I’m not being represented anymore — I’m focusing on the show — but I’ve been offered roles in two other projects. The good thing is that they’re really in line with the types of roles I want to continue to do. I’ve realized during this process that It’s so important to me to continue to portray smart women that have some emotional depth, and to tell stories that are meaningful and life affirming and hopeful and transformative. As long as those stories are being told, I’m excited to continue to share those roles and stories with the world.

But if it’s between that and doing something that I think sows anxiety, fear, or is objectifying, I am so over that. That is what I am now cynical about in this world —  media and the types of roles for women, and what we have to do to work. I’m so grateful for the show for making really beautiful female characters that aren’t objectified. That’s so rare and I think we’re all grateful for it.

Is there anything viewers might be surprised about in Season 3? 

I don’t think they’ll be surprised by how emotional and moving it is; I think audiences now expect that after watching the first two seasons. But what I was surprised about is that this is somehow getting even more moving, more touching, and so I would say: bring the tissues

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