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'Chosen' season premieres in theaters before streaming

Actors struggled with acting jobs before auditioning for hit religious series

Published: February 12, 2024   
OSV News photo/Chosen Poland
Jonathan Roumie and Elizabeth Tabish, who play Jesus and Mary Magdalene in “The Chosen” series, are seen during its season four premiere in Warsaw, Poland, Jan. 26. “The Chosen” launched as crowdfunding project.

When the creators of "The Chosen" started with a crowdfunding project in 2017, they would not have thought in their wildest dreams they would be walking the red carpets from Los Angeles to New York and from London to Warsaw, with screaming fans begging for selfies.

Five years since the premiere of the first season, the series about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is now garnering over 770 million views of its episodes and has more than 12 million social media followers. Season four debuted in theaters across the U.S. and Canada Feb. 1, followed shortly by debuts in several other locations worldwide.

Once all eight episodes are shown in theaters, the series will appear on The Chosen app, as well as streaming.

"I wasn't expecting any of this. I think it was one of the most enthusiastic receptions we've had for our premieres," Elizabeth Tabish, who portrays Mary Magdalene in the series, told OSV News in Warsaw Jan. 27, the day after two episodes from season four were shown on big screen in the Polish capital, with 1,600 fans filling four rooms of one of the city's biggest theaters.

"It was very exciting, you could just sense the warmth and love from the Polish people, and it just was very encouraging," Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, told OSV News, days after the crew got a spectacular reception at the London premiere Jan. 22.

"The Chosen" is a groundbreaking historical drama based on the life of Jesus Christ, seen through the eyes of those who knew him. Set against the backdrop of Roman oppression in first-century Israel, the show shares an authentic and intimate look at Jesus' extraordinary life and teachings. It is set to run seven seasons.

Tabish said the series "changed every aspect" of her life, but she did not see that coming. She almost didn't make it to the audition for the role.

"Before I booked it, I was trying to quit acting. I wasn't getting the sort of roles that I really wanted to be doing, and I told my agent to just stop submitting me. I need to switch gears, do something more practical," she said of a time of her life when she was struggling to even pay rent.

But the agent insisted she audition for the series, "and I read the script for the first episode, and I was so connected to her character, it was so beautifully written — just so much backstory and emotional depth and complexities. And I thought, this is what I would love to be doing," she said.

For Roumie, a practicing Catholic, the role of Jesus also came as a surprise.

"I struggled in Los Angeles for eight years before 'The Chosen' came along, and three months before 'The Chosen,' I committed to giving everything over to God, to letting go of the reins of control over my career, over my concept of how I thought my life should go, how I thought my career should go," he said.

"And when I did that, everything changed in the span of 24 hours," he continued. "And then three months after that one specific day where I let it all go, Dallas (Jenkins, the director), called me up and said, 'We're going to do this show.' And since then, it's just been a journey towards growing deeper and deeper into my faith."

In season four, with stirring scenes, including ones featuring John the Baptist and Lazarus, Tabish said, "We kind of come to this point of no return. Everything is a little bit more dangerous, the stakes are all higher. … There's no turning back. It's a painful season in a lot of ways."

For Roumie, season four was "for a while, completely challenging to film on a technical level, and on a narrative level was painful and sorrowful and difficult at times," but "what ultimately comes out of it and the message behind season four — and the faith and the encouragement and the hope and the message to trust and put faith in God and that he has your back — ultimately is the beauty that I think people will walk away with when they leave the theaters."

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