When Roma Downey speaks, you know you’ve heard that golden voice before, but as you listen, the Irish-born actress is reading aloud a children’s book, The Sweetest Story Bible. She’s telling how much God loves us – with stories chosen specifically for little girls.
“I tell about some of the female characters from
Tess and Monica, played by Della Reese and Roma Downey
“You know, it’s presented in such a cute way,” she says, “as sweet thoughts to think about and easy Scripture verses to remember – all which connect a little girl’s life to God’s Word. My hope is that it will help them see just how wonderful God’s love really is.
“It’s really, really sweet and wonderful and I enjoy lending my voice to it.”
And that voice is so instantly recognizable. Although her long-running TV drama “Touched by an Angel” has been off the air for almost ten years, Downey can be shopping unnoticed until she speaks.“Inevitably,” she says, ‘someone will turn around and say ‘Is that you? I recognize your voice.’ So, I think perhaps that’s why they asked me if I would do The Sweetest Story Bible.”
“In the stories, these little angels live on the ceiling of the children’s nursery,” she says, “and when the mom and dad aren’t around, they come down and teach the kids Scripture and how to live in the world – how to be kind, how to be respectful, how to be obedient – you know, all the things we want our children to learn.”
Several years ago, she had to mask that trademark voice, her gentle Londonderry brogue. In the Emmy Award-winning miniseries “A Woman Named Jackie,” she played First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who had very un-Irish voice.
“I had to work with a dialect coach,” recalls Downey. “We nicknamed him the ‘brogue basher.’ He was on the set and anytime he heard a hint of my Irish accent, he would stop everything.”
In March, she will play Mary the mother of Christ in a 10-hour mini-series, “The Bible,” that she and her husband Mark Burnett produced for the History Channel. Yes, Mary will have a golden, Irish voice, but
there’s much more behind the role than an acting career or a trademark voice, says Downey.
Roma and Mark in Morocco
“All these projects have been ways of combining my faith with the things that I’ve learned in life. In the books, I’m trying to find ways to look back and reach the wee ones. It’s been a very fun and loving and engaging project.”
She was raised in a single-parent family after her mother died when Roma was 10. Her father filled the gap as best he could. “My dad used to sit me on his knee and read from the Bible to us. We were a praying family. Ours was a family of love and a family of
“Some of my fondest memories are of kneeling next to him and slipping my little hand into his. He was such a great guide and mentor to me. His love and his teaching me about my heavenly Father’s love allowed me to get through tough times — to be comforted and to feel the unconditional love that the Lord has for us.
“Those childhood experiences have taken me forward every day since he passed away. There is not a day in my life goes by that I don’t feel his love. That’s one reason I’ve made a choice in the career that I have — to honor my parents and to honor God.”
And that’s one reason she’s so excited about “The Bible,” the 10-hour mini-series, co-produced with her husband. “It’s the best work of our careers,” she says. “I mean we are just on fire with this. An early version of the script referred to ‘Young Mary’ and ‘Old Mary,’ We have a young actress playing Mary during the nativity and the early years of Jesus’ life. Then 30 years go by and I am on camera as Mary. But when I stepped into the role, I said, ‘You know, could we have ‘Young Mary’ and ‘Mother Mary’?’ Oh, vanity! Being ‘Old Mary’ was more than I could deal with.”