Interview by Isolde Hilt
Jesus Christ … How much do we have to do with him? His birth serves as a timepiece for us. Christmas and Easter, the greatest festivals of Western culture, also refer to him. But do we really know what and whom we are celebrating?
2,000 years later, the international series THE CHOSEN about the ministry of Jesus is now catching the public attention. The first three seasons, to be followed by four more, have already captivated over 400 million viewers. The film project, which is financed exclusively through crowdfunding, has inspired audiences worldwide across all cultures, religions and generations. It seems as if Jesus has once again made a way to bring hope to people in these times …
We spoke to Karoline Kuhn – editor, ghostwriter and translator. When she saw The Chosen, she knew instantly that she wanted to be involved somehow. Thanks to Karo, we got a behind-the-scenes look at a film project that may become the biggest and most successful of our time.
How did you get involved with The Chosen and what is your role in this world project?
When I saw The Chosen, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. Together with my colleagues Lukas Furch and Jörg Schwehn, I wrote many emails to the USA and offered to help make The Chosen known in Germany as well. And at some point this came true.
I am responsible for all translations and communication. Lukas does social media and takes care of events and cooperations. Jörg at SCM distributes the products like DVDs, books and merchandise.
The Chosen is the largest crowdfunded media project in the world to date.
Can you please briefly introduce The Chosen – the concept and purpose behind it?
The Chosen is a series (7 seasons are planned) that tells the life of Jesus from the perspective of the people who travelled with him. It is the largest crowdfunded media project in the world to date. Thousands of people from all denominations and countries have participated. The aim of the creators is to present this story with the means of our time and for a contemporary audience in such a way that people today may find a new approach to it. To show Jesus as authentically as possible – fully human and fully God.
After the third season it is already clear that the story of Jesus, the apostles and other people who were close to him is becoming more intense from episode to episode. The crew around Dallas Jenkins is already experiencing a hype that no one would have expected. How many people in how many countries are already following The Chosen?
It’s hard to say, the app has already had 700 million views, but those are clicked episodes, not viewers. It’s estimated that 100 to 150 million people have watched it now. But it’s also on many TV channels now, on Netflix and Amazon Prime, so you can’t count it exactly anymore. The goal is to reach a billion people.
How many languages will it be translated into?
Currently, season 1 is dubbed into 12 languages, and there are subtitles in over 50 languages. One of The Chosen’s goals is to translate the series into many more languages in the next few years.
Some of the reactions are quite extraordinary. For quite a few people, some things are changing seriously in their lives. Do you have one or two examples?
Our most prominent „example“ is Andrea Ballschuh, who discovered the Christian faith for herself through the series.
We have also heard of people who had suicidal thoughts and got away from them through the series. And for many of them, the image they had of Jesus and the Bible simply changes.
It is interesting that the enthusiasm cuts across all generations and cultures. Many are not even rooted in the Christian faith. What is it that is so fascinating?
Yes, a Muslim wrote us the other day that he celebrates the series. My mother, 81, watches it with her friend and loves it. I think it’s just a really well-made series to begin with. High-quality filming, well acted, with a lot of humour, but also very touching scenes and likeable actors and actresses. It’s simply a pleasure to watch.
The Chosen is not dogmatic or propaganda for any church or particular beliefs. The series does not try to convert people, but to tell the story from the Bible as authentically as possible. It is enriched with plausible background stories that give more depth to the characters and allow the viewers to identify with them.
What is surprising is the tremendous tension, the excellent acting of everyone involved. It seems as if one of the biggest film projects is under a special blessing. How do you experience that?
Yes, so much good has come together that I somehow believe it didn’t „just happen“. Dallas Jenkins, the director, had the basic idea, but so much that has happened since then had nothing to do with him. The idea with the app, the crowdfunding, the actors and actresses, many of whom have a special relationship to their role … Everything has come together so brilliantly that actually everyone involved feels like it was meant to be.
Also, most of the main participants have almost all had the same experience of personal breakdown and subsequent total surrender to God before the series. You can feel that everywhere. No one has a big ego to live up to. No one is out for fame or profit. Everyone is giving 100 per cent to make this series the best it can be.
Jonathan Roumie embodies Jesus in The Chosen so convincingly that quite a few people almost think he is Jesus. How does he deal with it?
I’ve had the privilege of talking to Jonathan a few times and he said it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is the greatest honour in his life to play this role … And he thinks that every Christian should interact with other people the way Jesus did anyway. So if someone comes up to him and bursts into tears because he embraces that person and they then feel that Jesus is embracing them, he can do that and does it gladly. On the other hand, when people expect him to heal them – and that has happened! – then it becomes too crazy even for him. He has therefore withdrawn a little from PR. The series almost never advertises pictures of him, but rather pictures of the other actors.
I got to know Jonathan as a humble, reflective person who definitely doesn’t let it go to his head, but who treats it all with due reverence, but also with distance.
Jonathan retreats before each day of filming and tries in prayer to empty out as much of himself as possible so that Jesus can fill that space in him to play the role.
How does working for The Chosen change the actors themselves? How do they prepare themselves before slipping into their roles?
I have been able to talk to most of them. They all say that the role, the series, working with Dallas and the others changes their whole lives. Those who had nothing to do with faith before are starting to look into it. For others, like Jonathan, it deepens and intensifies their faith. And some are just happy to have a good role in a wonderful project. They all rave about the great teamwork, saying it’s like being in a big family.
Jonathan told me that he retreats before each day of filming and tries in prayer to empty out as much of himself as possible so that Jesus can fill that space in him to play the role. And it seems to me that he succeeds.
What director Dallas Jenkins and his team also do well is to get the audience excited not only about the story of Jesus, but also about each of the characters. Mary Magdalene, for example, speaks from the botton of the heart of many people. What do you think she embodies particularly impressively?
Yes, she’s great, as is Liz, the actress, who has a similar story to Mary in many ways and is also so convincing for that reason. Maria embodies the principle of hope. She is healed from the deepest sadness, depression and hopelessness through her encounter with Jesus. Her life is now full of joy, which does not mean that she does not experience relapses and doubts. If she can be saved, it is also possible for me.
What other role particularly moves you?
I really like Luke Dimyan, who plays Judas. He’s the youngest of the cast, only in his early 20s, and a special character. And I’m excited to see what Dallas and his co-writers Ryan Swanson and Tyler Thompson do with Judas. For sure he won’t be a black and white villain, but as multi-layered a character as any.
How does working on The Chosen change the film crew itself? This is not just any story, but one that has shaped not only our Western culture for over 2,000 years.
The actors and actresses are all very intensely involved with the people they portray. Three of them have just been in Rome for a documentary and visited the graves of „their“ characters – Thaddeus, little James and Eden, Peter’s wife. They all died a cruel death – except for John. The actors and actresses are intensely concerned with what could have been their motivation to go to the extreme for this Jesus. And that leaves no one untouched.
But it is also very intense for all the other participants. They all realise that unusual things happen all the time and that this is not just a normal TV series.
I've heard from many people I've shown scenes from The Chosen, "I don't even know why I'm crying now."
Through The Chosen, a longing emerges that also shows how things are for many people at the moment. How do you perceive that?
I actually think that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that unfortunately far too many people today simply don’t know who he is and why that has relevance for them. Either because they have been taught a horrible, judgmental and forbidding image of God or because they simply don’t know anything about faith anymore.
The series offers the chance to understand this on a level that has nothing to do with rationality, understanding and religion. I’ve heard from many people I’ve shown scenes from The Chosen, „I don’t even know why I’m crying now.“ This Jesus is simply irresistible. He touches deep inside and touches on a longing that I think we all carry inside us, often without realising it or knowing what we are longing for …
What fascinates or engages you most about this film project?
I just love everything about The Chosen – the quality, the inclusivity, the otherness, the courage of those involved, the openness, the not wanting to convert anyone. And I am infinitely grateful to be a part of it. Personally, I have also come closer to Jesus in a completely new way and more on an emotional level. And the Jewish culture has grown even closer to my heart. There are many things you can criticise about Christians and the church, but I can totally identify with this kind of faith.
What do you particularly enjoy when you meet the actors and actresses or director Dallas Jenkins in person?
Dallas always fascinates me anew because he is an incredibly good communicator. He knows how to get to the heart of things with clarity and sovereignty, especially when it comes to sharp criticism. That is a great talent that not every director has. He knows exactly what he wants, but has zero ego in the game. How appreciative and loving he is with the actors and all the others is extraordinary.
It’s also great that he always comments on and celebrates our German social media activities. But also the other people involved are incredibly nice and bring a lot of enthusiasm for their series – also for the fact that we and many others around the world help to spread it. It’s great to be part of The Chosen family.
What do you think? What would it be like if Jesus came to the world again now – almost exactly 2,000 years later? Would we receive him differently?
No idea! He was received very differently back then, too. Would he use social media? Probably yes. But how his message would be received, I really have no idea.
What do you want most for The Chosen? And what, at best, can one of the greatest film projects of all time achieve?
What it’s already doing: making people understand anew why Jesus is the most important person in the universe, what it was all about back then and what it has to do with us today. And I think it would be great if some of the very conservative, very “law-abiding” Christians would realise through the series that Jesus was exactly the opposite of the strict judge or spoilsport that they unfortunately seem to see him as.
Anything else that’s important to you, that’s close to your heart?
If you think The Chosen is good, you can support the series financially in Euros and via PayPal using the new The Chosen app. The next 4 seasons that are planned also need to be financed. Of course, this is voluntary and you can still watch all episodes for free. But we are happy about any support!
More information on The Chosen: https://watch.angelstudios.com/
Here you can watch all previous episodes of The Chosen for free, dubbed in different languages or with subtitles: https://www.angel.com/watch/the-chosen
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