In an industry first, The Chosen – the hit multi-season series on the life of Christ – is releasing its entire fourth season in theaters. Its first weekend drew a promising showing from audience attendance, raking in $6 million in its debut, a figure that grows to $7.4 million when taking into account the Thursday preview.
These are just the first three episodes of Season 4, packaged into a single movie-length release, but two more releases will combine episodes 4-6 and episodes 7-8 for separate releases about every two weeks. If the response to the next two releases is the same as this first, The Chosen is on track to have its most successful season yet.
Now, as anticipation is growing in those who just can’t wait to see how Season 4 ends, Aleteia had the opportunity to sit down with actress Elizabeth Tabish (Mary Magdalene), who spoke about the excitement of the season, her experiences working with The Chosen, and how it has changed her perspective on her work.
Aleteia: In the first three seasons of The Chosen, we can see the transformation of Mary Magdalene from a possessed person and sinner to a disciple and something of a leader. What new talents or new faces of Mary Magdalene could we expect to see in the fourth season?
Elizabeth Tabish: What I love about the way she’s been written is that her growth has been very realistic. Even in Season 2, we see her kind of going back to her old ways before coming back to the group and growing very slowly, in the way we all do. It takes time.
In Season 3, we see her confronted by Tamar and she’s saying, “Jesus forgave you. You need to really forgive yourself and really let go of the past.” Mary had sort of held on to residual shame and fears, but in Season 4, we really see her step into confidence. There are some very unexpected and shocking events that occur this season and it really shakes up the group of followers. They’re all, I think, stunned by what has happened, but because Mary has experienced the darkness in her past, she has a unique view of what’s going on. I think this season has finally transformed her fears and grief and shame into this patience and compassion and strength.
Aleteia: In a previous interview you said that of all the characters you’ve portrayed in your career, you associate with Mary Magdalene the most. Which of those multiple phases of Mary Magdalene’s character resonates most in you?
Elizabeth Tabish: All of them. I think that’s what makes her such a unique character in history and such a relatable one too. When I first booked the role, I really related to that first episode, where she is in a state of despair and as she’s grown, I also have felt myself grow in terms of allowing love and mercy and joy into my life.
As the seasons have gone by, there’s been the same sort of patience, I think, that Jesus has with Mary’s growth. I have this patience in my growth that now I am relating more to who Mary is in Season 4 of being part of a group and really caring for the people around her instead of focusing on her own pain.
Aleteia: How have viewers reacted to Mary Magdalene’s character? Have you heard testimonies from fans about how they have been touched by your portrayal of Mary Magdalene?
Elizabeth Tabish: I’ve received quite a few responses from fans that say they recognize themselves in Mary and they identify with her, but the really life changing and powerful testimonies I have heard second hand. I have been approached by people who shared that somebody new at their church or one of their friends has really gone through something horrific.
There have been a number of accounts of women who have recently gotten out of human trafficking who were invited to church and they were shown the first episode of The Chosen and they felt seen by Mary’s character. They felt like they were being represented on screen. The struggles that they’ve gone through and then to see her redeemed and that there’s hope and that there is a future had been life changing for them.
Aleteia: Do you have any words of encouragement to our readers who have yet to see the series?
Elizabeth Tabish: Oh yeah. First of all, there are so many wonderful female characters in The Chosen. There are a lot of different characters to relate to at any point of your life and no matter what you’re going through, there’s a storyline to help you with it and help you find hope and peace and joy through it.
Anyone who’s hesitant to watch the show should try watching it, and do so with an open mind and an open heart. The emotional impact of that first episode has resonated in so many different cultures all around the world and in all different languages. It’s becoming clear to me that this is a very universal story, especially for women and in the Mary Magdalene storyline.
Aleteia: In a previous interview you told us that playing Mary Magdalene has brought up a lot of difficult emotions in you. We know that the fourth season is darker, as it is about the last week of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. Would you say that the role has become harder to play in season four than it has been in the past?
Elizabeth Tabish: I would say that the very emotional scenes from Season 1 were that way I was alone in those scenes. It was me and my imagination and notes from Dallas [Jenkins]. So those were a certain type of challenge, but they were also very cathartic for me at that time in my life.
Now in Season 4, all of the events that occur are happening to us as a group. So even though some tragedies occur there is this support that we all have with each other as we’re able to take care of each other. And that is seen both in the characters and the actors. We’re all able to take care of each other while we’re all going through these difficult scenes. So in a lot of ways I would say it was easier, because at the end of the day on and off set, there is so much love that protects us.
Aleteia: You have said previously that of all the roles you have taken in your career, Mary Magdalene was the character with the most depth and that it has urged you to select your roles more wisely. Especially as someone who has been branching into directing and producing, how has this role helped create new ideas about how to show women in film culture with a new depth?
Elizabeth Tabish: I don’t want to knock anything, but I think for the longest time, at least in the time I grew up, female characters on shows and movies were all very visual. They were trying to look a certain way. They were girlfriends or wives or they were sort of secondary in terms of the storyline, and we’ve seen a really beautiful emergence of female storytelling.
I think The Chosen is part of that in showing that there are wonderful female stories as well. In the future, if I continue to direct and also in future roles that I would want to take on, I think as long as it is about real people so that the depictions that we share can influence culture to show to be truer representations of the female experience versus – I know this sounds so harsh – but like, the male fantasy of what women ought to look like or be like or act like…
So I think it’s just important to give honest representations of all the different types of women, which The Chosen really does well. All of the female characters that they’ve written and portray are lots of different types of women: They’re business women, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, daughters, sisters. There’s lots of different elements that I think are really refreshing to see.
Aleteia: In a previous interview, you said a lot about the things you learned from your time in the series. What is the most important thing you’ve learned from portraying the role of Mary Magdalene
Elizabeth Tabish: I would say the most important thing is that no one is too far gone to be redeemed. Mary Magdalene is a wonderful example of just continuing on through the darkest depths of despair. She was possessed. She had struggles with addiction and thoughts of suicide and that’s where we meet her. That’s where Jesus meets her. And to see her completely transformed with so much joy and love and peace in her heart, even as tragic events are occurring, she holds onto that light. To see that transformation, I think, is promising and it gives us all permission to accept that same transformation.
Aleteia: It reminds to me that you said once that before being cast in the series, you were thinking about throwing in the towel. Has your time on The Chosen changed your mind about that?
Elizabeth Tabish: This has been such a fulfilling project in so many different ways. My passion for acting, I’m realizing, is really a passion for storytelling and for telling stories of hope. So it has reignited that interest in me, but certainly in a different direction. In a more hopeful and meaningful direction.