The wonder of playing Mother Mary in 'The Chosen'

The actress who plays Jesus’ mother, Mary, in The Chosen, Vanessa Benavente, says she is inspired by the trust in God displayed by the woman she portrays in the multi-episode television drama based on the life of Jesus.

Talking to the media ahead of the launch of the first two episodes of Season 3 in cinemas worldwide, the Peruvian-born actress said she feels honoured and grateful to portray a character who has such an inspiring impact on people.

“I always wondered how she must have felt having to learn to be a mother while fulfilling such an important mission.” – Vanessa Benavente

Asked how she portrayed the wonder of being chosen by God to give birth to his only son when she is not a Christian believer herself, she said she concentrated on the surprising nature of everything Mary had to go through.

“I don’t know exactly how much she can really comprehend, especially being in the eye of the hurricane, if you will. Having lived at that moment, in those conditions and having that responsibility – you know, she was so young when she received this mission,” Benavente said via Zoom from Los Angeles.

“I always wondered how she must have felt having to learn to be a mother while fulfilling such an important mission. I mean, it’s mind-blowing to me. And her strengths and her character, her devotion, and her faith, all these things coming together. And the trust that she has to have in God. So all these things inspire me – they really do.

“Sometimes, when you’re going through a big moment of your life – I mean, I can’t even imagine going through that, but I can relate it to going through a moment in your life that is very significant and looking back, you almost don’t know how you did it. You wonder, ‘How did I do that?’ Because there was this coming at me and this coming at me and ‘Wow.’ I think that’s what I wanted to portray – everything was so surprising; everything was coming at her in so many different directions.”

“That’s what I wanted to portray – everything was so surprising; everything was coming at her in so many different directions.” – Vanessa Benavente

Born in Peru, Benavente went to the US to study engineering but kept singing and acting on the side. After studying in Spain under renowned acting coach Juan Carlos Corazza, whose students include Oscar winners Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, she returned to Los Angeles, where she won the role of Mother Mary in The Chosen.

With more than 420 million episode views from around the world, The Chosen is a fan-supported, seven-season television series that creates an authentic and intimate picture of Jesus’ life and ministry, seen through the eyes of the people who knew him.

“The theme of Season 3 is ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,’” said series Creator Dallas Jenkins. “The honeymoon phase is over; now the characters all have to deal with the costs and occasional confusions of following the Messiah.”

“She knows her son’s time on this earth is limited … now it all is becoming much more real to her.” – Vanessa Benavente

After the groundwork laid in Seasons 1 and 3, the struggles of the journey really start in Season 3 for all those chosen to be part of Jesus’ ministry, Benavente tells Eternity.

Jesus and his disciples head to the Sea of Galilee in The Chosen

“For myself and my character, I think she knows her son’s time on this earth is limited. I don’t know how much of the details she knows about the end of the story, but definitely, now it all is becoming much more real to her. And the imminent nature of this ending, I think she’s beginning to see that and suffer and what that means to a mother. And how not to mess with it and how to stay away and not try to protect your child from danger. I don’t know how she could have done that.”

As the mother of small children, Benavente said the fact Mary was a mother was the aspect of her character she identified with most strongly.

“At the core of her story, she is a mother. And that’s her ministry. Her ministry is her motherhood; it’s her being able to nurture this child and teach him, be one of his earthly teachers. So what mother doesn’t relate to having to take care of a baby and trying to teach them and share the best part of you and how to navigate this world?” she said.

“Of course, there were other aspects of her that I don’t think I relate to, but I aspire to – like I said, her strength and faith inspire me. But this nugget that lies at her core, I definitely can relate to.”

She gets a lot of messages from mothers that they can relate to what Mary is going through, “especially after that scene around the campfire in Season 2, where she’s talking about how she’s feeling like she’s not needed by Jesus anymore. Her son is all grown up and doesn’t need her anymore. That hit a chord with so many parents, not only mothers but also dads.”

“We’ve been able to craft this relationship between a mother and a son that is very special.” Vanessa Benavente

She said the most touching response of a fan was from someone who had been neglected and abused by her mother, “and she saw my character now as the mother she would’ve wanted to have. I’m getting emotional just talking about it because, being a mother myself, it’s hard for me to comprehend anyone neglecting and abusing a baby or a child. But having that child find inspiration in my work and something I could help her with was everything.”

The aspect of her performance she is proudest of is the relationship created on screen with Jonathan Roumie as Jesus.

“It starts with the writing, but we have such a respect for one another and such a love for one another as actors and as cast mates that we’ve been able to craft this relationship between a mother and a son that is very special,” she says.

Jesus teaches a crowd in The Chosen

Asked how the experience of playing Mother Mary has changed her, Benavente says it has made her question herself as a mother as to what she wants to show and share with her children.

“Having this faith and not only faith in something we cannot see, but faith in your life and knowing that whatever path you may take, or whatever life may take you to, have faith that everything will be okay. And to trust yourself and to trust your instinct.”

Having recently finished shooting her first lead in a feature film called At the Gates alongside Noah Wyle and Miranda Otto, Benavente acknowledges that the phenomenon of The Chosen has changed her professional life.

“It has made me trust in myself as an artist. And it has given me so many joys, and in the feedback from our fans – so many things.”

The first two episodes of Season 3 will screen from November 18. You can find cinema locations in Australia and New Zealand and buy tickets here.