Jonathan Roumie on the Influence of On-Screen Portrayals of Jesus
By Movieguide® Contributor
While at a recent conference, THE CHOSEN actor Jonathan Roumie discussed how he approaches playing the role of Jesus, and the power that TV and movies have to connect viewers to God.
Given the divine mystery that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, Roumie explained how he approaches this aspect of the character when he is portraying Jesus.
“Grace is the first word that comes to mind,” he said. “Before approaching the role, before approaching each season, there’s always a substantial amount of prayer that goes into trying to take on, as best as I can in my own sort of feeble humanity, the mind or personage of God; which is impossible. So all I can do is bring the fullness of my humanity… to the role and then ask God to utilize me sort of like a mirror to reflect his grace, his mercy, his love, his compassion, in all of the scenes.”
One of the strengths of Roumie’s portrayal of Jesus is his ability to capture the humanity of Jesus, without losing his divinity. Even in the most mundane and human moments of the show, viewers still feel the divinity of Roumie’s Jesus.
“There are moments where I read the script [and think], okay, this is one of the human moments in Jesus’ life and ministry that we’re depicting. But for me, I never want to let go of the divinity, somehow, even in this very human interaction. [It’s important] that God’s divinity somehow shines through, that God’s authority somehow shines through in this character,” Roumie said.
“They’re not recorded, but the mundane matters of the earthly life had to have been discussed, talked about, joked about, fretted over by the disciples, because they must of,” he continued. “And Jesus being human, fully human and fully divine, in his full humanity could still relate to them in some fashion and what were those conversations like, but He’s still God.”
While capturing both the human and divine nature of Christ is a difficult aspect of any actor’s portrayal, it is important to get it right because the images that we see on screen impact the way we imagine these characters.
In talking about how he was influenced by portrayals of Jesus as a kid, Roumie recalled how after watching Zeferelli’s JESUS OF NAZARETH, he reenacted the crucifixion in the backyard, nailing two boards together and carrying a cross around on his back, before planting the cross next to his garage and standing on a cinderblock to “nail” himself to the cross.
“That’s the power of media, that’s the power of the image, and when you have an image, I think with the JESUS OF NAZARETH, I really feel that Zeferelli was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I think it had such power to reach in. When you go to some of the religious bookshops and they have portraits of Jesus and it’s Robert Powell’s face, and even seeing images of my own face, to me is shocking and bizarre and I don’t know how anybody ever reconciles that, especially playing Jesus.”
Roumie has felt the power his own portrayal has had through the testament of a young woman who chose not to take her life watching the first episode of THE CHOSEN. She had gone as far as writing a suicide note before a friend convinced her to come over to watch TV. The friend had THE CHOSEN on, and at the end of the first episode, the young lady started weeping and decided she wasn’t going to go through with her plan to take her own life. Two years later, she now works in a ministry to help teenagers who are struggling with their mental health.
“As a society, we need this right now,” Roumie said. “We need more of God in culture. We need people to know that they are loved, as different as we all are, God still loves [us] and everybody has a place in God’s family. And how can we reach out to those who are hurting and those who are desperate, those who are in pain. And if a TV show is able to help encourage people and make them feel closer to Jesus and closer to God, that’s my ministry right there.”
Movieguide® previously reported on Jonathan Roumie:
Although Hollywood and culture are traveling in one direction, and Christians are traveling the opposite direction, actor Jonathan Roumie of THE CHOSEN encouraged actors to stand firm in the faith, ask discerning questions, and work to find the good in secular roles.
“The culture is, in general, at odds with faith but then it comes down to reality,” Roumie said in an interview. “What are the jobs you’re being offered? What about the job makes you uncomfortable [and] makes you uneasy?
“We have to remember as actors not to judge the characters we play,” he continued. “If there’s anything that you feel is compromising your spirituality that’s one thing, if you feel like he’s maybe a bad guy, well I try to find the good, I try to find Christ in all of these characters.”
Roumie said he tries to bring redeeming qualities to lost characters because that reflects his personal walk with faith.
“If they’re somewhat three-dimensional, hopefully, they’re three-dimensional, finding Christ in those characters as you would in any other human being is what allows a character that maybe might behave distastefully in certain scenes to at least give you something that you can work with and find a redemption for,” Roumie said.
However, Roumie did draw a firm line and noted that shows and movies are becoming more violent and sexual.
“I now no longer can even watch certain TV shows because they’re so gratuitous. Like my spirit rejects them,” Roumie said. “So if I were to even audition for a certain show or one or two particular shows that my spirit is almost offended by when I watch it because it just seems like the agenda is really dark on this particular program or that particular show, I probably wouldn’t even audition for it because at the end of the day, you have to live with the decisions you make and now, digital is forever.”
He added: “You don’t want to look back and be like ‘why did I do that? Did I do that just for a couple of bucks?”
Although acting can be challenging to make money in, Roumie said that his career and life turned around when he began to trust God.
“Trust that God, if you’re offering and surrendering your life and your will to God, He will provide for you no matter what,” Roumie said.
“I am living proof of this. My story is that I was at my lowest point in my life on every possible, conceivable level until God got me to surrender my will and that day He turned my life around and six months later I got booked on THE CHOSEN and nothing’s been the same since,” Roumie continued. “But it took the previous eight years of me getting to that point and being battered around emotionally, spiritually and just making decisions that just were not of God’s best for me to realize I had to stop trying to control the industry, controlling my life, controlling my career and trying to do what I think I needed to do.
“Just discern, pray, surrender. But also try, if you have the opportunity, try to find the arc where Jesus is within, with whatever characters that are flawed. Some people would have been like ‘how can you take a role with a heroin addict, you’re playing Jesus?’ So what? You think Jesus doesn’t minister to heroin addicts? Of course, he does. There’s Jesus, in the mix of the grittiest and grimiest of characters, he’s always there,” he concluded.
Jonathan Roumie currently stars in THE CHOSEN and won the Grace Prize® for Television at the 28th Annual Movieguide® Awards for his performance as Jesus.
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