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Elizabeth Tabish tells how portraying Mary Magdalen in The Chosen led her back to Christ

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Elizabeth Tabish, the actor who plays Mary of Magdala in the TV series The Chosen says the role has deepened her own appreciation of the saint and her relationship with Jesus Christ.

Speaking via zoom to The Catholic Weekly the 36-year-old US actor said that the role in the historical drama has also been the most fulfilling of her career.

The Chosen is created, co-written and directed by Dallas Jenkins and has been an enormously successful crowd-funded streaming series since its launch in 2019. It creatively portrays the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as the lives of some of his closest followers, with higher quality script-writing, cinematography and acting than is usually associated with Christian shows.

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Written and directed by evangelical Christians in consultation with other faith leaders, including Catholic and Jewish leaders, it’s had broad appeal as a TV show that for the most part faithfully depicts Christ as described in the Gospels (played by Jonathan Roumie), and imagines details of the lives of his closest followers before and after they met him.

In the Catholic world, while the script departs briefly in one episode from what the Church holds about Christ’s mother Mary (by suggesting contrary to Catholic doctrine that she had other children after Jesus), the show has inspired scriptural reflection guides, parish discussion groups, prayer apps and more.

Dallas has many times said that an aim of the show is to invite viewers to engage with the scriptures, particularly the Gospels, who may never have done so before or for a long time, and encounter God there for themselves.

Elizabeth Tabish speaking to The Catholic Weekly. Image: screenshot

Tabish spoke to The Catholic Weekly in advance of the release in Australian cinemas of the season 3 finale on February 3 and 4. For screening details see www.TheChosenTV.com.au.

“The thing that I keep returning to every time I get to play [Mary Magdalen], is just this deep, deep love for Jesus,” she said.

“Being there for him [supporting his ministry], and being there for him at the end as he is crucified and then resurrected, is so special, so incredible and overwhelming that I can hardly process it.

“In my own faith and my own connection to her it’s been very touching and sort of a sacred experience to be able to portray someone who was so close to Jesus and loved him so much.”

Raised Catholic herself, Tabish said working on the show has reminded her of who Jesus is and what he preached.

“it’s been very touching and sort of a sacred experience to be able to portray someone who was so close to Jesus and loved him so much.”

“There was a portion of my life where I was really cynical about religion and thought everyone [religious] was very judgemental and sort of exclusive. And then this show is making me remember and realise that Jesus was for everyone, and that he was revolutionary in a political, cultural and social way as well, not just spiritual,” she said.

“He was preaching things that still to this day are kind of mind-blowing, of turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, judging not. And it is reminding me of what Christianity really is, it is personal, it is life-changing.

“Every time I go into a Catholic Church or a cathedral I break down in tears, there’s an extra layer of meaning when you go in and look around and are reminded of all these real people who have changed the world.”

While there is not much written about Mary Magdalen in the Gospels, and she’s been subject to speculation and misunderstanding in other media portrayals, for Tabish it’s enough to see that she is present in pivotal moments of Jesus’ life and accepted his “total love and mercy”.

“Being able to portray her the way they have written her in The Chosen has been a dream as an actress because they’ve written a wonderfully in-depth, psychologically complex character that is a privilege to get to play,” she said.

Q@A with The Chosen star Jonathan Roumie

She isn’t surprised by the show’s runaway success and says the audience response has been “overwhelming and very sweet”.

“I think when we read the incredible writing and saw the actors we going to be working with and the cinematography, production quality and everything, we knew there was something special about this project and that people were going to be excited about it and hungry for it,” she said.

Nearly halfway through the planned seven season series, Tabish says the gentle paced-show is moving into “very epic territory”.

“We know where it goes in the end, to the crucifixion and the resurrection, and knowing this team behind The Chosen I think this is just going to be an incredible interpretation of it,” she said.

“I really hope people get to see these episodes in the theatres. I think they will be very excited and pleased to be able to watch it surrounded by lots of other people will be a very special experience.”

 

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