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‘The Chosen’ Creator Talks Season 4 Finale, Season 5 Holy Week Plans

SPOILER ALERT: The following interview discusses events from “Humble,” the Season 4 finale of “The Chosen,” now streaming on “The Chosen” app and YouTube page.

The lead character of any television series riding a donkey as he’s about to face his tragic prophesized fate is not the way most shows would end its season — but there aren’t a lot of series like faith-based drama “The Chosen,”which ended its fourth season on Sunday.

Since its premiere in 2017, the scripted drama has chronicled the early days of Jesus Christ (Jonathan Roumie) as he spread His gospel and accumulated both followers (yes, including the 12 apostles) and enemies along the way. Since then, the independent show has given us many of Jesus’ miracles (turning water to wine, walking on water, raising the dead) as well as historical horrors such as the beheading of John the Baptizer (David Amito), which occurred earlier this season. Also, coming in Seasons 6 and 7, respectively, the crucifixion and resurrection.

The show has also reached its loyal audience in unconventional ways, such as Season 4 episodes premiering in movie theaters prior to streaming on both “The Chosen” app and the show’s YouTube page for free. Also, the CW (which aired the first three seasons last year) will begin airing Season 4 on Sept. 1, with a two-hour premiere. The show is also making headlines because of a legal case with Angel Studios, which helped the show launch via crowdfunding, appealing a ruling that terminated its rights to the Dallas Jenkins-created show moving forward.

Ahead of the fourth season finale airing on June 30, Variety talked with Jenkins about the significance of Jesus on that donkey, what scripted shows he’s been inspired by — and why Season 5, which is currently shooting, won’t be a total downer.

The opening scene of the finale isn’t with our regular characters, but with the story of King David (Jorge Franco IV), Abigail (Angelica Amor) and their son Daniel (Bryce Robin). What’s the significance of the scene in terms of the episode as a whole?  

The show is already historical drama, of course, but we love to show the history of this story that started hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the time of Christ. Jesus is in the lineage of David, and also is, oftentimes, compared to David, in a contrasting way. David was an earthly king. He was granted a lot of power. They expected the Messiah to be the son of David. What we wanted to show in the opening images is David arriving on a horse into Jerusalem, being celebrated. And they would have chanted “Hosanna.” They would have waved palm branches.

What’s interesting is that David comes in celebrating a big victory, and yet that contrasts with Jesus riding in on a donkey sitting there without a crown on. The story of Jesus is so interesting when you consider how humble he was, and how humble his kingship was. They expected an earthly king. They expected him to take over and fight the Romans, and he was doing the opposite of that. We definitely wanted to contrast that.

Also, later in the episode, there’s another famous story that happens of a woman breaking perfume on Jesus’ feet and washing His feet with her hair, and anointing His feet with oil. And what’s so fascinating about that story is that it happened six days before Passover, which is exactly what the Jewish people would do before Passover. They would wash and anoint the feet of the sacrificial lamb with oil, and then bring it into the home and keep it clean and keep it safe until the time of sacrifice and Passover. It’s a fascinating image and metaphor when you consider that she washed and anointed Jesus’ feet for burial before He became the sacrificial lamb. We thought that was another really cool visual that would help give even more resonance to the famous Bible story of Mary of Bethany washing Jesus’ feet.

KUBEISY

We’ve talked before about how human Jesus is in the series, and he’s been venting His frustrations over His followers not getting His message. He’s also told them what’s going to happen to Him, and they don’t seem to get it. Why is it important that we see that human side of Him?

Jesus shows in the gospels multiple personality traits, and while we believe He didn’t sin, we also know that He felt all the things that we feel. There’s a scene coming up in Season 5, of course, that’s one of the most famous in the Bible — of Jesus so angry that He’s flipping over tables. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are other moments in His life where He’s frustrated by the lack of understanding of the people around him. He’s frustrated maybe even by His own humanity sometimes.

I mean, if you think about God incarnate and being here on Earth and facing some of the limitations that human beings face, what would that be like? How would He express that? And how would He express that knowing that He’s not wrong? It’s been a cool thing in the show. That’s one of the beauties of having multiple episodes. You can explore things like that. You don’t have to rush through everything just trying to get to the next Bible story.

The Romans, who essentially are villainous characters, are seen in the finale lying around eating in this casual environment with Pontius Pilate (Andrew James Allen) stirring the pot as they essentially talk about killing Jesus as well as Lazarus in this very laid-back manner. 

Well, exactly. When you really think about Bible projects, typically and including Jesus projects, the enemies of Jesus are moustache-twirling villains, and they wake up in the morning going, “How do I kill this noble man? It’s because I’m greedy and it’s because I’m villainous and I’m trying to kill my enemies as I’m trying to attain power.”

It wasn’t that simple. We like to show the humanity of not only Jesus’ followers — which in and of itself is somewhat unique, because a lot of Bible projects portray Jesus and His followers as stained-glass windows — but we also want the enemies to be portrayed as human beings, too. Because I think it makes the scene you’re describing even more disturbing, considering how casually they’re talking about killing Lazarus.

Then you have Joanna [Amy Bailey] and Claudia [Sarah J. Bartholomew], two women who haven’t really been given any attention in portrayals, actually having a very nuanced and serious and interesting conversation about Jesus, about belief, about faith. All the players in this political and sociopolitical all have different roles to play, and we wanted to not gloss over any of them.

Is it that conversation between the women that leads Joanna to leave her husband near the end of the episode?

It’s definitely something that propelled it, because she’s talking to Claudia and Claudia is saying, “I’d love to believe something like that, and maybe I could be free.” You think of these two women who are up on a balcony looking down over poorer people with a fraction of the privilege they have, and these women are jealous. They’re like “I wish I could be like that.” And you see Joanna go, “Well, I think we can have that kind of belief.” You see Joanna working it out, and it leads her to going, “You know what? I don’t have to be stuck.”

I thought, again, that was a fascinating thing from a time period where women were not given much status. But to show just a scene of two strangers having a conversation, wrestling with their psychology, wrestling with what’s in their head — I believe there are plenty of people watching a scene like that who can identify with it today. I think it’s just fascinating to just go, “This is a woman who represents another kind of believer — another kind of person willing to give up everything to follow something they believe in.”

I’ve always loved how you let so many of these scenes really breathe. They’re not quick. I never feel like you’re rushing through scenes.

That comes from influences of mine like “Friday Night Lights.” When people say, “Oh, what are some of your influences? I’m like, “Shows like ‘Friday Night Lights,’ even ‘Game of Thrones.’”

“Game of Thrones” was a huge, epic, big-budget show, and yet they’ve got scenes that are sometimes 15 minutes long of just two people talking. Being willing to take the time to be quiet, willing to take the time to show the humanity, I believe, actually makes a big moment, a famous moment that much more resonant.

On the flip side, we see apostles like Thomas (Joey Vahedi) and even Matthew (Paras Patel) openly question Jesus and His decisions. They’re still following Him, but they have their doubts. Is that coming from the Bible or is that your interpretation?

Yeah. That actually is in the Bible. Not to the extent that we portray it, because we show what leads to some of these conversations. In the Bible, there are multiple moments where they are confused by something Jesus is saying. There are moments where they’re one, two, even three years into the ministry, and they’re arguing and debating things in front of Him or asking Him to clear up things for them. And He’s like, “Are you not listening?” There are times in the Bible where He shows frustration, going, “My goodness, guys, I’m making it clear for you, and yet you still won’t listen. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There are multiple moments like that. And we also know that Jesus rebuked them for sometimes their question, sometimes they’re doubts.

You know the famous Thomas is known as “doubting Thomas”? In Season 4, as you know, Thomas experiences horrifying loss and sudden loss, and we just really wanted to portray what would these people think when they were expecting an earthly king to win a great military battle. And when He didn’t do that and, in fact, He did the opposite, and it would cause them to question — but they became some of the greatest and most loyal followers in history. Wrestling with that and playing with that, I think, is a great advantage of a TV series.

I’ve been watching Judas (Luke Dimyan) so closely all season, as I think everybody probably has. But even as he’s pocketing money from the ministry, he still is following Jesus as opposed to being a full-on villain. Can you talk to that choice?

One of the most fun things about this season is we’re starting to see the “Breaking Bad” — we’re starting to see the turn. We’re portraying what we believe is actually plausible in that Judas’ reasons for doing what he did may have actually come from the fact that he did believe Jesus was the Messiah. He did spend three years with Jesus and the disciples and was close to them and experienced miracles and experienced power and experienced divine and supernatural authority. So why would he do what he did? And what if it was because he was disappointed by some of the decisions that were being made, and wanted to try to see if something else could happen because of its actions?

I don’t think it was just because he wanted 30 pieces of silver, and that was the entire motivation for his actions. It just doesn’t strike me as plausible. There had to be other reasons, so we wanted to explore the psychology of that. And yet at the end of Season 4, when Jesus raises Lazarus and gets everyone excited and gets people starting to believe, I think it’s interesting that Judas could have been at that time going, “OK, now here we go. Now we’re going to see the kingdom come. Now we’re going to see what we’ve been longing for. This is the chance to unify our people.” This is why it’s going to make Season 5 that much more devastating.

Oh, yeah, it definitely will. You mentioned Jesus riding in on the donkey at the end of the episode. That’s a sign of modesty. But is that all that is, or is there something else at play with that decision?

There’s a bit of modesty. And you’ll see that in the season premiere of Season 5, where we explore even more of what you see in this episode, which is to fulfill the prophecy. There is a prophecy about the messiah. There’s a prophecy about specifically a colt, and so Jesus is making a statement by riding in on a donkey, He’s making an obvious statement of who He is. He is a fulfillment of a prophecy and for Jews at that time as you saw when Simon Zee [Alaa Safi] and Matthew go to get the donkey and they reference that scripture, and the guy’s like, “Oh, I get it. OK, this is for the Lord.”

And in fact, in the Season 5 premiere — I’ll just give you a little minor spoiler — but religious leaders confront Jesus as He’s about to enter the city, and they say: “Please don’t do this. It’s going to cause a lot of division, and it’s going to cause the Sanhedrin to act out against you.” They’re like, “We know what you’re doing. By riding in on a donkey, referencing the prophecy, it couldn’t be more clear what you’re trying to say.”

Dallas, the seasons have all been eight episodes, but I have a feeling people would watch more – like 10 or 13. Why is eight episodes per season just right for you?

For whatever reason, it just has settled in as our rhythm, and it works for our story. Seven seasons, eight episodes a piece. And what’s funny is this season, yes, the episodes are longer than they’ve ever been — and yet every single time when we do our livestreams, the comment section is just filled with, “No, no, it’s too short!”

Which is, of course, the greatest compliment we could receive. We’re not a huge budget show compared to what studios and streamers have, and so it just seems like for the purposes of our story, having these guideposts, having this sandbox has been a good discipline for us. And it’s worked out nicely.

And thank you for the bloopers at the end of the finale. I just love that you include them as what I’m assuming is a nice levity after the heaviness of an episode. Is that the intention?

I don’t think anyone ever expects bloopers from a Bible show, but we love it. The fans love it. And I think it also is a nice little reminder to the fans and to the viewers, we know who we are. We’re not actually the Bible. Jonathan is not actually Jesus. We’re not to be idolized. We’re not to be worshiped, or put on a display in a church. We take the work seriously. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

I remember before Season 4 launched, you posted some social videos about how tough the episodes were going to be. Will Season 5 go to another level in that regard? What should we expect?

Actually, Season 6 is going to obviously be by far the toughest of all of them. I think Season 4 is in some ways a taste of that. It’s going to be heavy and weighty, of course, and Jesus is very emotionally weighed down as He approaches the crucifixion and from experiencing Holy Week. We’re filming it now as a bit of an opportunity for some kick-butt stuff. You know, there’s some really great Bible moments in this season: This is when Jesus really faces off against the religious leaders. He has a lot of truth bombs, a lot of mic-drop moments.

This is actually going to be a season that is in some ways kind of cool and kind of fun, even though [the viewers] know what’s coming and it’s definitely got a lot of weight over it. But we just couldn’t have three seasons in a row with nothing but pain and loss and misery. Season 5 is kind of the kick-butt moments before Season 6, where we’re not going to shy away from the misery.

What period is covered in Season 5?

It’s Holy Week, so Season 4 ends with the triumphal entry. Season 5 picks up where it left off, and Season 6 is going to be the crucifixion, so we essentially cover five days. We cover the most famous week in history.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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