Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest and a fan of the streaming sensation “The Chosen.” She also is a contributing writer to the Opinion section of The New York Times. With Holy Week upon us, she decided she wanted to interview the man who plays Jesus on “The Chosen,” Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie.
The result is an engaging, inspiring and revealing conversation about what it’s like playing the second person of the Trinity.
Tish Harrison Warren: There’s been an enormous positive response to “The Chosen.” How has that been for you? What’s it like for millions of people to look at you as Jesus?
Jonathan Roumie: When you’re walking in the street and somebody calls out to you as Jesus, the first reaction is like, That’s so bizarre. But, Oh, they must be fans, is the thought that follows. It becomes super humbling and strange. I’ve had to reconcile it with God and be like, “OK, you put me here. So I guess I just have to get used to this.”
When people see celebrities, they may get excited. But fans associate you with God. That’s a unique burden. They watch you heal people on TV every week. There’s a different emotional response to that.
I’ll give you an example where it really affected me. I was promoting Jesus Revolution at an event at SoFi Stadium. Security came over to me and said, “Hey, there’s a woman outside and she has her son with her and he’s in a wheelchair. Do you want to meet them?” I said, “Yeah, of course.” So I went out and I introduced myself. We’re talking and she says to her son, “It’s Jesus from ‘The Chosen.’ ” He had cerebral palsy where he couldn’t speak, but he indicated that he recognized me. She said, “My son here has cerebral palsy. Our favorite episode of ‘The Chosen’ is when they lower the man with cerebral palsy through the roof to be healed by Jesus.” I noticed her choice of words. We hadn’t said “cerebral palsy” in the series and in the Bible, the man is only referred to as a “paralytic,” but she’d personalized the story in light of her son’s experience. And she said, “We knew you were going to be here, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if God did that for my son?” And I kind of panicked inside. I thought, I can’t do that. I don’t have that power. I said, “It would be amazing if God healed your son. I, unfortunately, don’t have that gift as far as I know, but I would love to pray for you and your son if that’s OK.” And I prayed, thanked them, and hugged her son, and they seemed like they were so happy. I turned around and I broke down into tears. Because I couldn’t fulfill that expectation. There must have been, deep down, some kind of disappointment. That was one of the hardest encounters for me. It still chokes me up even thinking about it.
Very often, I don’t feel worthy of playing Jesus. I struggle with that a lot. But I also acknowledge what God has done for my life as a result of playing Christ and how God has changed my life.
In “The Chosen,” when Jesus heals people, his response is laughter and joy. I find that Jesus is often portrayed in art and film as kind of a stoic sufferer — aloof and silent. And you’re a warm, laughing Jesus. Was that something you decided with the director, or did that just happen naturally for you?
I think God, recognizing the joy of one of his children being healed and having a heart full of gratitude would be delighted. What father or mother upon seeing their child healed and now relieved of pain or suffering, does not take delight in that?