Regardless of the response to Roma Downey's and Mark Burnett's 10-hour History Channel treatment of the Bible when it premieres next March, the project already stacks up as one of the most profound experiences of the couple's life. The actress immortalized by "Touched By An Angel" tells us they began filming in Morocco in February "and are just back. We produced it together. The opportunity for us to work together as husband and wife has been extraordinary.
"I know it's epic, and I think it will be the must-watch event of the spring," she adds. "You'll see the Red Sea parted with the latest special effects that are available. We have Hans Zimmer creating the score ... We have Noah, we have Abraham, we have Moses. We have Jesus walking on water. We have scenes coming to life in extraordinary ways. Yes, it's going to be a faith journey, but it's also going to be really exciting and dynamic television."
In the course of the production, exec producers Roma and Mark and company were out in heat and sand and "all of that. The climate was extreme. When we started it was cold, then it was boiling — in excess of 110 degrees. We were caught in dust storms. And of course, during the filming, Mark was back here a lot because he as a few other things going on," she says of the husband she clearly adores, whose many productions include "Survivor," "Stars Earn Stripes," "The Apprentice" and "The Voice."
Roma had other things going on as well — including a role in the Bible series. "I am on camera as Mary, the mother of Jesus. 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 laughs. "Oh, vanity. It was more than I could deal with."
She and Mark are well aware they're treading on controversial ground, no matter how their Bible depiction is done. "But you have to step out there," she says. "We are stepping out together, and I'm sure people will hurl what they want to hurl. But it is being made with full hearts. We've had scholars and theologians help. We're not pretending to be biblical experts. 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."
She's hoping the TV event will attract the faithful and the Bible illiterate alike. "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," says the actress. Covering Genesis through Revelation, the series is scheduled to conclude on Easter Sunday next year.
AND: Roma just smiles and closes her eyes when we ask about the chances for a "Touched By An Angel" reunion movie. It's not on her radar, to say the least. But she does continue her close friendship with fellow "Angel" angel Della Reese. In fact, "She was just here at our home yesterday for lunch," reports Roma, who lives in a spectacular seaside mansion in Malibu with Mark and their family. The posh digs are a long way, both literally and figuratively, from Mark's and Roma's similarly humble backgrounds — in London and Derry, Northern Ireland, respectively.
The executive producer of the "Little Angels" animated children's video series notes, "Clearly, there's a theme going on in my life. I don't have to work. I'm very blessed, very fortunate. So my passion, my purpose is to be involved with things that uplift and open people's hearts and raise their consciousness."
DREAM COME TRUE: Paulo Costanzo — Evan Lawson to "Royal Pains" fans — cuts his teeth as a TV director with tomorrow night's (8/29) episode, "Dancing With the Devil." The actor tells us he's been wanting to direct since he was a 15-year-old student at a school for the arts and got an assignment to make his own VHS movie. When he did, he recalls, he knew "this is what I want to do."
So, what was the movie?
"It was called 'The Outcast,' about this dirty kid who was socially phobic. Bullies beat up on him. The girl he liked ignored him. And then he found these magical glasses that made him cool."
Costanzo was inspired by his own plight. "I was very, debilitatingly shy in high school. Maybe making the movie was the glasses, for me. I found a voice."
The handsome Canadian took a detour into acting as it turned out, of course, and began to amass his long list of credits, including the big screen "Road Trip" and "50 Cent: Bulletproof" and small screen "Joey" as Matt LeBlanc's nephew.
Now that he's helmed an episode of his show, he is eager to do more directing — despite a few extra challenges his first time around. There was an unforeseen rainstorm that disrupted shooting and a fire alarm going off amidst filming of a big dance club sequence, necessitating clearing of 150 extras from the building. And then there was the Brinks truck that came to "unload this ATM, right in out shot. The guards cleared everyone away. They were yelling, 'Get out of the way, NOW!' And then they went as slow as possible. If I had just been acting, it would have been funny," Costanzo says, "but it's different when you're the one trying to keep everything on schedule."
To find out more about Stacy Jenel Smith and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.