CNA talks with Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie about ‘Jesus Revolution,’ March for Life, and more

Jonathan Roumie Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee in "Jesus Revolution." | Dan Anderson

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie is trading in the tunic and sandals for bell bottoms and flare-sleeved tops as he takes on a new role in the upcoming film “Jesus Revolution.” Well-known for his role portraying Jesus in the hit series “The Chosen,” Roumie will be playing hippie street-preacher Lonnie Frisbee.

The true story takes place in Southern California at the height of the hippie counterculture in the early 1970s. The movie shows the national spiritual awakening that took place during this time and how a community of teenage hippies came to encounter Christ. The film will be released on Feb. 24.

CNA spoke with Roumie to discuss his upcoming role in “Jesus Revolution,” the Season Three finale of “The Chosen,” faith, the March for Life, and the latest Pray40 Challenge he will be taking part in on the Hallow app this Lent.

CNA: Thank you so much for taking the time with me, Jonathan. Tell me a little bit more about your new role as Lonnie Frisbee in Jesus Revolution. How was it stepping out from the role of Jesus in “The Chosen” into a character like Lonnie?

Lonnie Frisbee was this evangelist, hippie street-preacher in the 1960s and ’70s who brought thousands of kids to Christ through his charismatic preaching. And then when he met Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Church, Chuck’s church was kind of dying at the time, and when Chuck and Lonnie met they say it was like nitro met glycerin and there was this explosion of the spirit. So Lonnie brought these kids in and Chuck catechized them and taught them Scripture and the Bible and next thing you know this movement exploded here in Southern California and the world was never the same.

Getting to play Lonnie was just a dream because he’s a preacher so, he has these gifts of the spirit and he has this love for Christ that I can identify with. Playing him it’s kind of like, “Well, how did Christ operate within Lonnie? What might that have looked like? And what does his life tell us about how God was present in his life?” And so getting to portray somebody that was deeply committed to Christ, while also intensely flawed, as an actor, that’s kind of a best case scenario. It’s the best of both worlds because it makes him such an interesting character to play. So, I just pray that I’ve done him justice and that people will walk away from the film feeling that they want to get to know Jesus on a deeper level.

That leads me into my next question. What do you hope people will take away from this movie?

If they haven’t had a relationship with Christ, maybe to explore what that means. If they’re looking for meaning in their life, if they’re trying to find purpose, and the trappings of the earthly life have not done it, whether it’s money or sex or power or drugs or whatever it is, that the thing that they’re probably really missing is a relationship with Jesus. Because he is the ultimate fulfillment of the human spirit. And when you actually find that, that’s it. I mean, that’s life and God is life. And everything fits into place and suffering that we’re all guaranteed to go through in this earthly life is now somewhat more manageable. It still hurts, but it’s now manageable knowing that there is somebody who’s been through it and who was there before and after time itself to walk us through those moments in our life.

Do you see this movie as something that today’s culture needs?

One thousand percent. Every generation is searching for meaning on some level. Typically that starts as a teenager, if not earlier, sometimes later, and the search for identity is consistent throughout history in every generation. So I think, again, and with that in mind, this theme of finding the thing that gives you true identity is what this movement was about, and I think it’s as relevant now as it was 50 years ago. The circumstances may be different, but the story is still the same. And I think kids and those searching for meaning will be able to see the allegory of the circumstances as a reflection of what’s happening in their own lives and also come away with this yearning to know God, at all or more deeply.

Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee in "Jesus Revolution." Dan Anderson
Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee in "Jesus Revolution." Dan Anderson

I was able to watch it and it was great. Switching over to “The Chosen.” The finale just aired and I was a pile of mush with the walking on water scene. What was it like for you to portray such big moments from the Bible, such as the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, the feeding of the 5,000, and the walking on water?

Well, at the end of the day it’s about the small moments within these big scenes. It’s about the personal connections that are being made amidst these epic panoramas, because if it’s just epic for the sake of epic then as a show, as a story being told, it’s not going to hit you in the same way. The Bible is different, obviously, because it’s the inspired Word of God. But as characters of a TV show, that we’re building these moments together, I think what really anchors it is the framing of these epic moments in Scripture around these personal stories that we have endeavored to tell that are these plausible narratives that help sustain us for hopefully seven seasons.

So, that said, the technicalities of getting to try to recreate walking on water, which is like being a kid again, you’re like, “Wow.” It's kind of mind-blowing. There was this conversation after Episode 8 that I have with Dallas [Jenkins, creator and director], and I think they show the before and after with the effects specifically of the walking on water and it’s extraordinary the amount of work that goes into making this look real and feel real. Hopefully when you’re watching the show you’re not thinking about any of that — you’re just caught up in this story of, in this case, Peter’s deep hurt over what he’s seen over the course of the last few episodes and his relationship with Christ and how does that get played out? How does Christ meet him? Where does he meet him? Why does he meet him where he meets him? What happens at this moment where he’s reaching out to him in the water? And so we kind of give it this other context that I think has such an emotional impact, and I think it gives people an opportunity to understand more deeply that these people were humans. They were as human as you or I. Jesus was as human as any of us, minus the sin, of course, but he experienced our humanity and what we’re trying to offer up is a framework for what that humanity on a day-to-day might have looked like amidst these giant miracles. Looking at 5,000 people in front of you while these disciples are carrying baskets of food, you get overwhelmed. You’re like, “This is what it would have looked like.” It’s overwhelming. It’s emotionally overwhelming and beautiful.

How is your own faith impacted when portraying these incredible moments from the Bible?

It just connects me to the moments more. It connects me more to Scripture more deeply. It connects me to Christ. It makes me want to know him more deeply and try to be a better steward of his grace and to try to discern his will from me on a day-to-day basis with the level of clarity that even a couple of years ago I couldn’t have had. So, it’s been an honor.

Well, you do a great job. I saw your speech at the March for Life. Can you tell me more about that and, in a sense, publicly coming out as being pro-life because I know you said in your speech it was a hard decision for you.

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Career killer. No, I am 100% joking. It doesn’t have any effect on my career because that’s what God asked me to do. I didn’t want to do it. I said that briefly in the rally speech and then I talked about it at length at the Rose dinner. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to dip my toe into that pool. I thought “What’s going to happen?” And it was like worst-case scenarios in my mind and that was the fear talking and that was the enemy trying to get in my head. And even the people that I had asked counsel to about this, and rightly so, were like, “Well, maybe it’s not the best thing to do professionally,” which they wouldn’t be wrong, but personally I had to put that aside and I had to deal with, personally and spiritually, what was the best thing to do. And when I got the call from upstairs to do it and to talk about the thing that I was trying to talk around, it was a surrender moment for me and the thing just started to write itself and I just couldn’t help myself. And with some insights as to who the audience was going to be, I was able to make some tweaks, literally like hours before, and it seemed to reach a lot of people. So I think it was the right thing for me to do. It was an uncomfortable thing for me to do. But, as usual, God’s got my back and he’s walking me through every moment that I do something that feels a little unusual for me. And it ends up being much better than I ever could have imagined — a much better decision than I ever could have predicted.

It was beautiful and thank you for doing it. My last question is about the Lent Pray40, which is your latest prayer challenge with Hallow. Can you tell us more about that?

Oh man, it’s going to be awesome. Jim Caviezel and myself are going to be taking turns reading “The Imitation of Christ” over the 40 days. It’s the most widely read book after the Bible itself. There’ll be other guests as well that are going to be doing these different facets of the challenge. Mark Wahlberg’s going to be doing, every Friday, a fasting challenge. There’s a couple of other special guests that are coming out to participate as well in ways that I think are going to be so fulfilling and healing for people. I can’t wait for people to get into it. It’s been one of the most powerful meditations that I’ve ever been able to participate in narrating, and I was affected as I was reading it. I had to stop a couple of times and just collect myself. So I think it’s going to be a super powerful way for people to connect to Christ this Lent. I can’t encourage people enough to join it fast enough. It has the potential to change your life.

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