Growing up in St. Charles, Illinois, Dallas Jenkins was not the child who was restless while sitting in the pews of church during a long service or in a classroom learning about the Bible. In fact, he was invigorated by Scripture lessons. And the Evangelical Christian, who would end up creating spiritual megahit The Chosen, always asked lots of questions.
Jenkins remembers seeing classic imagery of Jesus Christ while in classes, where the Son of God was dressed in immaculate white and blue robes on flannelgraph and picture books (so unlike The Chosen’s scruffy Savior, played by Jonathan Roumie). “He was just a big, smiling guy, and all the disciples are these old, bearded dudes,” the 48-year-old recalls. “But I was the one in class [asking], ‘What would it be like playing cards against Jesus? He always knows what you have! What would it be like to play sports with Jesus or to sit around a campfire [with Him]?’”
Now, Jenkins has brought those questions to life. The Chosen’s Jesus shares campfires with His Apostles and even joins in on a catching game with His hometown friends in Season 3. Maybe in Season 4 they can play the 1st century version of Go Fish?
Telling stories is in Jenkins’ blood, after all. He’s the son of prolific Christian author and New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins, who has written over 200 books, including the Left Behind series (with coauthor Tim LaHaye) and three Chosen novelizations. Besides inheriting what Jenkins calls “the storytelling gene” from his father, inspiration was also found on the big screen, he notes, citing a moment from his high school years when he first saw the 1975 Jack Nicholson drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. “I was watching it, moved, with tears in my eyes, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ If I can arouse in viewers the kind of reaction that this did for me, maybe I could have some impact.”
After studying media and the Bible at the University of Northwestern–St. Paul and marrying his wife Amanda (the couple now have four children), Jenkins had some early career stumbles, and his first major feature, 2017 feel-good film The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, was a financial flop. He took his biggest — and most successful — swing when he created The Chosen.
The goal was to present a faithful Jesus who also felt fresh — unlike the one-dimensional Christ he encountered as a young Christian. “I grew up seeing a lot of portrayals of Jesus, a lot of paintings and stained-glass windows that didn’t feel very authentic,” he notes. The Chosen’s Jesus not only cracks jokes with a big grin, but He broods and gets emotional. And viewers see more than just the final results of His miracles — we see Him at work. Adds Jenkins: “The Chosen does not shy away from the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, capable of doing miracles.”
Jenkins also works some miracles of his own. In addition to being the show’s creator and an executive producer, he writes every episode with cowriters Tyler Thompson and Ryan Johnson (often in the wee hours) and, as if that wasn’t enough, he also directs every single episode. “I’m a bit of a control freak, so that’s part of it,” he says with a laugh. But it wasn’t ego or vanity that led him to helm each hour of the series. “I just felt like it was important for the show to have one voice and to be cohesive, because we shoot it like one big narrative,” he says, referencing recent prestige dramas with one mind at the wheel like Big Little Lies and The White Lotus. “We don’t shoot it episode by episode.”
And as busy as he is behind the scenes, Jenkins also steps in front of the camera for The Chosen’s seemingly never-ending fountain of social media and video content — from showing off the latest swag (sweatshirts! coffee mugs!) to interviewing his own cast about their experiences on set. Might we see the charismatic creative in a role on the biblical drama? Don’t hold your breath. “If you saw me in the background, it would feel like, ‘OK, there’s Dallas trying to talk to us about crowdfunding Season 5 right in the middle of this [episode],’” Jenkins says. “I’m comfortable just keeping that in the studio.”
That’s probably a good thing, since the busy creator definitely needs some time to unwind. “I really do need to rest more,” Jenkins agrees. “It’s not the physical exhaustion of [making the show], although that is tiring. I’ve got a lot of energy. But I need to take more mental breaks and more spiritual breaks, so I’m not just spending time telling stories about Jesus. Sometimes I need to spend time with Him.”
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Chosen special issue, available on newsstands and for order online now at TheChosenMag.com
The Chosen, Season 4 Premieres Thursday, February 1, in Theaters