The so-called “Jesus Movement” began on the West Coast in the late 1960s and then spread throughout the US and Europe in the 1970s. The charismatic, evangelical movement, which had a remarkable impact and a complicated legacy, is the subject of the recent film Jesus Revolution, starring Jonathan Roumie and Kelsey Grammer. Roumie plays the hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, and the film shows the profound role Frisbee played in the Jesus Movement.
Lonnie Frisbee was a complex and controversial figure, a man who struggled with temptation and sin. Later in life (after the period depicted in the film), rumors swirled that he was an active homosexual, although he always maintained that homosexual acts were sinful. His marriage fell apart, he stopped preaching, and eventually he died in 1993 from complications from AIDS. Friends report that he returned to faith prior to his death, and even desired to return to preaching.
Roumie is best known for his portrayal of Jesus on the immensely popular series The Chosen. There are many ways to view The Chosen, including at FORMED.org. Two professors from the Augustine Institute—Dr. Michael Barber and Dr. Scott Hefelfinger—have also begun a series taking a closer look at the show, called Catholic Commentary on The Chosen, which can also be viewed at FORMED.
Roumie recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his latest film, his work playing Jesus on The Chosen, and how the Holy Spirit can work in our lives today.
Catholic World Report: How did you come to play the role of Lonnie Frisbee in Jesus Revolution?
Jonathan Roumie: I met Jon Erwin in the fall of 2021 when he was premiering his documentary called The Jesus Music, about the origins of the contemporary Christian music scene. I was enamored with the period. These characters from our film from this time period were discussed, and how they helped to bring about this movement within music, which was born out of the Jesus People movement.
Not long after that, John Erwin sent me the script that he and John Gunn wrote, called Jesus Revolution, which is based on Greg Laurie’s book. I was just floored by how good it was. So I didn’t really have to think about it. I just said I would love to do this, let’s figure out how we can make it happen. Then we went to work!
A few months later we got the green light, and started shooting in Alabama, and then spent some time here in southern California.
CWR: Lonnie Frisbee was, to say the least, a complicated and controversial man, especially in the time after the movie takes place. Did his complicated background influence your performance at all?
Roumie: No; strictly chronologically speaking, it couldn’t have influenced it at all. It would be a dishonor to the craft of acting to allow that to come in.
What did influence my performance and my approach to Lonnie as a character in this film was the suffering that he bore as a child, all the way up through his young adult years until he basically came to Christ in a much deeper profound way through a vision that he had in the canyons of Palm Springs. At that point, he became this straight-up evangelist preacher, coming down the mountain after this vision, preaching to kids and anyone that he met. And then meeting with Chuck Smith and there being this phenomenal explosion of the Spirit, which drew thousands of hippies and teenagers (many of whom were addicts, runaways, or former addicts) to the church, to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
He was a very wounded man and unfortunately, as happens with many of us, wounds tend to surface later on in life. I think because he was such a powerful witness to the power of God in his life and in his culture, the enemy put a huge target on his back and did everything he could to take him off the path as he did for a little while. As you said, it was years after this film takes place, but Lonnie reconciled with the church fortunately, and I think the culture was changed for the better because of his effect on it.
CWR: What sort of good do you think the film can do for viewers today?
Roumie: I think many people struggle with identity and purpose and meaning, and especially the younger generations. When they’re still figuring out who they are, what their identity is, they’re looking for things to supplant that identity with. Many of them in Lonnie’s day, the hippie era, were using psychedelic drugs, and free love, and all sorts of things that eventually ran its course and did not fulfill them at all.
It was only when they found Christ, and a relationship with God, that their lives started to take shape and they became full with meaning. And that’s just as true today as it was from the beginning of time, from the first century to now, from the beginning of salvation history to the 21st century. I think anybody that is searching or struggling with faith or with meaning or identity will be able to recognize the fact that God is what fulfills our identity, and when we put God in the center of our lives everything falls into place.
CWR: Do you see your acting as a sort of ministry, an opportunity for evangelism?
Roumie: I do, yeah, but I never thought it would be. But it’s clear to me now, when I look back and see the things that God has allowed in my life to happen, and how he sort of led me through my career the last several years especially, it’s clear to me that this is the design that acting has become my ministry, and call to evangelize in a way that I think appeals to the current generation, through media, through culture, through content.
CWR: In you work on Jesus Revolution and The Chosen, do you ever experience clashes on set with people of different faith backgrounds? Or is it usually a pretty united, evangelistic effort on all fronts?
Roumie: No, there aren’t any clashes. We don’t treat it as a forum for apologetics. it’s an opportunity to work, playing characters that have had such tremendous impact, and tremendous experiences for themselves in the realm of the Spirit. So we tend to not really “talk religion” really, on set. It’s kind of like “This is the gig”. But then when you see the response to the work, that’s when people become more naturally vocal about how their roles have affected them personally.
But there’s never any clashes. It’s been the most peaceful working sets that I’ve ever been on. It’s a testament to unity through community, with Christ as the central figure that is driving the responses to this work here. Not everybody who works on the set is even Christian. We just all feel fortunate to be working on something that has had such a tremendous impact on culture, and I think the same will be true for Jesus Revolution.
When we were making it, there were all sorts of things that were happening. Background actors were getting baptized when we were filming the baptism scene. A woman actually asked me to be baptized as she was walking up in the scene to be baptized. So I literally baptized her. There were quite a few mystical experiences on this particular film. I’m excited for people to see the film because I think it does carry that spiritual weight.
CWR: Did the experience of preparing for and making the film have any personal impact on you? You’re an avowed Catholic: did this film about these charismatic, Pentecostal, hippie preachers have any impact on your own spiritual life?
Roumie: You know, it made me much more aware of the person of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Lonnie was pretty Pentecostal in his approach to his gift, and something that we’re all sort of assigned as Catholics and as Christians, the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But in Catholicism, the Holy Spirit kind of is like the drummer in the band. He’s kind of in the back, just kind of keeping time, making sure everybody stays on beat. But they’re really a trio, the Trinity. I think it allowed me to put a little more emphasis on the Spirit, and to think of the Spirit in a much more authoritative way than I think we’re used to viewing the Holy Spirit culturally as Catholics.
So it opened my eyes to things I wasn’t really aware of. Now I’m really interested in the Charismatic Renewal of the Catholic Church, and some of the spin-offs. I heard of this thing recently called Encounter, which are like related movements to the Charismatic Renewal. So it’s definitely got me opening my eyes more to things that are not just limited to how we do things traditionally, but saying, “Hey, God is giving people gifts in all areas of his people, all denominations, and what does that mean and how does that affect me?” So it’s opened my eyes to that.
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I believe that, at certain times like today, God strategically allows Satan to unleash a flood of evil upon our world in order to raise up a standard that offers a very profound contrast to that evil. As God’s people, we must get past the barriers that separate us from Him and each other, and we must hear His words…that the world may know. John 17 is very clear about how and why this must happen.
February of 1967 the holy Spirit touches 12 Catholic students in Pittsburgh and 50 years later 120 million plus Catholics have been touched by the holy Spirit in 1970 at Ashbury holy Spirit shows up again for the students and again in 2023 the holy Spirit shows up again at Asbury and now that Jesus revolution movie comes out Lord seems to keep saying I’m still here ask for the spirit now pour for it on you
I am really surprised that Jonathan and so many other Catholics do not know of this wonderful history in the Catholic church of the Catholic charismatic movement of the early 1970s. Where Catholics, priests, nuns, would be filled with the Holy Spirit and manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit and God used them to lead a lot of protestant people to Christ. It was just an amazing time that I lived through. I belong to a nondenominational church called the fisherman‘s net in the Detroit area, and the founder of our church , Frank Majewski, who was a mighty evangelist back in the early 70s and led thousands to Christ, came to know the Lord through going to a charismatic Catholic meeting and having Nuns pray over him.
I was a part of the Jesus Movement and spent the summer of 1972 attending Bible studies and concerts. Greg Laurie baptized me at Pirates Cove that summer.
Once the new sanctuary was completed we filled it up nearly every night, and I was happy and surprised to see Catholic priests in attendance some evenings for pastor Chuck’s Bible studies. The Catholic Church in my city was active in the charismatic renewal of that time.
I certainly am enjoying the chosen, and Jesus revolution. Great acting! I cry tears of joy when people get saved and transformed by Jesus. Perhaps no one wants to mention it in a disire to have unity, but perhaps the subject of salvation is not raised on purpose here. Unfortunately how one actually gets to heaven is not mentioned here and this is a very important matter, as salvation is only by faith, only by grace, only by Christ, and only based on what the Bible says and promises. It is not so complicated “by faith we are saved through grace, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”