‘Jesus at the Center’
An interview with actor Jonathan Roumie of the TV series The Chosen about his faith, his career and becoming a Knight of Columbus
I’m not the real Jesus, let’s just get that out of the way,” Jonathan Roumie said with a big grin as he addressed the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., last January. “Real Jesus, TV Jesus,” he added, gesturing to the heavens above and then to himself as thousands of pro-life advocates cheered.
While there are few people who need to remind their audience that they are not actually the incarnate Son of God, Roumie might be excused for his chutzpah. After all, he portrays Jesus on the enormously successful TV series The Chosen. What began in 2019 as a crowdfunded effort has now completed three seasons and been streamed more than 500 million times worldwide.
Just a few months before sharing his powerful pro-life message on the National Mall, Roumie became a member of the Knights of Columbus. In May, during a break from filming on the set of The Chosen, he shared with Columbia about his Catholic faith, how it informs his acting career, and what it means to be a Knight.
COLUMBIA: Can you share some of your family background and specifically about your Catholic faith? How has the practice of and appreciation of your faith developed into what it is today?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: My parents were immigrants who landed in New York City. I was baptized Greek Orthodox. When we left the city and went to the suburbs, there really weren’t very many Orthodox churches. My dad grew up going to Catholic school, so he was just as comfortable saying, “Let’s just go down the street to the Catholic church.” And so we started going there. I made my first Communion and my confirmation, and it just kind of stuck. I’ve continued to grow in the faith as I’ve gotten older and explored the traditions, so it’s been a wonderful, never-ending journey for me.
Practicing my faith made me realize the importance of prayer and of the sacraments. When you’re really honest with God about your struggles and hopes, and surrender your life to him, he will answer your prayer in a way you didn’t anticipate, but very specifically. Early on in my career, for example, I prayed that somehow I could marry my faith with my career. Years later, I’m doing it in a very literal way, and it’s like a dream come true.
I’ve really come to deeply value the impact of spending time with Jesus in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. There’s a sense of peace that I get from just sitting with him. I never quite understood that until actually doing it. If you just go and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel and focus on Christ, it’s going to affect you in ways you can’t anticipate.
COLUMBIA: How did you get involved in acting? Do you see your acting career as a vocation, and has this understanding changed at all over the years?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: I went to film school and then got into production, but I always had a knack for doing voices and impressions. So I took a chance and wrote to the casting director for this animated show for MTV. They needed voices to sound like famous celebrities. A couple of months later, I got a call to leave an impression of my favorite actor on their hotline — I probably left a Marlon Brando impression or something. They called me up afterward for auditions, and I ended up working on three seasons of that show. So that kind of got my feet wet in the business.
Now, with The Chosen, it’s become a ministry in a lot of ways, and I don’t take the role lightly. The sacredness of this character has rubbed off on me, and it’s shaped what kinds of scripts I consider. I feel compelled to contribute to stories that showcase the light and God and love. I try to find stories that make people smile and bring out the light.
From the beginning, I knew that this show had the potential to impact people in a way that went beyond the average role or TV show, and that people would really connect to it. And then once we started releasing the series and getting feedback, it became clear that God is certainly using this to minister to other people, to draw people to himself.
COLUMBIA: What has been your experience playing Jesus? How have you approached the challenges of the role, and how else has it affected you personally?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: It’s been humbling and transformative and profound. Tiring at times, too, and occasionally overwhelming, but ultimately a privilege and an honor that I hope to continue to steward by the grace of God and with his help.
The biggest joy for me is hearing somebody didn’t know anything about Jesus, and now they were enrolled in RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]. Or they were going to a church 15 years ago, but this show helped bring them back and have a personal relationship with Jesus, which is something many Christians lack. It’s a tangible, visceral relationship that he wants. He wants our hearts, our minds, our souls and bodies. He wants us to love him with everything we have. That doesn’t take suffering out of the equation, but it allows us to deal with our struggles and our pain in a way that we couldn’t without him.
When you meet people who have been affected by the show, they often want to express what it’s meant to them and what they’ve been through in their life. And my reaction is to be present with them, because it’s a really privileged thing to get to do. But that takes energy, and time.
So I’m learning to try to balance it, to get better at finding ways in which I can just rest. I mean, you read the Gospels, and Jesus spent the night by himself in prayer. And so I’m always being compelled to seek out times when I can just recharge. And sometimes that involves saying no to certain opportunities or meetings and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, I’m just grateful to have that impact on anyone at all, to raise up Jesus’ name.
COLUMBIA: Earlier this year, you participated in the March for Life in Washington. Can you say a word about your sense of responsibility as a public witness to the pro-life cause?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: Part of my reason for committing to that was because a large number of young people were going to be there — and there aren’t very many people in my position that have stepped out in faith to remind people of how sacred life is from the moment of conception, how we are created in the likeness and image of God, and how that ought to be protected and not dismissed so readily.
As a Catholic, it’s part of what I believe. And I wanted to empower people, especially young people, who may be struggling with decisions in their life where they don’t feel supported or feel they have nobody to help them. No, there is support and you do have options.
Initially, I thought I would just be there sort of tacitly supporting. And then I struggled for a couple of months writing my speech. God was like, “Just speak from your heart.” I’m like, “Yeah, but that’s going to be really scary.” He said, “No, just be obedient. Just continue to trust me.” And I said, “OK, I promised I would, and I surrender. You take it from here.” And then the speech just wrote itself, basically.
During the rally itself, there were a couple of things that came up spontaneously, like calling on everyone to pray the rosary. I think Our Lady was like, “Remind them about me.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you got it, Mom.” And so I did, and that went over pretty well.
You know, it’s all about getting over fear and just locking into the faith and trust in God, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. So that experience kind of changed my mind about how I could proceed in that area.
COLUMBIA: You became a member of the Knights of Columbus last year as well. How did that come about, and what has been your experience as a Knight?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: I met Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly and his wife in Rome when I was invited to a screening of the documentary on Mother Teresa. And they presented me with an honorary lifetime membership, which was unexpected but just thrilling to me and a great honor.
Nowadays, though, as with other church-related experiences, it’s not the way it used to be for me. For instance, I used to be a eucharistic minister and a lector, and I volunteered as a sponsor in RCIA and a number of other ministries. But I can’t participate in those things in the same way anymore because it becomes something different, drawing attention to me in a way that I don’t want it to. It’s the same thing as a Knight: I would like to participate in a traditional sense, but I haven’t found how to do that just yet. But I think there are other ways and possibilities, and maybe over a cup of coffee with the supreme knight we can come up with some solutions.
COLUMBIA: Is there a message you would like to leave your brother Knights?
JONATHAN ROUMIE: Just know that I’m praying for you and the people you serve. I’m also praying that the noise of culture not get in the way of your mission, because I think it’s easy for a lot of people to get distracted right now. The enemy loves to distract us from our work, especially when we’re serving the Lord, so we have to be careful not to get sucked into conversations that don’t matter.
I feel compelled to share that, I don’t know why. Maybe because I have to do that a lot in my own line of work. Oftentimes there are just so many distracting conversations that have nothing to do with my mission. So, I have to get really good at tuning that stuff out. And to just keep Jesus at the center and his mama right beside him — serving the Lord with all my soul, all my heart and all my strength. Amen.