Portraying a Biblical woman with “depth and integrity”
Actress Elizabeth Tabish talks about her role as Mary Magdalene on The Chosen
The Chosen, a multiseason series about the life of Jesus, is thought to be the largest crowdfunded media project ever, with $22 million raised so far and more than 200 million views. The season two finale just aired on YouTube, Facebook, and The Chosen app, and crowdfunding is underway for seasons three through seven. The series shows the life of Jesus and his disciples, staying true to the overall Biblical narrative while taking liberties with backstories and conversations. For those who do not object to the series as a violation of the Second Commandment, The Chosen “offers a highly entertaining experience that may prompt viewers to reflect more deeply on the real record of Jesus’ ministry on earth,” wrote Megan Basham, former TV and film editor for WORLD.
I spoke last week with Elizabeth Tabish, The Chosen’s Mary Magdalene, about how the show has caused her to reflect. Our interview below is edited for length and clarity.
Would you talk about your personal faith journey and how The Chosen has affected it? My faith is super personal to me, and sometimes I don’t have the proper words to describe how I feel about God and Jesus. But I have been in awe over how The Chosen has affected my worldview of how absolutely wonderful people can be. The things we see on the news are often so troubling. We hear stories of bullying, of hatred, of hate groups, and it seems like a very intimidating world. People are hungry for something good in this world and for connection and forgiveness and love and compassion. There’s been this vulnerability between us and the audience, where it seems like everyone is desirous of some healing and some love.
How do you connect with the role of Mary Magdalene? When I first auditioned, I was coming out of a depression. I was planning on quitting acting. I felt a little lost and felt some despair. There are so many transformations for Mary. I’ve been able to work through my own hurt or pain or past, and this role has taught me some things about myself. It has taught me there are wonderful people in this world—and not just the role, but the characters, the storyline, the importance of friendship and compassion.
Will you share some memorable stories from the filming or the set? Other than the cold?! That’s all I can remember! It was so cold on the set for so much of it! We were filming in Provo, and it was snowing one day and we had to reschedule. I was like, oh, well that’s Utah, but then we got to Texas, and we had a snow-pocalypse and for a week we were shut down. The whole cast was at the same hotel, and we were taking care of each other in ways that were very heartwarming.
Besides the unexpected success of the series, what’s been the most surprising takeaway for you? All of it, honestly. When I was planning on quitting acting, I was going to focus on directing and writing and production work. It’s a high anxiety career. Knowing that I struggle with that, and doing this show and not actually feeling it this time around—that’s been a surprise. There’s been a nice sense of, “I belong here. I’m supposed to be here.”
Does that have anything to do with the cast or the director? I think it’s everything. Working with Dallas [Jenkins, writer-director] is a dream. He knows exactly what to say to shift my thinking or my emotions where they need to be. The cast is incredible. It doesn’t feel like acting with them. It feels like responding. And the crew—everyone is at the top of their game. And we also have the most beautiful writing that’s such a gift to be able to bring to life. It’s hard to overthink your own anxieties when everything is set up for it to succeed.
How will this experience affect future roles you choose? I haven’t seen a female character written in a way that I’ve connected with so much, so I think I’m a little picky and choosy about what I do now because of that. This has set a standard for me to play women with depth and integrity.
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