Roma Downey with 'Touched by an Angel' cast members John Dye and Della Reese. Photographs: Chris Maddaloni and Cliff Lipson/CBS
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni and Cliff Lipson/CBS
Irish actor Roma Downey and her TV producer husband Mark Burnett tell SIMON CARSWELLabout the strong faith which led them to make a mini-series dramatising the Bible
The creator of some of the world’s most popular reality TV shows and a Golden Globe-nominated actress originally from Derry in Northern Ireland may seem like unlikely co-producers of a television mini-series about the Bible, but husband-and-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey say they had a calling to make it.
Burnett, the force behind shows such as The Apprentice, The Voice and Survivor, and Downey, who was best known in Ireland for playing JFK’s wife in the 1991 Emmy award-winning mini-series A Woman Named Jackie, were inspired to make the 10-hour series, The Bible, after watching some Hollywood biblical classics.
“We have three teenagers,” says Downey. “It was Easter time, maybe three years ago, and were trying to get them to watch The Ten Commandments, which had been such a staple part of my childhood. Midway through what were spectacular special effects in their day, the kids kind of rolled their eyes at each other and said that this was a bit lame.”
Around the same time the couple saw another artistic telling (which Downey didn’t want to name) that had “a very dark point of view about God.” That was the trigger to make The Bible “for a new generation.”
“I whispered and my husband took action. He doesn’t take no for an answer; he just hears the words ‘new opportunity’,” she says. “I would have been out there knocking politely on doors to see if anyone would make it, and he comes up and he just kicks the door down. Between us, we got it made.”
The Bible will be broadcast for the first time on the History Channel in the US on March 3rd. Made for $22 million (€16 million) and shot over five months in Morocco last year, the mini-series covers a broad account of the best-known and some little-known biblical stories, from the book of Genesis right through to Revelation.
When we meet to discuss their latest project, Burnett and Downey have just heard Barack Obama speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington DC since 1953 bringing together Republican and Democrats, as well as church and community leaders from 140 countries. The president spoke about being sworn in for a second four-year term a few weeks earlier on two Bibles, one previously owned by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jnr, and how he reads biblical passages every day for wisdom.
The Hollywood-based couple have attended the prayer gathering a number of times but this year’s event has much more significance because their latest project will appeal to many of the 3,000 people gathered in Washington. A media dinner the night before played extended clips from the mini series.
“We are people of faith. We believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. We pray every day and seek strength in prayer. I can’t imagine not having that every day,” says Burnett. The London-born former soldier, a Falklands War veteran who emigrated to the US in 1982, says The Bible was made for educational purposes, though he acknowledges that the series is also entertaining.