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Jonathan Roumie’s Lent includes fasting, sharing faith, and a new film on the ‘Jesus people’

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie stars as Jesus in a scene from an episode of the popular streaming show “The Chosen” that was filmed on location in Midlothian, Texas. (OSV News photo/courtesy The Chosen)

This Lent, Jonathan Roumie has a full plate at work – and an empty one at home, he told OSV News, thanks to some “heavy fasting” he plans to undertake between now and Easter.

“Fasting is super-powerful,” Roumie said. “Any time I do it, stuff just starts opening up, and (there’s) clarity. I just keep thinking of when the disciples were asking Jesus why they couldn’t cast out certain demons, and he (said), ‘You’ve got to pray and fast more.’ ... There’s a spiritual power that comes from disciplining your body that way.”

The actor, who plays Jesus in the streaming hit series “The Chosen,” stars in the newly released film “Jesus revolution,” portraying evangelist Lonnie Frisbee, a leader of the “Jesus People” movement in Southern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The revival saw thousands of youth from the nation’s “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” counterculture flock to Churches such as Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, while imparting to mainstream Christian denominations a new openness to marginalized groups.

With audiences already accustomed to seeing him onscreen as Jesus, Roumie was a natural for the part, since the charismatic Frisbee cultivated a Christ-like appearance, growing long hair and a beard while donning a robe and sandals for his ministry.

“I think he was proud of that fact,” said Roumie, who researched Frisbee’s life extensively for the film. “He recognized that he looked like Jesus and he said, ‘There’s no one else I’d rather look like.’ ... He was a fan of St. Francis of Assisi, and he would borrow from Catholic traditions in many ways.”

The role marks a shift for Roumie, who described Frisbee as “a bit of a tortured soul ... with deep, deep wounds.”

Abused and neglected throughout his childhood, Frisbee experimented with drugs and alternative spiritualities as a teen, eventually moving to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district during the 1967 “Summer of Love,” when some 100,000 youth flooded the city. Following what he would later call a “clear as crystal” vision, Frisbee recommitted his life to Jesus Christ, left art school and embraced full-time ministry.

“In the film, we focus on his time where he’s got God sort of lifting him up and sending him out as an apostle with these amazing, charismatic spiritual gifts – gifts of the Holy Spirit in very overt ways,” Roumie said. “When you talk to some of the people that saw him do ... healings, (they say) it was like walking with an apostle. It was that extraordinary.”

At the same time, Frisbee struggled with the effects of his childhood abuse. His marriage ended in 1973, and a decade later he found himself estranged from the Church while battling an addiction to cocaine. Frisbee eventually returned to his faith and reconciled with several former colleagues as he battled AIDS, to which he succumbed in 1993.

“He wasn’t a god,” Roumie said. “He was a man that God used fully, to his service.”

Although the film spans only the golden years of Frisbee’s life, Roumie said that some of his fans “may be a little thrown” by his latest role, including those who are surprised “when they hear me speak in my normal accent, because they just expect me to have a Middle Eastern accent (as in ‘The Chosen’) wherever I go. ... When you spend so much time in people’s homes on their televisions as this character, they just begin to think of you as that, no matter what you do.”

In commercials for the prayer app Hallow, for which he voices Lenten reflections, Roumie even pokes fun at himself over the prospect of being confused with Christ.

Yet in a sense, art and life aren’t all that far apart, he said.

“I rely on my faith so heavily and sacramentally,” Roumie said. “Before I start any round of filming, I’ll go to Mass, I’ll go to Confession, I will try to spend some time in adoration when I can.”

He also prays the Liturgy of the Hours – also known as the “Divine Office” – which is the public prayer of the Church that the faithful have prayed together since the time of Jesus to sanctify the day – and it complements the Mass or Divine Liturgy.

“It’s pulling from Scripture, and you just feel so much more connected to God and what he’s asking of you in your life,” Roumie said. “It feels like you’re clearing out the communications lines ... to be able to hear what (God) is trying to transmit to you.”

Roumie said he was initially hesitant to share his Catholic faith so openly, even when divine providence offered opportunities to do so.

“During the pandemic, I first started praying the Divine Mercy chaplet and the rosary online. ... I hadn’t ever done anything like that before,” he said. “I’m like, people are going to know I’m Catholic, and it’s not exactly a great career move.”

But “even non-Catholics started tuning in and buying rosary beads,” said Roumie, who has gained broad ecumenical appeal through his acting and speaking – enabling him to invite others to draw closer to Christ, while communicating the beauty of the Catholic faith.

Christian unity “speaks very deeply to me,” Roumie said. “I feel like Christ does not prefer his body to be fractured, and so any way that I can help repair that is in the interest of serving him. ... That’s part of my function in the arts, in this ministerial way: to bring people together under the banner of Christ.”

Roumie said watching others respond to that call has made speaking about his faith “worth every ounce of discomfort.”

“I had committed to surrendering to God. This is what I’m feeling called to do, and I’m going to do it,” Roumie said. “God will have my back. He’s had my back.”