Columbus contingent among extras for scenes in TV and online show ‘The Chosen’

Lisa Friesner looked up to find Jesus standing maybe 40 feet away.

Well, actually, she saw actor Jonathan Roumie playing the character of Jesus, anyway.

“This,” said the Columbus resident, “makes Jesus feel so much more real than merely reading words on a page.”

Friesner was one of a number of local people serving as an extra on a rural, crowd-funded TV and online series filmed near Dallas, Texas, for the popular Christian show “The Chosen” last month. The people gathered in Midlothian, Texas, for two days of filming scenes in 90-plus-degree heat and humidity. The scenes involved Jesus feeding 5,000 people with miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fish, as detailed in Scripture.

The show, built on the perspective of the disciples and available on a range of networks and platforms such as Netflix, has been hot among literally tens of millions of believers worldwide for at least two years for its down-to-earth portrayal of a human Jesus who laughs, jokes, brushes his teeth and builds a disarming vulnerability with his chosen group.

“This isn’t your grandmother’s Jesus show,” Columbus resident Barb Malburg has said.

Malburg and friend Tera Smith have hosted an online Christian entertainment/interview YouTube vlog “Talking Back With Tera and Barb” that has included behind-the-scenes staff of “The Chosen.” They, too, were among a Columbus contingent posing as first-century extras in linen headdresses and painstakingly detailed, lightly robed costumes. Same for local residents Todd and Karen Baxter.

All of them, along with Friesner, sing the praises of a series that shows apostle/tax collector Matthew as somewhat autistic with a fascination for numbers, disciple James as physically disabled even in the presence of the heralded healer (with the actor actually dealing with mild cerebral palsy and severe scoliosis), and Mary Magdalene as a recovering alcoholic who sometimes still backslides.

Show creators repeatedly tell viewers that, rather than being extrabiblical, they simply are working to more fully fill out characters that many believers, if pressed, would acknowledge that they long have seen as superhuman, simplistic, or mostly one-dimensional.

“They have taken the liberty to develop the characters enough to really bring everyone to life,” Friesner said.

The local residents, who follow social media pages and emails related to the show, found out about extra roles online late last year and completed applications. They used vacation time to drive to south Texas for the shoot. The scenes of Jesus feeding the 5,000, known in hip jargon on social media pages for the show as F5K, are expected to be shown sometime in the fall.

“It was almost unbelievable to see all the different people there with all the costuming,” Karen Baxter said.

Sharon Kropack, a fellow Ogilville Christian Church member, created the Baxters’ costumes. For the scenes, there were extras from all 50 states and more than 30 nations. More than 5,000 people gathered on each of two days of filming.

Karen’s husband, Todd Baxter, mentioned that he regularly watches the fictional detail of scenes and finds himself thinking “Yeah — that likely had to be the way it was really was back then.”

In a big field for the loaves-and fishes scene, some extras had to contend with fire ants and chiggers. The Baxters were part of a casual conversation scene unfolding after the miracle.

“It was kind of like imagining how things are after a church service in a fellowship hall,” Todd Baxter said.

The Baxters were in a noontime scene shot on their assigned day before the heat overcame Karen and ruled out their returning for a later afternoon scene.

“But we definitely think it was all worth it,” she said. “We believe that it’s important to find ways to share the gospel. We believe that’s our mission, and what we’re put here on earth to do.”