You would think casting the lead role for a television series about the life of Jesus would have been a tedious process for Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen. Truth is? It wasn’t. He had just one person in mind: Jonathan Roumie.
Figuring you probably want to know a little more about the guy who plays Jesus, we’ve put together a short FAQ that’s coming your way in the form of an imagined conversation between us and you. Ready? Here we go:
Hold up — did you just say Dallas only had one person in mind when he was casting Jesus?!
Yep. And here’s why: Jonathan and Dallas had already worked together. A few years before The Chosen was even a thing, Dallas made a short film for his church’s Easter service about the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. And we’re going to give you exactly one guess as to who played Jesus in that video…
Such a good guesser! In Dallas’s own words — and you can hear this for yourself here — there was something he saw in Jonathan that captured “the tenderness and the masculinity” of Jesus. And Dallas loved Jonathan’s work in this first video so much that the two of them went on to film several other vignettes about the life of Jesus.
So, I assume Jonathan was a working actor before The Chosen — and even before those vignettes he filmed with Dallas?
Yes, he was.. He graduated from The School of Visual Arts in New York with a degree in filmmaking before he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time.
Wait — have I seen him in anything else on TV?
Chances are, you have. He’s had roles in Chicago Med, The Mindy Project, The Good Wife, Law & Order, and the NCIS franchise. But even with all of those guest spots, Jonathan was struggling to make it as an actor and was this close to calling it quits. He reflected on those darker days in an interview he did with Dallas not too long ago:
“I was at a point where no matter how hard I tried to control my circumstances, it just wasn’t enough. … I literally got to my knees and said, ‘God, if you want this to work — if I’m here doing what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet — you’ve got to help me, because I can’t do this on my own.’”
And then the phone rang: It was Dallas. He was going to do this thing called The Chosen and wondered if Jonathan might be interested. Two months later, they were filming Season 1.
I’m picking up from that story that Jonathan is a Christian. Is that right?
Yes, he’s a devout Catholic. He’s even met the pope. But let’s go a little deeper here. Jonathan will be the first to tell you that who he is now as a believer — at the halfway point of filming The Chosen — is light years away from who he was at the start of filming. He’s described the whole experience as something of a reconversion. And really, how could it not end up being that? As he points out here, he “takes great pains to try and hear God’s voice throughout every step of this process, whether when filming or in between seasons,” and he and Dallas work tirelessly to “keep the set a sacred space.” You can’t have that level of intimacy with God and not be changed by it.
With faith being so prominent in his life — and with acting being something he wanted to do from an early age — I gotta ask: Did he have early aspirations to play Jesus at some point?
As a child, he never stood up and declared, “I — I — shall portray Jesus in the first multi-season television series about the life of Christ!” But when he was eleven years old, he did re-enact the crucifixion in his Long Island backyard for his family. Like, he built a cross, stained it with blood (read: red paint), made a crown of thorns out of reeds, and carried said cross through the yard to his own makeshift Golgotha by the garage. So, he had it in him.
But even with all of that in his background, … remember that first video he filmed with Dallas? The one about the two thieves? Jonathan actually wanted to be one of the thieves. He didn’t want to play Jesus!
Not enough lines.
Well, he has a lot of lines now. So, it kind of worked out for him.
Speaking of his work on The Chosen, I have a few questions about what that’s been like for him. Let’s start here: What does Jonathan like most about playing Jesus on the show?
In just about any interview Jonathan has done, he’s offered up his appreciation for how the show is not afraid to,— in his own words,— “delve into the possibilities of what Jesus’s humanity could have been like.” He also loves how “[the show’s] not limited to two hours to try to cram everything in. … That [there’s] the opportunity to let [the story of Jesus] breathe a little bit.”
He also enjoys the opportunities to wade into the waters of humor. He and Dallas are both convinced Jesus had a sense of humor (we are too), so they’ve thoughtfully played around a bit since those early vignettes. And not only has the audience received the jokes warmly, —we’ve also lost count of how many viewers have thanked Dallas and Jonathan for showing them a Jesus who laughed and made others laugh.
But in answering your question about what Jonathan likes most about playing Jesus on the show, he’ll tell you it’s the impact he knows it’s having and —how his work is helping people experience the authentic Jesus. In fact, his experience on The Chosen has changed how he approaches all other work. “The things that I want to do are geared more toward impact,” he said in a recent interview. “I feel God has tapped me to do things that extend beyond the show and to lend my voice to things I would have never had an opportunity [to take part in].”
I bet you know what question is coming next.
What’s most challenging about the work for Jonathan?
Such a good guesser! Yes. What’s been most challenging for him about portraying Jesus in The Chosen?
That really is the question, isn’t it? We mean this when we say that you really should check out this conversation between Dallas and Jonathan. And once you’re done watching that conversation, you should check out this second conversation the two of them had a little more recently. But since we’re having this nice little conversation, just the two of us, here are two moments in that first video that show us just how hard this work can be for Jonathan:
First, there’s a moment where he confesses it’s impossible for any actor to truly portray any person from history, let alone God in flesh. As he says to Dallas, “I never feel that I have succeeded at being Jesus. To me that’s impossible to ever achieve!” So, the guy experiences quite the humbling on a daily basis.
But second, Jonathan isn’t only playing God. He’s playing the only perfect man to walk the earth. Jonathan is desperate for people to always keep in mind that he is Jonathan of New York and not Jesus of Nazareth. Another confession from Jonathan in that first conversation with Dallas:
“It [gets] a little scary at times, because you want people to know I am human. I’m completely flawed. I’m probably one of the most flawed people on this entire project! But here I am, because this is where God put me — for reasons unbeknownst to me. And all I’m going to do is show up, try to serve Him, and be the best representation of His love on Earth that I can be.”
It has to be hard. Has to. So, how does Jonathan even get to a place where he feels he can do this work of portraying Jesus?
We’d refer you again to Jonathan’s two conversations with Dallas, available here and here, . but to summarize them in his own words:,
“’‘Surrender’ is the name of the game.”
Or put a little differently, “I’m trying to empty myself of everything that is ‘me’, in service to being open as a channel for the Spirit to come and work through me. … I take great pains to try and hear God’s voice throughout every step of this process, whether we’re filming or in between seasons.”
What Jonathan has realized is that while he can’t ever hope to capture the divinity of Jesus, he can work within the humanity of Jesus, and he finds peace in that challenge. “The best that I can do is try to just [humanly] experience everything … every emotion … but on a much more intense level,” he says.. “So, whether it’s mercy or compassion, I try to have exponential amounts of mercy and compassion.”
That’s how he tries to come as close as he can to capturing the humanity of Jesus in any given scene. And in the moments where he wonders what on Earth he’s gotten himself into — who on Earth he thinks he even is to take all of this on he simply thinks to himself, “I know I’m here for a reason. … I’m here and somebody else isn’t here., and I have to take that into account and know that God’s trusted me to represent His Son in this project. And I can’t dishonor that.”
Okay. Can I ask a bunch of rapid-fire questions to close this thing out?
How old is Jonathan?
How tall is he?
Is he actually Jewish?
No. His father is Syro-Lebanese and his mother is Irish. (Real quick — do you not have access to Google?)
Is he married?
What’s his favorite color?
What Sherwin-Williams calls “Sea-of-Galilee Blue.” (We made that up. We don’t know.)
Does he have a best friend?
Does he need a best friend?
This is getting weird.
Fine. Back to Chosen stuff. A lot of actors have taken on the role of Jesus. Does he have a favorite?
We do know he’s a big, big fan of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth TV series, and that starred Robert Powell as Jesus.
Is there anything he is not looking forward to in seasons to come?
I mean, it’s going to get pretty heavy, right? In his own words, when talking to Dallas about filming the events of Passion Week he says,: “It’s one of those things that I just choose not to think about at this point. … To imagine all these relationships that Jesus has with these people … and then all of a sudden not having that ….”
Are there any videos I can watch in which it’s just Jonathan and Dallas chatting about what it’s like to play Jesus in The Chosen?
Are you for real right now?
Just playin’. I think that’s all the questions I’ve got for the moment. Unless you want to circle back to the whole “does he need a best friend” thing.