Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are bracing themselves for reaction to their ambitious, 10- hour History Channel adaptation of the Bible that launches this Sunday night (3/3) and runs through Easter. “I’m sure people will hurl what they want to hurl,” the “Touched by an Angel” actress told us. But, she added, the miniseries was made “with full hearts.”
Certainly the Burnetts and the History Channel are putting their all into pulling viewers into “The Bible,” with a full court press of promotion including: advance screenings in theaters and sports arenas; plugs from faith leaders including Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes and Maya Angelou; a huge array of support materials available to churches and individuals; a webinar; a You Tube video in which Roma asks believers to pray for the miniseries; even a kit for hosing Bible viewing parties (http://www.outreach.com/campaigns/the-bible-resources).
“We’ve had scholars and theologians help. We’re not pretending to be biblical experts,” she stressed. “We brought experts in once the scripts were created to take a look at the scripts to make sure we were accurate and true to the Bible, but obviously we’re making a movie, and so we breathed creative expansion into that.”
Roma is hoping the TV event will attract the faithful and those unfamiliar with the Bible alike. “Yes, it’s going to be a faith journey, but it’s also going to be really exciting and dynamic television,” as she put it. The filmmakers were able to bring up-to-the-minute CGI special effects artistry to familiar stories from Noah’s ark and Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to Jesus walking on water — “Genesis to Revelation.”
The intensity of their belief in this project is such that Burnett told Variety, “I am certain that if you took ‘Survivor,’ ‘The Voice,’ ‘Shark Tank,’ ‘The Apprentice’ and all the other shows I’ve done, over the next 25 years more people will see ‘The Bible’ miniseries than all those other projects combined.”
Roma is seen in the miniseries as well as serving as an executive producer along with her husband. She plays Mary, mother of Jesus, in scenes depicting the final chapters of his life story.
“We have a young actress of course playing Mary during the nativity and the early years of Jesus’ life, and 30 years go by. An early version of the script referred to that as Young Mary and Old Mary and when I stepped into the role, I said, ‘You know, could we have Young Mary and Mother Mary?’” she recalled, laughing.
Perhaps there was a bit of destiny involved. As Roma also mentioned, “My middle name is Mary. All the girls in my family have the middle name of Mary.”
She also told us that the making of “The Bible” proved to be a great husband-and-wife collaborative experience for her and Mark. They toiled side-by-side in Morocco, in extreme heat and cold, dust storms and more.
The Burnetts are, of course, quite rich and certainly did not need to make a Bible miniseries. What drove them, Roma said, was that “The Bible fits in really with who we are and what we believe and how we live our lives.”
The actress grew up in Derry, Ireland, was taught by nuns back in school, and today holds a masters degree in spiritual psychology from University of Santa Monica. “It’s an extraordinary journey, to come from the Sisters of Mercy to where I am today,” she said, “and it was a great honor and a privilege for me to step into the role and to step into the project. I think it’s going to bring the Bible alive in new and exciting ways to a lot of people. I think it’s really going to touch another generation.”