Jesus from 'The Chosen' on season 4 and playing the Messiah

Jonathan Roumie talks obedience, faith and mentors

It seems Jonathan Roumie was always destined to play Jesus. At age 11, he enacted his own way of the cross in his backyard after watching the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries.

Today, Roumie has become the (literal) face of Christ to millions worldwide, having spent the past six years playing the character of Jesus in the hit TV series The Chosen.

When asked why he thinks God chose him for this honour, Roumie tells Eternity, “I don’t know if I’ll ever find out the answer to that until I’m on the other side, God willing. But he must have a good reason. So who am I to talk him out of it? You know, my job is to just obey and to say ‘yes Lord’, and try to live out that mission that he’s clearly put in my life.”

“Fame, in and of itself, is not a natural disposition for a person to endure.” – Jonathan Roumie

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It’s not the first time Roumie has played Jesus, having previously taken on the role for several low-budget projects by film director Dallas Jenkins. The first, The Two Thieves – filmed 10 years ago in a rock quarry in Chicago – was for a Good Friday short film for Jenkins’ church.

So when Jenkins called Roumie in 2017 to ask if he would play Jesus in a new crowdfunded TV series, which was to become The Chosen, Roumie already had some experience. He had even practised a Middle-Eastern accent, based on those of his Egyptian-born father and aunt.

Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) teaches a crowd in The Chosen

But the meteoric popularity of The Chosen has shot Roumie, and Jesus, into the public eye in a new way. As an openly “born-again Catholic” (having also spent some of his childhood in the Greek Orthodox Church), fame has situated Roumie as a spokesperson for the Christian faith. It’s a position that the 49-year-old says he would not have been ready for at a younger age.

“Fame, in and of itself, is not a natural disposition for a person to endure,” Roumie explains over Zoom. “I feel like if I had tasted celebrity at a much younger age, I probably would not have handled it in the same way that I’m handling it now. And so I’m just grateful that it showed up in my life when it was meant to show up.”

Jonathan says he felt God calling him to surrender his career and finances to him.

The role that thrust Roumie into the spotlight arrived after an existential crisis. He had spent eight years trying to make it in Hollywood, appearing on US TV shows The Good Wife, As the World Turns and Castle, while juggling a multitude of “side hustles”.

One Saturday morning, he found himself flat-broke, with $20 in his pocket for the day and $100 in debt. In desperation, Roumie “poured out his heart” to God, asking him to reveal his will. Jonathan says he felt God calling him to surrender his career and finances to him. Three months later, just as Roumie was leaving the acting profession, he got the call from Jenkins that changed the trajectory of his life.

Now, six years and three seasons later, The Chosen is one of the most-watched shows in the world, with 200 million viewers and more than 12 million social media followers. Roumie’s own social following has increased 1000 per cent – to over 1 million. In addition to The Chosen, his notoriety has also been fueled by playing Lonnie Frisbee in Jesus Revolution (2023) and starring in Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again (2022).

“Season 4 … was just a doozy for so many reasons – not just emotional, but also physical.”

Roumie has recently finished filming season 4 of The Chosen – with episodes premiering in cinemas on 1 February. It was the toughest season of the show yet, he says.

“It was quite a roller-coaster ride this season. There was a lot to process, a lot of relationships to consider, and the depths of those relationships to explore – especially with the themes we’re exploring this season, including themes of loss and pain and trust and surrender.

“We were all very grateful to get the break after season 4 because it was just a doozy for so many reasons – not just emotional, but also physical. It was physically grueling. We were outdoors it felt like 98 per cent of the season, with a lot of walking and dealing with extreme temperatures, extreme dust and wind, and then trying to perform and be emotional as you got 50-mile-an-hour winds in your face with dust.

“And so it was a challenge. But I think one that is ultimately going to yield beautiful fruit this season.”

The following shoots for the seven-season program are likely to be even more gruelling for Roumie as they lead to Christ’s crucifixion. Looking decidedly un-Jesus-y in a leopard-print coat and Fedora hat, Roumie appears weary and distinctly human as he speaks with Eternity. And yet, his inward grace and kindness shine through as he patiently and carefully attends to each question. This is one of the side benefits of playing Jesus: Roumie is becoming more like his Saviour.

“It’s made me want to be a better version of myself every day of my life.”

“It’s deepened my relationship [with Jesus] exponentially,” he reflects. “There’s really no other way to put it. It’s made me want to be a better version of myself every day of my life.

“I struggle, like everybody else, to just be on top of my game and to just be a good person – to let things slide and to forgive easily. And it’s work. It’s work to do that as a human being. That’s part of the journey of life. But I’ve got the best guide in history, you know, through Jesus Christ. So it makes it a little bit easier. It makes it a lot easier actually; it makes it manageable.”

Being a spokesperson for the Christian faith “has its ups and downs”, according to Roumie, who explores this question in a new docuseries Jonathan & Jesus, which has just released on Prime Video in the US.

“Some days are easier than others,” he admits. “Sometimes it just seems completely overwhelming. Fortunately, I have my faith to rely on. And when things get really hard, I just have to double down on my faith and stay prayed-up and really try to listen and seek God’s counsel and direction for how I’m supposed to get through those days.”

Roumie has also begun to intentionally seek out Christian mentors to help him navigate the responsibility that celebrity faith brings.

“This last year especially, I’ve begun to develop friendships with people that have quite a bit more fame than I do and have a relationship with God as well. It’s helped me get some sort of mentorship advice from these folks to see how they handle it.”

For more information about The Chosen – including where to buy cinema tickets for season 4 and to watch the first three seasons – visit thechosentv.com.au.

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