The Rover sits down with producer Roma Downey to discuss her new film Resurrection, available for streaming on discovery+ on March 27
Roma Downey is an Emmy nominated actress, producer, and New York Times best-selling author for her novel Box of Butterflies and has been creating inspirational content for twenty-five years. Born in Northern Ireland, she was classically trained in acting in London. She has performed on stage with the famed Abbey Theater and has appeared both on and off Broadway. For almost a decade, Roma starred on the hit CBS show, Touched by an Angel. In her role as the tender-hearted angel, Monica, she garnered multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
Roma and her husband Mark Burnett produced The Bible series on the History Channel that was viewed by more than 100 million people in the US alone. They also produced the feature film “Son of God” that stunned the box office when it became one of the highest faith movie openings of all time. In 2016, Downey received the Irish Diaspora Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Screen from the IFTA as well as her star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hollywood trade publication Variety recognized Downey as a “Trailblazer” and listed her as Variety’s ‘100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood.’ The Hollywood Reporter included her and Burnett as their ‘Most Influential People of 2013’. In 2014, Downey won the ‘Movie Guide Grace Award’ for her role as Mother Mary. That same year, Downey was also honored on Variety’s Women of Impact.
Downey and Burnett launched LightWorkers Media (LightWorkers) in 2011. LightWorkers is now an MGM company, with Downey serving as its creative lead. LightWorkers.com has become an online destination for uplifting and encouraging short-form digital and social content with over 300M monthly video views. Additionally, LightWorkers has produced the series “A.D.: The Bible Continues” for NBC, “The Women of the Bible” for Lifetime, “The Dovekeepers” for CBS, “Answered Prayers” for TLC, the feature films Little Boy for Open Road Films, Woodlawn for Pure Flix, Ben-Hur for MGM and Paramount, On A Wing And A Prayer for MGM, along with Messiah and Country Ever After for Netflix and “Redeeming Love” coming this Spring. Her new film, Resurrection, is set to be released on March 27 on discovery+.
The following is a transcription of the Rover’s interview with Ms. Downey to discuss Resurrection, courtesy of Carmel Media Company.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I just watched Resurrection, and it was incredibly moving and beautiful. First and foremost, what inspired you to make Resurrection? And why now?
Thank you for taking the time; I appreciate it. I have very fond memories of visiting Notre Dame, lighting a candle, and touring your beautiful campus.
You know, we’ve just come through—or we’re still coming through—one of the most challenging years for all of us: so much life lost, so much fear and anxiety, so much loneliness, disconnection, and isolation from people. My husband Mark and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring forward a film that was hope-centered?” So we worked with our editors to put together and craft this beautiful film, Resurrection, believing it was the perfect story for such a time as this, because there’s no greater hope story than the story of the risen Christ. And in many ways, John, I think of the symbolism of the film—that we’ve all been in our own tomb of a sort and that we’re all ready to step out into the light. We’re all ready for the resurrection in our lives, a resurrection in our schools so that people can get back to school, a resurrection in our businesses so that we can get back to work. And so we just felt it was the right movie for such a time as this. We know that hope didn’t die on the cross and that this is the cornerstone of our faith. To have the movie be available for families to gather together in the comfort and safety of their own home over the Easter season is really a blessing.
I agree. It’s particularly striking, not just during this Lenten season and with Easter approaching, but also in the context of the world today. Do you have any particular favorite scene from the movie?
Well, I think that it’s hard to watch the crucifixion and not be moved to tears, remembering that it wasn’t nails that kept Jesus on the cross but love—love for us. And when we see the love expressed through the eyes and the strength and the courage of his mother, and what it must’ve taken for her to be there as a witness and look up at the cross and see her own son die in such a horrible way… But I’m still certain that she wanted him to see a face of love when he looked down as she stood there, loving him. And we know too that Jesus only said seven things from the cross, yet he took the time to love his mother and to tell John to take care of her. And so yes, that sequence is incredibly moving. One of the scenes that I find most inspiring is the Pentecost sequence. Jesus now has ascended. He has instructed his disciples to go and spread the Gospel to the world. He’s told them that he will send the Holy Spirit to them, but they don’t really know what that means or what that’s going to look like. As moviemakers, though, with the help of a fabulous special effects department, we’ve been able to create supernatural experiences. We see the heavens move and the flames shooting into the upper room, circling around the disciples heads. We see it filling them with Spirit, filling them with God—to the extent that they tumble down the stairs, speaking languages that they didn’t even know they could speak, ready now to go spread the Gospel to the world. And didn’t you love at the end of the film how we were able to pull the story out of the first century and into the 21st century by reminding our audience that what started with just a handful of followers has now grown to over 2.2 billion Christians in the world? And we cut to the Vatican and to the scenes of Christian worship around the world. I think it’s so inspiring and uplifting and empowering.
Obviously it takes remarkable bravery to stand up for your faith. Do you have any words of advice for college kids—or anyone—who want to do more for their faith?
That’s a great question. You know, God doesn’t always call the qualified, but he always qualifies the called. Just pay attention in your life to the whisper of Spirit. It requires that you take quiet time. We live in such a noisy world—so many distractions. We’re always all on our phones and doing a million things at the same time, and sometimes we just have to make sure that we take time. I prefer to take time in the morning to be quiet, reflect, pray, and listen. So really listen to the call in your life. For my part from my time back on Touched by an Angel, I felt very privileged, as a lifelong Catholic and believer, to be able be the messenger for God’s love. There is a God; He loves us. He wants to be a part of our lives, and that was the message embedded in Touched by an Angel and all of the projects that I produce. Before my husband and I were going to make The Bible series, friends told us that we were crazy, that it would impact our careers negatively and that nobody would watch. And of course, we now know that over a hundred million people in the United States alone watched that series and many millions more throughout the globe. And it did not impact our careers. In fact, our careers flourished. And so, be bold. Be bold and have courage. There was a lovely song we would sing growing up in Ireland. It was called. “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” It’s not, “they will know us by our finger-wagging.” We don’t need to be judgmental and tell other people off. We just need to be loving. And I think if we go through the world loving and being respectful and kind to each other— if we’re Christ-like in our ordinary lives— we can show people that love is a verb and that our faith is love in action.
I think that’s very, very helpful. I personally derive a lot of hope from seeing films like Resurrection coming out today, especially on a platform such as discovery+.
We’re so grateful to discovery+. They’re really open and ready to receive faith and family content, and they have so many great shows that are really appropriate for families. We’re very encouraged by that. They’ve got a wonderful documentary about Pope Francis called Francesco that’s going up over Easter weekend as well. So there’s a lot of content in there that audiences will be pleased to find. I know that you’ll be writing this to mainly college students. I just wanted to say that we really had young audiences in mind when we made this film. The Bible can tell us these stories, but it gives us much more factual information. As movie makers, we’re able to get in there and imagine what people must be feeling and what they were really going through to try to create an emotional experience that the audience can connect to. And we also wanted to make it gritty and real. Resurrection plays out like a thriller. It’s not some corny movie that your grandmother would watch. It’s a really gripping film about the greatest miracle in our Bible. And we’ve been able to pull in fantastic special effects, amazing actors, great performances. We told the story from three different angles: from the Romans who were ruling with an iron fist and a very oppressive and cruel regime; from the Jewish temple authorities who have Passover approaching and nervously just want to keep pace in the city (That’s why they arrested Jesus in the dead of night, tried him so quickly, and murdered him—to ensure that the city would be quiet over Passover); and from the disciples who scattered immediately after Jesus’s death, afraid for their own lives. When they start coming back together again, we can only imagine they were feeling shame or guilt; fear, confusion, tremendous grief. They’ve lost Jesus. He has died. They’re hoping he’ll return as he said he would, but they don’t know if he will or not. And so we try to incorporate all of that into this film in a way that will be appealing to contemporary audiences. Film goers are sophisticated. They expect a movie about Jesus to be as good a movie as any other movie coming out of Hollywood. And we worked hard to achieve that. So we’re hoping that, as well as telling the story of the centerstone of our faith, Resurrection will just be enjoyed because it’s excellent. Then you add to that this amazing Hans Zimmer score, and it just elevates the whole thing. It’s a very emotional journey, but I think you come away feeling like you’ve seen a really, really good film.
Absolutely. I’m hopeful that young audiences will watch Resurrection as soon as it comes out. Do you have any thoughts about what you hope that viewers will take away from this movie? And then, if you don’t mind, could you touch on where you find the most hope in the world today?
I can start with that last question. First, I find the most hope today in our younger generation. They are the ones that will implement change where change is needed. They will bring love where love is needed. They’re the ones that can make the difference. It’s up to them. The medal is being handed to your university as your students step out into the world and be the change that they want to see. So I’m very encouraged. I meet with young people all the time and I’m always so encouraged how switched-on they are, how awake they are to social issues, to what is needed in our country and our planet, and what is needed to take care of each other. Here we are at this time—we are ready to hopefully get through this awful pandemic and all of the challenges presented to each of us, and we are encouraged that we will step back out into the world, changed for the better because we’ve had time to reflect. We’ve had time to examine our lives and to really appreciate and be grateful for what’s important: the love of families and friends. And maybe we should release the things that weren’t important. So I feel that this is such a great opportunity having come through this together, and I’m excited to see what’s coming next.
It was an honor to get to speak with you today, and I’m grateful for all that you and your husband do for the faith and for the faith in the media. Do you have any final words?
One final word for your students. Rejection is part of our lives. Certainly, as an actor and a producer, I’ve heard the word “no” more often than times that I’ve heard the word “yes.” But I just want to offer a little reframe on the word “no.” Don’t see it as “no.” Don’t see it as a closed door. Think of the word, “no,” and imagine new opportunity or next opportunity—because the door never closes, but the window opens. Just keep boldly stepping forward and being courageous.
Thank you so much, Ms. Downey. I really appreciate the time.
Thank you for your time as well, and happy, happy Easter.
Resurrection is a new biblical epic that explores the earliest days of the Church from the eyes of the apostles. It will be released on discovery+ on March 27.