ATLANTA — Thousands cheered and lifted cellphones to capture images and video of a man with unmistakable facial features and wavy-brown hair as he walked down the aisle of the historic Fox Theater Tuesday.

Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus in the popular faith-based series “The Chosen” was not dressed in a first century tunic. On this night he wore a velvet burgundy jacket with black leather pants and shoes. He raised a hand of greeting to the fans and smiled as he strolled to his seat with the cast near the front of the packed theater.

Jonathan Roumie speaks to news media.
Actor Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in “The Chosen,” speaks with news media at the world premiere of Season 3 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. | Trent Toone, Deseret News

Moments later, Derral Eves, an executive producer, stepped onstage to welcome the crowd with an ear-splitting, “Who is excited to see ‘The Chosen?’” The audience exploded in applause.

When Dallas Jenkins, the show’s creator, director and executive producer, was handed the mic, the crowd went wild again with a drawn-out standing ovation. It would not be the last one of the night.

“You’re not supposed to do that yet. You still haven’t seen the episodes,” Jenkins said with a grin. “So now if you don’t match or exceed that at the end, it’s a failure.”

Nothing about the world premiere of Season 3 of “The Chosen” was a failure. The audience of more than 4,000 fans in the Fox Theater laughed, cried and celebrated each tender moment of the theatrical release of episodes 1 and 2. When it was over, they renewed the standing ovation as cast and crew assembled on stage.

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The event served as a charity fundraiser to benefit the Salvation Army and Camp Hoblitzelle near Midlothian, Texas, where “The Chosen” has established film campus.

The first two episodes of Season 3 open in more than 2,000 theaters nationwide, as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, on Friday, Nov. 18.

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Before Tuesday’s premiere, members of the media were granted access to interview cast, crew and other special guests as part of a “teal carpet” (the color of the series’ logo) event. They answered questions about the advantages of a theatrical release, the secret of the show’s success with more than 420 million episode views and how the series has strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ.

Producers of “The Chosen” speak with news media.
Mark Sorian, vice president of production for “The Chosen,” speaks with news media with producers Chris Juen and Chad Gundersen at the world premiere of Season 3 at Fox Theater in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. | Trent Toone, Deseret News

Why a theatrical release?

Some fans expressed disappointment when “The Chosen” announced it would open Season 3 in theaters.

It’s how it the show as meant to be seen, according to Roumie.

“There’s so much visual detail that is lost in small-screen format. I think it’s what the show deserves,” said Roumie. “I think it’s just going to look stunning. So I’m really, really excited to see it in theater, and I think it will attract more attention to the series, and by proxy, to Jesus and his story. At the end of the day, that’s my personal goal, to get more people familiar with who Christ was, what he stood for and what he meant to the world.”

Jenkins felt there were several good reasons for a theatrical release.

“I think our community especially loves gathering. We are a very fan-centric show. ... So the opportunity to gather for something like this, I think, is really important,” said Jenkins, who was sporting a blue suit. “Seeing it on the big screen is also something cool because the themes of Season 3 especially are significant. I think it demands a little bit more of a bigger stage. And maybe a theater, as opposed to a home, allows it to just reach more people.”

The idea of bringing fans together stemmed from past Christmas specials, Eves said.

“We noticed that fans love to get together,” the executive producer said. “For us, it’s not about the red or teal carpet, it’s more about fans coming together all over the world to celebrate something that they love, and it will enable them to share. I think more people will be activating the Chosen app. More people will discover Season 1 and 2 because of what’s happening here tonight.”

Eves also confirmed that Angel Studios has struck a deal with Netflix for “The Chosen.” A formal announcement is forthcoming.

“We want the world to see ‘The Chosen’ and working with partners like Netflix is going get us out to a lot more people,” he said. “I would love a billion people to see the show and have it impact people in and around the world.”

Noah James, who plays Andrew in “The Chosen,” speaks with news media on the “teal” carpet at the premiere of episodes 1-2 of Season 3.
Noah James, who plays Andrew in “The Chosen,” speaks with news media on the “teal” carpet at the premiere of episodes 1 and 2 of Season 3 during a charity fundraiser to benefit the Salvation Army at the historic Fox Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Atlanta. | Trent Toone, Deseret News

Why do people love ‘The Chosen’?

One of the special guests at the Season 3 premiere was Andrew Erwin, who serves as chief creative officer at Kingdom Story Co. Erwin and his brother Jon Erwin have produced several hit feature films, including “I Can Only Imagine,” “I Still Believe” and “American Underdog.” He came not as a filmmaker, but as a fan of “The Chosen.”

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“I think the secret sauce Dallas (Jenkins) unlocked with this thing is the idea of emotional archeology, saying that these were human beings. Jesus was divine, he was God’s son, but he was also a human, and as a human, what must he have felt?” Andrew Erwin said. “I think there’s a portrayal that’s so relatable that I don’t think has been seen before. So I can’t wait to see where they go next with the show.”

Viewers are drawn to the show’s themes, said Paras Patel, who plays Matthew.

“The secret to our show is incorporating diversity, showing love and acceptance, and allowing people to feel that they are accepted in who they are and what their walk of life is, because people can relate to that,” Patel said.

Paras Patel, who portrays Matthew on “The Chosen,” attends the theatrical premiere of Season 3.
Paras Patel, who portrays Matthew on “The Chosen,” attends the theatrical premiere of Season 3, episodes 1 and 2 during a charity fundraiser to benefit the Salvation Army at the historic Fox Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Atlanta. | John Amis, Invision for The Chosen

Roumie agreed.

“It’s humility, staying humble about everything,” he said. “The human soul recognizes truth, and when it recognizes it, it responds to it. I think that’s what people are feeling.”

For Montell Jordan, a pastor and singer/songwriter best known for his 1995 single, “This Is How We Do It,” “The Chosen” is his go-to family activity.

“We latched-on quick, man,” said the 6-foot-8 Jordan who wore a cross bling necklace. “It’s something we do together as a family. We watch it together and discuss it.  We love the way the Bible comes alive through the different characters.”

Brothers Neal and Jordan Harmon, co-founders of Angel Studios, the distributor of “The Chosen,” believe the hardship in which the series was born played a role in its future success. Jenkins was coming off a box office failure. VidAngel, the predecessor of Angel Studios, was embroiled in a lawsuit with Disney.

“Both of these experiences humbled those who came together to make ‘The Chosen,’ then 19,000 people united with the vision of making Season 1,” Neal Harmon said. “Now with seasons 2 and 3, they have a spirit and a humility about them because of the way that they were born.”

Listening to the audience is another factor. If the audience believes in the project, that’s all that matters, Jordan Harmon said.

“We believe in the wisdom of crowds. Fans feel like they get to be a part of the creative process,” he said.

How the series has strengthened faith

Standing on the teal carpet, Roumie said playing the role of Jesus has deepened his faith journey “exponentially.”

“It’s hard to imagine that a project, a TV show, that work would have that kind of impact on my life spiritually, but it’s kind of what I’ve been praying for, so here we are,” he said. “What I hope for is to be sort of this divine mirror that God reflects his love, mercy and compassion off me through the show to the world in ways that they themselves know they are loved and that we’re all children of God.”

Dallas Jenkins stands for a photo.
Dallas Jenkins, creator of “The Chosen,” attends the theatrical premiere of Season 3, episodes 1 and 2 during a charity fundraiser to benefit the Salvation Army at the historic Fox Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Atlanta. | John Amis, Invision for The Chosen

Working on the series has taught Jenkins more than ever before about the “personal nature of Jesus.”

“When he healed people, when he called people, it was personal. It was unique to them. It met them in their specific need. He is the God of the personal,” Jenkins said. “So realizing that he has a personal relationship with me, I think that is what has impacted me the most during this process.”

Actor Noah James, who plays the role of Andrew, comes from a Jewish and secular background and has had a “remarkable” experience working with people from different faith backgrounds and cultures.

“It’s been totally eye-opening,” James said. “I’ve met and worked with people that I never thought I would. We all just approach it with the utmost respect and do our best to bring the story to life. It’s been a truly remarkable thing to be a part of.”

A fan’s perspective

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Margaret O’Grady and her husband traveled to Atlanta from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to attend the premiere. Along with being big fans of the series, they were extras in feeding of the 5,000 scenes filmed this past summer in the Texas heat. They stayed in the same hotel as the cast and crew, across the street from the Fox Theater, where O’Grady appreciated mingling with several of the actors.

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“It’s exciting because we get to see them (the cast) all at once,” said the 62-year-old O’Grady, who was sporting a “Chosen” hoodie. “I hope the whole world gets to see this show.”

Parting thought

As exciting as the evening was, with a “teal carpet,” a fancy venue and the presence of cast and crew, Jenkins hoped the audience would find “rest” in watching a show about Jesus Christ. The theme of Season 3 is “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

“These are nice opportunities for us to step back and enjoy what God is doing,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I want you to come way thinking he brings rest to those who are weary and heavy-laden.”

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