Roma Downey reflects on ‘The Bible’

Actress Roma Downey, seen here playing the role of Mother Mary in “The Bible,” tells The Malibu Times the success of the miniseries feels “providential,” especially with the accession of a new pope. “The whole country this week, hearts and eyes, were on Rome,” Downey said.

Malibu residents and television mainstays Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have taken the TV world by storm with their epic five-episode, 10-hour History Channel miniseries “The Bible.”

Around 12 million viewers tuned in on the first two Sundays leading up to Easter, according to Nielsen, which made it the top-rated show on cable. Meanwhile, at least 50 million viewers watched at least some of the show over the first weeks it ran. The series finale airs this Sunday on Easter.

Deeply involved in their faith, Downey and Burnett spared no expense in the $22 million production to make it as realistic and historically accurate as possible. Downey was kind enough to take time out last week from her busy schedule to talk to The Malibu Times about “The Bible.”

What is your reaction to the success of “The Bible?” Were you expecting this?

I think we always knew there was going to be a potentially huge audience for this, but these numbers have just been humbling and exhilarating. We believe that with the reruns on History and Lifetime for the last two weeks, on these first two episodes, more than 50 million people have checked out “The Bible,” and that’s phenomenal. It trended number one on Twitter both weeks. It’s been very exciting to see conversation about all things Bible.

Of course such a time as this, the whole country this week, hearts and eyes were on Rome.

It was incredible timing wouldn’t you say?

It was, it feels providential certainly. It feels as though God is moving.

Your thoughts on the new pope?

I was delighted. Certainly the character of Pope Francis as it emerges in the press, clearly, is a man of the people. I think it brings such hope to the church and much-needed leadership, and a time of renewal and regeneration. You know the last few weeks, where everyone really has been focused on all things faith, for “The Bible” to make its television debut into this time, feels divine.

How did you and Mark decide to market “The Bible?”

Well, obviously through the usual outlets and then if you added to that, which meant jumping on the roof and screaming it from the rooftop. We also, as well as working with our scholars and theologians on the accuracy of the scripts from the early days, have been working with pastors and faith leaders all across the country. And that gave us an opportunity as well to be able to share news of the series before we hit the airwaves, and with their partnership and their friendship we’ve been able to reach more people.

Did you target specific audiences, particular regions of the U.S.?

Not specifically. As you know, most marketing campaigns begin in New York and Los Angeles and move their way out. I had learned from my “Touched by an Angel” experience that this is a big country and that people all through the middle and across the south love family programming. So we targeted the whole country… I think people were hungry for a series like this.

I think people are hungry for purpose, and hungry for God. It’s exciting because what it has done also is begun a dialogue that people are talking about around the water cooler, around the kitchen table, around the classroom. It started a conversation. We do know that not everyone has cable, so we rushed to get the DVDs out and they’ll come out the Monday after Easter.

We do know there’s a growing— particularly in our own state— Spanish-speaking population, so they will also have Spanish subtitles.

How will you reach other Christians in other countries? Will you be dubbing it in other languages?

We’ll dub, that will be per market experience. But our hope is that this will go out over the globe to places we have never heard of, people we may never meet…Countries are calling and we are in process as we speak. We believe this will be shown annually, this could be a staple on television every Easter.

The eyes of the world are often on the United States, and if the eyes of the United States are on the series, then I think that should be a grand calling card for other countries to be interested in showing this. I think it’s going to be around and inspiring people for years to come.