Elizabeth Tabish is one of the first actors seen by viewers when they start watching the first episode of “The Chosen,” but her role in the hit Bible-based series almost didn’t happen.
The joy on the 35-year-old actor’s face is undeniable. Underneath her smile, though, is a complicated story punctuated with complex questions about the very existence of God and what that would mean for her — a circumstance coloring the unique place in which she now finds herself: Playing a pivotal role in telling the story of Jesus.
Before “The Chosen,” Tabish was a commercial actor living in Austin, Texas, struggling to make ends meet. At the time, she felt her passion fading. Acting just wasn’t in the cards, she thought.
“[I] was really depressed and not knowing what to do,” she told CBN’s Faithwire. “I was not working enough to really make ends meet. I was barely making rent and I was in a depression at the time.”
She started looking for a different career, feeling as if she was “following some dream that was dead.”
Unbeknownst to her, that’s when Tabish’s agent submitted her for a role in “The Chosen,” the wildly popular faith-based series created by Dallas Jenkins, the son of “Left Behind” novelist Jerry B. Jenkins.
Shifting a bit in her chair and brushing her long, dark hair behind her ear, Tabish admitted she has been skeptical of faith and of the Lord. She quickly followed that, though, with another admission: her work on the series, which is entering its third season, has led her to a new place.
“I try to be very rational about things,” she said from Camp Hoblitzelle in Midlothian, Texas, the setting of the massive set of “The Chosen.” “It’s been really hard to ignore that there’s something really special about this experience for me. I feel like I wasn’t able to — I wouldn’t have been able to connect with the Lilith portion of [Mary Magdalene] had I not gone through some painful things.”
“Because of that, I’m realizing … God has been there the whole time,” Tabish continued. “There are these moments in the show where I’m actually saying that: ‘In the depths, in the heights, You are there.’ So there’s been these really sweet, sort of idiosyncratic things for me personally throughout this show that are constant reminders that God’s love is real. It’s a real thing and I’ve been slowly opening up to it.”
Faith isn’t the only thing Tabish was skeptical about. Having experience as a theater performer, she wasn’t certain about television acting, fearing her character wouldn’t plumb the depths she was longing to portray and develop as a thespian.
As she has delved deeper into her role as Mary Magdalene, Tabish has come to appreciate not only the complexities of her character, but also the richness of Scripture and Jesus’ ministry on earth.
“Jesus elevated women, period,” she said. “It’s rooted in what Jesus did, you know. His care, respect, and love for women was the same as men — it was for people, all people. I’m excited that we’re a show that is representing a vast array of types of women: of mothers, wives, entrepreneurs, women with pain, women with joy.”
“It’s just the gamut of female experience, and [the creators of ‘The Chosen’ are] going in a really honest and sometimes raw and challenging direction with this, in a way that shows very specifically female traumas and pains,” Tabish continued, turning directly to the experiences of her character in the first season of the series. “Even in season one of Mary being assaulted by a Roman soldier — that is a very specific thing that you don’t really expect from a show that’s biblically based, but that was the reality, and that still is the reality, and I think that’s why people are relating to the show and these characters. They were people then and we’re people now. These are human experiences.”
For Tabish, “The Chosen” has been more than just a job and Mary Magdalene has been more than just a character; she’s been a teacher.
With a smile, the actor said she’s learned from Mary Magdalene that people “can make mistakes,” and that’s OK.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Tabish said. “The beautiful thing about that, though, is you’re always still loved, no matter what. And the further you go into accepting that, the less painful those lessons have to be. So I feel like she’s constantly teaching me it’s about growth, it’s about continuing, it’s about being in a process instead of being perfect.”
“And what a relief that is,” she added, “to just do your best. You don’t have to change the world, but you can change yourself.”
You can watch our full conversation with Tabish in the video embedded above. Jenkins, the show’s creator, announced earlier this month that season three of “The Chosen” will debut on Nov. 18, with the first two episodes premiering back-to-back in theaters.
The official trailer for season three will be released Monday, Oct. 17 at noon.
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