On your t-shirt are represented the five loaves and the two fish from the Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves. Is this story important for getting to know yourself better?
Yes it’s sure. Let’s go back a few years. In 2017, I made a film that I believed in a lot: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. If it enjoyed a certain success in terms of popularity, it was a bitter commercial failure. How can we believe that we are still capable of doing anything after that? In the days that followed, however, a close friend called me saying that he had had an intuition that came to him in prayer: what is asked of us in such an adventure is just to provide the five loaves and the two fish. For the rest, Jesus takes care of it.
It was very liberating for me and I regained my confidence for the future. I am no longer very concerned about the results: I leave that to the Lord. It is he who will multiply the loaves and the fishes. And will make them good to eat.
In 2018, you are launching this project of a first series dedicated to the Jesus of the Gospel. A slightly crazy project: seven seasons and almost 50 episodes. Where are you today?
We started with not much, but we benefited from the help of a lot of friends and a very good crowdfunding operation. Five years later, we have just finished producing season 4 (which will be visible in France at the end of 2024, Editor’s note). We are now more than halfway to producing 50 episodes. Now, we will tackle writing season 5.
Do you mean that the scripts for future seasons have not been written yet?
Let’s say we have the general plot. But with the co-writers of the series, we allow ourselves time each time to rearrange the stories a little, give more or less space to this or that character, etc. We thus benefit from what we discover along the way, during the filming.
Did you think of this series for viewers used to series on Netflix?
Not on the merits. But in form yes. It is indeed a series with what that implies in terms of writing reflexes and work on the characters that we accompany throughout the episodes. But this is not a confessional production. I am personally very attached to the work of good television series. And I’m trying to make one just as good here.
It is still quite a challenge to renew our gaze on Jesus. How is yours different from Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth or Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”?
What I can say in any case is that this is not the Jesus of Dallas Jenkins.
We really try to be as close as possible to the biblical Jesus as he is told in the Gospels. We do not change the stories but we enrich them with scenes that illuminate them with always the same concern to remain plausible. It’s a big challenge in many ways. But the Jesus who thus appears throughout the episodes of our series is indeed this character, true God and true man. He is there, like a good friend, rooted in his Jewish faith, a leader gifted with a real unifying charisma. Without forgetting his sense of humor, his form of natural authority. We see his fatigue, his sadness and his anger.
Is that the strength of a series?
In any case, this is a big advantage compared to cinema films which cannot exceed two or three hours. We have time to develop our story and to evoke the personality of Jesus. He does not look like a formal, idealized character to us, like an image in a stained glass window.
It must be said that Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus, brings him a beautiful humanity…
This is indeed the strength of his interpretation. We’ve been friends for quite a few years. To me, it was obvious that he was the one to play Jesus. He assumes his very singular role, and surely a little heavy in the media. But he also does what is necessary, on social networks, for example, to remain himself with simplicity.
Like Jonathan Roumie, you also take the time to tell your fans about your work on social networks.
Yes, we like to show behind the scenes of our work. Fans of the series see that they can trust us on the meaning of our approach. We need this trust. Especially since we stream all the episodes for free.
Born in the United States, the series experienced rapid worldwide distribution. Did this surprise you? Have some countries been more receptive than others?
As I trust and believe in a true spiritual dimension to our project, I cannot really be surprised. But it’s true that the extraordinary welcome in Brazil or the Philippines is very touching: we felt a particular passion for our work. Even in France, enthusiasm for the series is increasing, even though people do not talk about Jesus so easily in the streets of your country…
You are, Dallas Jenkins, an evangelical Protestant director. And Jonathan Roumie, the actor playing Jesus, is a Catholic in life. Was this ecumenical dimension intended?
She wasn’t wanted at first. But the result is there.
On a daily basis, in his work, it is rare for Jonathan Roumie to feel in disagreement with what I, an evangelical Protestant, suggest to him to interpret. In addition, there is a team of Jewish and Christian advisors around us, one of whose members, Father David Guffin, is an attentive Catholic theologian. We do not seek to shock unnecessarily. We are simply experiencing biblical evidence: the Jesus of the Gospels is no more Catholic than Protestant. He is first and foremost Jewish in his life and practice. Our work cannot contradict what the main Christian denominations themselves say about Jesus.
Alongside this Jesus, there are disciples with touching characters and personalities to discover. And then there is the very beautiful Place de Marie.
It is more delicate for us, since its place is more controversial between the Churches. But I discovered, as a Protestant, that within the Churches giving an important place to Mary, opinions are also divergent. So there are no monolithic faiths. In fact, our approach greatly delights some and annoys others. Particularly among the most conservative, both on the Protestant and Catholic sides.
And you yourself, has your faith grown in this adventure?
I truly feel renewed in my intimate connection with Jesus. By filming it like this, I become aware that if Jesus sometimes performed miracles for crowds, most of the time they took place in a personal encounter with individuals. He understands their expectations and specific needs and responds to them. This attention to people never ceases to upset and amaze me ever more.
“The Chosen”: take part in an evening of exchanges between readers of “Pèlerin”
Talking about the life of the Nazarene and his disciples, in accessible language and narrative writing close to current series: this is what the adventure of Chosen. What if you dived into it with us? Because watching episodes together can also spark interesting discussions and increase our knowledge of biblical texts, without forgetting to renew our personal faith. We offer you an evening of discussions, online, around the first two episodes, on Wednesday October 18, 2023 in the presence of Dominique Lang, Assumptionist religious and journalist at Pilgrim. To find out more and embark on the adventureit’s this way!
The videoconference will be held on Wednesday October 18 at 8 p.m. Register to receive the access link.