LOS ANGELES — Jonathan Roumie, the actor at the center of the highest-grossing crowdfunded media project in history, The Chosen, credits his Catholic faith as the foundation of his portrayal of Jesus.
Sitting down with the Register for a recent Zoom interview (to view the full interview, visit https://youtu.be/nxnOWhqtMyw), the 45-year-old actor revealed how, providentially, events within his life led to his casting in The Chosen, a series highlighting the ministry of Jesus.
“My mother is Roman Catholic — she’s from Ireland — and my father is from Egypt, and his father is from Syria. I was raised Greek Orthodox, baptized Greek Orthodox, but later transitioned to Roman Catholic, when we moved from New York City to the suburbs,” Roumie told the Register. “What really has resonated with me is that both are sacramentally based. This is how I have found myself really going deeper into my faith — through the sacraments.”
Roumie explained that, while never falling away from his faith, he did have what he called a “deeper conversion” within the last few years. “There was never really a point in my life where I felt I was disconnected from my faith: maybe a little lukewarm, a little casual at times — never disconnected. God’s been too prevalent in my life, from as long as I can remember.”
He went on to discuss a time when he was out of work in L.A. Out of food, overdrawn with only $20 in his pocket, he was stressed, in debt and questioning his purpose in life. “I was on my knees, and I said to God, ‘I don’t know why you brought me to this place. I don’t know why I’m here. I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I think you put this into my heart, to be an artist, to somehow serve you — but I can’t make ends meet. I’m going to need you to step in.” Roumie said it was an incredibly painful moment of complete surrender as he found himself willing to walk away from what he worked so hard for.
“I had been asking for a long time, ‘If this is not what I am supposed to be doing, let me know,’ and I didn’t get anything else that hit me that I should be doing instead — but here I was, literally brought to my knees. I was done. I gave it all to him and said, ‘You take care of it.’”
Roumie explained how, later that same day, he was surprised to receive money in the mail that covered all his upcoming bills. “I said to God, ‘So this is how it’s going to be? Full and complete surrender, huh? Okay. You got it.’ From that moment on, my life turned on a dime — and has never been the same since. I’ve had obstacles like all of us do, stresses — but how I handled them was completely different from that moment on. I resolved to trust that even in the eleventh hour, God will handle it. I just need to remain true to him and trust him, and he will never let me down — and he hasn’t. Three months from that day, I was confirmed for the role of Jesus in The Chosen.”
Trust in the divine mercy of God resonates with Roumie. Explaining the circumstances behind his reception of a beautiful icon depiction of the image of Divine Mercy, Roumie also explained that his choice to livestream praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and novena leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday was meant to inspire others in their trust in God.
“I’ve had notes from many of my followers — many non-Catholics — asking where they could get rosary beads to pray with us. One woman, who had never prayed the Rosary or chaplet, messaged me saying she decided to become Catholic, had signed up for RCIA.”
Discussing how he has navigated an industry rife with moral compromise, Roumie admitted that he had never faced having to turn down a high-paying role that violated his “red lines” of faith and morals, but wasn’t convinced he wouldn’t have justified accepting it. “Looking back, I know it must have been God preserving me until I was strong enough to face this reality — real success. Maybe, at one time, I would’ve been open — as artists, we must try and be open to the redeeming qualities a character may have. Now, however, these [compromising] roles just don’t interest me.”
He stressed, “I’m interested in doing projects that uplift the human spirit.”
“I’m also very cognizant of the responsibility I have, now, playing this role of Jesus,” he explained.
Speaking about his role as the Son of God, Roumie mused, “For me, as a Christian, if I really am practicing my faith, God is part of my existence in everything that I do; so I’m not only acknowledging him, fully and completely with my being, but I am trying to evaluate how this role can better be served through my faith, through the lens of my faith.”
He added, “I have a much greater advantage than, I think, anybody who has played Christ — for the ability to ‘humanize’ him — because of how long we get to take with the stories that we’re telling.”
“It’s been encouraging to lean into his humanity,” he added.
Roumie was quick to embrace the role, insisting that humor and strong, relatable masculinity were key features of the Incarnate Word.
“You know, Dallas [Jenkins, director of The Chosen] loves to infuse levity where it’s appropriate. To have had a life, and to know what was coming for him, Jesus had to have dealt with it in some way. It wasn’t like he was working out, bodybuilding, to get all of that stress and tension out of the way. How did he deal with these circumstances as a human? As God, we know — it was his destiny, and he ordained it — but being fully human as well as divine, we know he had human emotions in the confines of the human vessel. How do you deal with stress? I like to believe he laughed a lot. He loves children, and children love to laugh. That’s what, I guess, I bring to it, instinctually, and it seems to have resonated with what people envision Jesus to be like: He experienced his humanity to its fullest, while also being completely divine.”
Roumie also discussed a special moment in the first season, where Jesus asked a group of children to say the Shema — the “foundational” prayer of the Jewish people. Transfixed in this moment, his face reveals a mix of emotions: love, joy and sorrow. “Hearing these children pray this foundational prayer, essentially directed towards him, the Godhead in him, is so emotional. For me, that moment was trying to communicate the perfect relationship between the Creator and his creation: that perfect act of praise and worship brought to him by these pure souls, that at this point in their development are still just 100% love. Their souls have not yet been corrupted by mankind, the times, the earth … so we have this level of purity that is just reaching the Creator that can’t help but stir the humanity in him. It was just music to his ears.”
Considered a resounding success, the critically acclaimed first multiseason series on the life of Christ, and having been independently released around the world to more than 180 countries, The Chosen is now crowdfunding to produce Season Two. It may be downloaded for free through an app on the series website.
Roumie says he feels blessed by the opportunity. “For me, at this juncture in my life, I know this is what God has put me here to do: in a very imperfect way, as a human, to be a vessel for the Spirit of his Son to work through this TV project; to work through this prayer time online … to be able to be transparent about my faith and incorporate it into my art. I think people are hungry for it. I think the fact that we’re going through this pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate their relationships to their Creator, or even start looking for that relationship. If I can lead them to Christ in some way, I feel that that’s what I’m here to do.”
Bree Dail writes from the East Coast.