- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Roman magistrate has been recognized in a coffee shop behind a face mask and eyeglasses, but Mother Mary can still pass through crowds unnoticed.

Such are the lives of Brandon Potter (Quintus) and Vanessa Benavente (Mother Mary) in the hit streaming series “The Chosen,” which is filming its fourth season, with three more seasons being planned.

Neither actor anticipated the show’s impact among Christian and non-Christian audiences.

“The first season was crowdfunded,” Mr. Potter said in an interview with The Washington Times at the National Religious Broadcasters convention. “But then it moved to a different model, which is a fan-supported [one], and the response from fans has been absolutely bananas in that regard. It  has been really, really great.”

“We didn’t know if there was going to be a second season, so it was just a leap of faith, for want of a better phrase,” Ms. Benavente told The Times.

Created outside the network/studio system used for shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS,” “The Chosen” is unaffected by the Hollywood writers’ strike. The series chronicling the ministry of Jesus grew out of a short Christmastime film for an evangelical congregation in 2017, attracted crowdfunded donations for its production and then launched via a mobile app in 2020. The show then moved to other services such as Amazon Prime, along with sales in DVD and Blu-ray formats.

Season three aired between November and February, with its first two and final two episodes released to theaters as limited-run movies. Ticket demand necessitated an extended theater run for the final pair of episodes.

“It’s amazing how long it took for an ‘overnight success,’” Mr. Potter said.

His ruthlessly efficient Quintus barks orders around the first-century Roman protectorate of Palestine, where the domestically oriented Mary welcomes her son’s followers.

Neither Mr. Potter nor Ms. Benavente had any assurances “The Chosen” would progress beyond a single season, but they signed on after being attracted by the script and its possibilities.

Ms. Benavente, in particular, faced a decision when presented with the opportunity to audition for the Mother Mary role: She and her husband had just had a child, the couple had bought a house and she had gone into casting to secure a stable income because acting roles “were not necessarily coming regularly.”

She took “an extra long lunch hour” for the audition, where her performance registered with the show’s producers.

“They had been looking for Mary for a while, and something about what I brought to the role really spoke to them,” she said. “So that’s why I’m here.”

Ms. Benavente quit the relative security of her casting job in hopes that “The Chosen” would catch on. Mother Mary barely appears on screen during the first season, she said.

It was “a hard decision to make for a show at the time. We didn’t know if I was gonna do more than one episode. That was just it,” she said.

Mr. Potter came to his role via a Texas casting director who insisted that show creator/executive producer Dallas Jenkins see his interpretation of Quintus. At that meeting, Mr. Jenkins won over the actor by saying the goal was not to portray a “lazy, debauched” provincial official.

“‘Can we do something else?’” Mr. Potter recalled the producer saying. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure. What if he’s just good at his job? What if he’s ambitious and is actually a capable administrator?’ So he said, ‘Great, here we go.’”

While fans of the show view the ruthless Roman praetor as “the villain they love to hate,” the actor says Quintus sees a different man in the mirror.

“He doesn’t think he’s a bad guy,” Mr. Potter said. “He wakes up every day thinking, ‘How we can bring order to people’s lives?’ How he can solidify the legacy of the empire? He thinks he’s doing something good.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Potter said Quintus’ “views on the world are hateful. So those aspects of him I put that on when I shoot it and even between takes, I have to set it down because it feels poisonous in my mind.”

“I empathize with them as much as I can. But when they yell ‘cut,’ I try to make a joke or something just to get out of that head space so that I don’t have to live there,” he added.

Ms. Benavente offers a simple answer when asked how she stays grounded while playing a woman revered by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

“I have two children,” she said. “When you have to get home even after a night shoot — because I take my children with me on location — they’re back at the apartment or the hotel. And if it’s been 15 hours of on-set work and I come back at 3 in the morning. I’m still up at 6:30 to be a mom.”

Without the 90-minute application of stage makeup that transforms her into Mother Mary, Ms. Benavente says she’s not recognized on the streets very often.

Mr. Potter said he isn’t often recognized, but when it happens, it’s one of Quintus’ defining features that give him away.

“I’m not like, you know, the fifth Beatle or anything,” the actor said. “The very first time that I got recognized, I was wearing a [face] mask, a hat and glasses. It was a barista at a coffee shop [who] said, ‘You’re Quintus from “The Chosen,”’ and I was just taken aback. It was because of my voice.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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