“The Chosen”: A Jesus and his disciples for the modern age

The narrow streets that look like Jerusalem or Capernaum may make you feel as if you’re walking through the Bible itself. But this isn’t the Holy Land overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It’s a production set in the heart of Texas. And the man showing “Sunday Morning” around is no archaeologist; it’s writer-director Dallas Jenkins, the man behind the wildly popular faith-based series “The Chosen.”

“The different ideas that people have in their head of who Jesus was is fascinating,” said Jenkins.

Which means telling the story is fraught with hazards. “Oh, I’m walking through – I wouldn’t say I’m trying to avoid landmines, I’m walking through landmines every day!” Jenkins said.

Writer-director Dallas Jenkins with correspondent Lee Cowan on the Texas set of the Biblical series, “The Chosen.”  CBS News

In an era when studies show Americans are getting less and less religious, “The Chosen,” about the life of Jesus and his disciples, has found more than just a niche audience, says star Jonathan Roumie. “We even got a letter from somebody from the Church of Satan that was like, ‘You know, I don’t believe all this stuff necessarily, but you guys tell a really good story.’ And I’m like, if that guy is taking the time to write? Like, what’s going on in his world?”

While exact numbers are hard to pin down, producers claim more than 200 million people have watched the first three seasons – that’s “Game of Thrones” kind of numbers.

What makes “The Chosen” different are the backstories that Jenkins has created for some of the Gospel’s most well-known characters. Jenkins said, “We’re gonna take them down from stained-glass windows. We’re gonna take them down from statues. And we’re gonna remind ourselves that these people had the same questions, struggles and doubts that we have.”

Jonathan Roumie as Jesus in the series “The Chosen.” “The Chosen”

The tax collector Matthew, for example, is portrayed as living with mild autism. Mary Magdalene is suffering PTSD and struggling with alcohol. Simon is married, and isn’t above having the arguments all couples have.

And then there’s Jesus himself, who it turns out has a pretty divine sense of humor. Roumie said, “I think showing those sides of Jesus, while you don’t see them often, doesn’t make them wrong.”

For all its popularity now, “The Chosen” was not something studios were jumping to make, especially with Jenkins, who said he’d thought about quitting. His previous film has landed with a thud, and nobody wanted to back him on another project. “I imagine that God tends to use the broken and tends to use the humbled,” he said. “And I wasn’t a humble person until that day.”

He turned to crowdsourcing to raise money, a long shot. But boy, did it pay off – more than $10 million poured in, a record for a crowd-funded media project. “I thought, okay, this is bigger than me,” Jenkins said.

Meanwhile, Roumie was in a wilderness of his own. Acting wasn’t really panning out. “It got pretty brutal,” he said.

Actor Jonathan Roumie. CBS News

A devout Catholic, he says he prayed and asked, why? “Where did I go wrong? Like, what happened? I said, ‘If there’s something else I’m supposed to be doing and somehow I missed it, then You got to tell me.'”

An answer, he says, arrived in his mailbox the same day: money for work he’d long forgotten. “At the end of that, I had, like, $1,100. And three months later, I got a call from Dallas asking me to show up for the show.”

Were they miracles? Both Jenkins and Roumie say that’s up to you to decide. 

What does seem clear is the show is apparently offering something that a lot of people were looking for.

A fan convention was held in Dallas this past October, sort of like Comic-Con except instead of super-hero costumes attendees were wearing Bible chic. 

“The Chosen” cosplayers.  CBS News

And when Roumie arrived, as you might imagine, it was a little like the second coming. “Look how many people we get to meet and hang out with!” he said. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

Security had to usher him away.

“It’s humbling, man,” said Roumie. “I’m a dude that shows up and reads lines and says them to another person who’s saying lines that they memorized. I don’t know that I’ve met anybody that actually was disconnected enough to think that I’m actually Jesus. Just in case it wasn’t clear, I’m not Jesus, not Jesus incarnated. That’s not a thing!”

Near the end of season three, the show faced a quandary: how to show the magnitude of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes without breaking the bank. Extras would have cost a fortune – but what about the show’s fans who had so generously donated to get “The Chosen” made? 

They thought they’d get a few hundred volunteers — they ended up with thousands. Jenkins said, “When my wife and I were pulling onto the set at 5:30 in the morning, we started crying seeing … I get emotional thinking about it, ‘cause I’m seeing a couple thousand people already on set.”

Jesus before the multitudes.  “The Chosen”

As the story goes, five loaves and two fish fed five thousand. Dallas Jenkins sees his job as providing the bread and the fish – how or even if his audience feels full, he says, isn’t up to him.

“When I’m writing at the computer, when I’m on set directing, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I hope the show converts people,'” he said. “That’s not the responsibility of a TV show. Ultimately, what happens as a result of the show is between them and God.”

To watch a trailer for Season 4 of “The Chosen” click on the video player below:

The Chosen: Season 4 Official Trailer by The Chosen on YouTube

For more info:

  • “The Chosen” Season 4 will be available to stream in The Chosen app; Season 1 is also available on Netflix
  • “Season 4” debuts in theaters beginning February 1

Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Remington Korper.

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Source : Cbs News