Who is Thaddeus?
“There is so little about him in the Gospels, I didn’t know that Thaddeus was a real disciple,” the actor said. “I was like, ‘Dallas (Jenkins), are you making up a disciple here?’”
Jordan Walker Ross received the role of Little James, another of Jesus’ disciples. For him, it was a timely blessing.
“It came at the perfect time,” Ross said. “It came at a low point. I wasn’t feeling great about myself. I hadn’t booked a job in at least four years. I was scraping by and had just started a family. I got the audition and was not expecting anything. Just getting a call back gave me a confidence boost. Then I got the part. I was just grateful to get a job and be on a set again.”
Both actors have relished their roles as apostles with the faith-based series on the life of Jesus. The duo sat down with the Deseret News at an August media event on the show’s set at Camp Hoblitzelle, near Dallas to discuss their roles and experiences with the show as fans gear up for the release of Season 3 on Nov. 18
How Jordan Walker Ross got into acting
Perhaps the greatest acting influence for Ross was his grandfather, actor Barry Corbin, who starred in the television series “Northern Exposure” and held roles in several notable films. Ross, his mother and siblings lived with Corbin when he was younger.
“I was on film sets all growing up and got to see that side of the business,” Ross said. “It was nice having someone to look up to and see how he navigated the ups and downs of this industry.”
Ross discovered his love of acting at age 6 after being cast as Tiny Tim in a local production of “A Christmas Carol.” He ventured into film and television by age 12, and by 16, Ross had appeared in over 40 professional productions from Texas to California.
His grandfather was cast in his first film (“Urban Cowboy”) at age 39, so that became the young actor’s goal.
“I always felt if I can get my first movie or show by the time I’m 39, I’ll have been successful,” Ross said.
He has pursued his acting career despite being born prematurely with cerebral palsy and severe scoliosis, which was repaired with a full spinal fusion when he was 8 years old.
When he was chosen for the role of Little James, Ross didn’t expect it to last beyond a few episodes. Three seasons later, he’s still a cast member.
“I’m still pinching myself that I get to be part of this group,” he said.
How Giavani Cairo got into acting
Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, Cairo was heavily into sports as a young man, especially hockey.
He discovered his passion for acting after watching actor Matt Damon’s performance in the 1997 film, “Good Will Hunting.”
Cairo originally auditioned for the role of Andrew with “The Chosen” before he was selected to play Thaddeus.
Both actors praised the show’s writers and creator Dallas Jenkins for crafting the style and tone for their characters so they feel both appropriate and relatable in their roles as apostles.
The key is relatability, Cairo said.
“That’s been something that has struck a chord in a positive way with a lot of people watching. You are seeing Jesus crack jokes, dancing with disciples, crying in moments of sadness or joy. We all experience that as people,” Cairo said.
“Growing up, I didn’t feel that connection, that relationship. I think ‘The Chosen’ does a great job of that. When people are watching they can say, ‘I see myself in that character, that’s the Jesus I want to connect to.’”
Many Christian film projects focus on the deity side of Jesus. Tapping into the humanity has appealed to so many people, Ross added.
“There is pressure to do (our characters) justice, give powerful portrayals, but there is also room to take some liberties because Thaddeus and Little James are not mentioned as much,” Ross said. “So you do have to fill in some blanks.”
For example, the show’s writers have incorporated Ross’ physical disabilities into his portrayal of Little James. They have also given actor Paras Patel’s character Matthew some autistic tendencies.
“Little James having a disability isn’t in the Bible, but he very well could have,” Ross said. “Getting to explore all of that is really interesting.”
Two highlights of the experience that stand out to Cairo involve key scenes with thousands of extras.
He said more than 2,000 people joined cast and crew in “freezing” Texas temperatures to film Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount at the end of Season 2. As many as 12,000 participated in the feeding of the 5,000 scenes for Season 3, this time in blistering heat.
“It’s humbling to say the least, especially when you are seeing the younger generation and kids come out to join the show and really getting a lot out of it in a positive way,” he said. “You can’t put a price on that. It’s very humbling.”
Ross agreed, but also pointed to some of the smaller, more intimate moments. In Season 2, the apostles and disciples gathered to reminisce and be interviewed by John several years after Jesus’s death. The scene stirred a range of emotions for all involved, both when the camera was rolling and when it was not.
“We’re all so close now, it really is like family,” Ross said. “It was easy to get to that place emotionally because in my mind, I’m like, ‘I love all of these people so much and the thought of losing any of them is heartbreaking.’ Getting to do that scene and just being with my closest friends in that vulnerable place emotionally, it was a great bonding experience for all of us.”
Influence of ‘The Chosen’
Being a part of “The Chosen,” and the Savior’s teaching to “love one another as I have loved you,” has helped Cairo want to be a better, kinder person.
“That’s one thing that I hold dear to my heart that I really try to take with me with every relationship, every conversation I have, whether that be a family member, friend or someone I’m just meeting,” Cairo said. “I think especially in today’s world, we need a lot of that. So that is something I hold dear to my heart.”
Ross felt his passion and talent for acting was a special gift, but his physical disabilities felt like a curse designed to prevent him from reaching his full potential.
“I wrestled with that for a long time, asking the questions, ‘Why me? Why not me?’ and compared myself to others,” Ross said. “With ‘The Chosen,’ as my character has been explored more, I have realized that just because I’m different doesn’t mean I’m broken. The thing that I perceived as my greatest flaw or weakness has turned out to be one of my biggest assets and strengths because I’ve learned that I can use my limp and disabilities to inspire others and show people they aren’t alone. That’s been life-changing for me.”
Ross has used his role as Little James to become a spokesman for people in the physically disabled community. One young girl, also with cerebral palsy and scoliosis, connected with Little James and began writing to Ross. He met the girl and her mother when they came to be extras during the feeding of the 5,000 scenes.
“I’ve been very outspoken about my experiences with bullying, insecurities and things like that,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t have as a kid, so if I can offer that to any kids or even adults, I’m happy to do that.”
Thoughts on Season 3
Both Ross and Cairo agree the stakes are high in Season 3.
“The last couple of seasons have shown the team coming together. But now in Season 3, the disciples are seeing what it means to follow Jesus,” Cairo said. “Their faith is tested in ways that it’s never been tested before. Fans are going to enjoy and feel that tension.”
Ross offered a hint into his character’s storyline.
“My character is starting to, I guess, some resentment and bitterness is starting to bubble up inside of him, considering the fact that he hasn’t been healed while all of these other people are being healed,” Ross said. “So that’s something he’s starting to wrestle with a bit.”