Roma Downey says she and husband Mark Burnett "prayed" for actor Diogo Morgado, who plays Jesus in their new The History Channel miniseries "The Bible."
Downey, formerly of the series "Touched By An Angel," co-stars as Mary and serves as executive producer, along with Burnett, known for the reality shows "Survivor" and "The Voice." "The Bible," a five-part, 10-hour miniseries, debuted on March 3. Its two-hour premiere was watched by a record 13.1 million people and earned a 3.3 rating among adults between ages 18 and 49.
Check out 5 questions answered by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett.
1. Mark, Roma, this is such an epic project. What inspired it and why now?ROMA DOWNEY: "We had several moments of inspiration of this. We had seen 'The Ten Commandments' with our teenage children a few years ago. I tried to get them to watch it. I had been raised on it my whole life. And with no disrespect, 'cause it's 50 years old, it became apparent from my kids' reaction to it that the moment of the grand miracle was dated, in some way."
"We also saw something on television, a pitch that came out way that was a very negative piece on the Bible and I turned to Mark and said, 'You know, why would anybody make something that was so negative? If you were going to bring something to the screen, why wouldn't we just tell the story of our Bible in a loving, wonderful, epic way?' And that's what we ended up doing."
MARK BURNETT: "We got teenagers right, so look at the values of teenagers, in terms of filmmaking - they're used to 'The Hobbit,' 'The Lord of the Rings,' 'The Avengers.' If we couldn't tell the Bible in an epic CGI way as well that teenagers could relate to, it wasn't worth doing. It needs to be for young kids, teenagers and old people. And here's how we know we got it right."
"Our teenagers actually last week, two of them -- a 15-year-old and 16-year-old screamed parts of this at their high school. There is no way those kids are putting themselves on the line in front of their high school friends and it wasn't good."
ROMA DOWNEY: "That's true. Before we left for Morocco they said to us, they were talking about the special effects and they said 'Oh please don't make it lame.' And so, we really wanted to get the very best to create this piece with us. We got a team that won the Oscar for Special Effects to bring Moses parting the Red Sea, Daniel and the lions, Jesus walking on water."
"We also got Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe to create the most beautiful musical score that weaves all of these episodes together with the voice of the vocalist, Lisa Gerard. We said to Hans, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could have a singer like Lisa Gerard, 'cause we are such fans of her work."
MARK BURNETT: "And 'Gladiator.' The two of them did 'Gladiator' together.
ROMA DOWNEY: "And Hans said, 'Why would we get somebody like Lisa Girard when we could get Lisa Gerard?' And we did and it's just beautiful. It's like really, really extraordinary sound."
MARK BURNETT: "Only Hans Zimmer could make that sort of comment - he picks the phone up, and put us in touch and the next thing we've got actual Lisa Gerard and Hans Zimmer reuniting for the first time since Gladiator.'
2. It's just such an epic journey that you guys have created. What stories did you weave into the Bible miniseries?
MARK BURNETT: "OK, so it starts with Creation, told through the eyes of Noah. That goes onto Abraham, Moses, leads into Joshua. Joshua carried on and leads into ? Samson, after Samson we do Samuel into the first King of Israel - Saul. You know the story, you know that Saul also anointed David the shepherd boy to become king before Saul laws killed."
Then we go into Zedekiah and Daniel and the lions' den where he predicts the coming of ... the worst army the Jewish people have ever seen - the Romans, which comes into the birth of Christ, the mission of Christ, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension."
ROMA DOWNEY: "Conversion ... and ending in Revelations. So we really did start at the beginning, in Genesis and we've taken it though Revelations. Clearly it can't be the whole Bible. It's only 10 hours. We wish we'd had 1,000 hours to bring this to the screen. It's more of an introduction to the Bible. But on the one hand we've achieved scale -- it's epic, it's big. On the other hand, we have these beautiful intimate, connective, emotional scenes. And it creates a very complete meta-narrative of this love story -- the story of God's love for all of us."
3. Roma, you're also in the miniseries. So how do you tackle that and why choose to play Mother Mary?
ROMA DOWNEY: "Well, my husband really urged me to do it. I hadn't planned originally to step into any role. I went over to Morocco with my producer's hat firmly on my head. I'm really glad that I did, though. It was such a privilege to play Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I tried to bring to it a heart, a mother's heart. You know, I can't begin to imagine what the blessed mother must have felt but I tried to feel through a mother's heart and to see through a mother's eyes."
4. So out of all these amazing epic scenes and stories that you guys have painted with this min-series, do you have a favorite scene or a biblical story?
MARK BURNETT: "Look behind you on that picture there. That picture is Roma at the foot of the cross. So I mean to see the Crucifixion through the eyes of a mother portrayed on Roma is something you never forget."
ROMA DOWNEY: "Yeah, and that episode will on in Easter and the Easter Sunday. I mean it's all spectacular but Easter Sunday has the Crucifixion followed by the resurrection, the ascension and the conversion of Paul."
"And the conversion of Paul is one of my favorite scenes because we see the actor playing Paul and he's just so broken, blinded and broken. And in that broken place there's an opportunity for a new beginning and I think that that's the message of faith and hope and redemption that there's an opportunity for all of us to be able to start again."
MARK BURNETT: "Another epic scene is from the very beginning ... Noah's Ark, and how you see ... can you imagine -- there's no land. There's one giant ocean in the entire globe. Imagine the level of the storm. And the ark is enormous, as we know, from the Bible. But it's like a little tiny cork being chopped around ... the family is so scared."
"And so Noah is telling the story of creation to his family top calm them down and the way we show Creation -- it makes you glad to be alive and glad to be a human on this earth when you see how epic that the Earth is, which goes then straight into ... Abraham and it will just grip you. The story of Abraham will grip you."
ROMA DOWNEY: "It's great and we work with such great teams. Every step of the way we wanted all the details -- from the smallest prop to the largest chariot, were historically researched, creatively researched and recreated on the scenes. It has the look and feel. It feels gritty. It feels authentic -- nobody looks like they just stepped out of the dry cleaners. Everything has a realism to it, which I think will speak to this generation."
"We made this for a 2013 audience. It is a video generation. People are receiving information through moving pictures and so we know, as the parents of teenagers, that this is a way to reach a whole new audience with these great stories."
MARK BURNETT: "Four years into this and we're still talking to each other."
5. I would say this is the first project as husband and wife. Are you going to do another one?
ROMA DOWNEY: "We made it! (Gives her husband a high five)
MARK BURNETT: "We're best buddies."
Bonus: About Diogo Morgado.
ROMA DOWNEY: "Yeah, he's just such a beautiful, beautiful actor inside and out. We were so grateful to have found him. We prayed for him and I can't imagine anybody playing the role like he does. I think for a whole generation he will define he will define this role on screen and through his performance, people will be touched."
MARK BURNETT: "He was on the a few TV interviews and the amount of call we're getting. Some major producers ... no names mentioned, asked us, 'We saw a clip, who's that guy playing Jesus?' He's gonna get a lot of attention. He has the ability and he said to us, he decided, there's no way you could play Christ. He just got out of the way and let it come through him. He said at times he looks back at the scenes and there's no memory of those scenes. He just got out of the way. Incredible."
ROMA DOWNEY: "We needed somebody that was able to portray a strength on screen but also have a humility on the screen and that was a difficult piece of casting. It was singularly our most important piece of casting but to be able to find somebody that could be the lion and the lamb. In my experience with charismatic actors, sometimes there's a little bit of a swagger that comes with that and we knew that we needed to have an actor that could draw you in and hold your attention in a loving way but we didn't want that swagger."Reporting by Chi-Lan Lieu, correspondent for KABC Television's entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).