“It really deepened our friendship and strengthened our marriage.
“You know,” she says with a smile, “there were moments during it I’m sure where we felt we might never speak to each other again. It was highly pressured and very hard work. It was hard to be gone from home for so long. We were in Morocco from February to July, but we felt called to do this.”
“We shot in Morocco,” says Mark, “because our hope was to achieve an epic, big scale, quality production that would present the grand narrative of the Bible while at the same time allow opportunities for intimate storytelling – so that we could really make the emotional connection with our audience.”
“We know as movie makers that this sort of storytelling begins in the heart,” says Roma. “When your heart opens up, that’s the opportunity for grace to move in.”
This series is far more than just entertainment, say the couple.
“I believe that people will be able to go back to the Scripture with these images in their minds and be able to engage God’s Word in a whole new and exciting way,” says Downey.
Wasn’t telling Bible stories an abrupt change of direction for Burnett? Is it a recent thing that he would tackle a project focusing on the Holy Scriptures?
John the Baptist in “The Bible”
“This project certainly deepened my faith immensely,” he says. “I mean, anybody who spends three and a half years working on telling the story of the Bible cannot help but be touched.”
But a personal faith isn’t something new to him, he says. “I grew up in a wonderful home with a Scottish Presbyterian mother and a Scottish Catholic father. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s probably in America that I realized there is a difference between Catholics and Protestants.
“That was a great way to grow up – with tolerance for each other.”
Given his success with reality TV, wasn’t this a major challenge professionally?
“Oh, yes,” he chuckles. “I mean it was my first time working with actors so closely.”
It was also his first time directing his wife.
“I didn’t go over to Morocco with the intention of playing any part,” recalls Downey. “We ended up you know, trying to cast the role
of Mary while we were over there and Mark urged me to step into the role after we didn’t find who we believed was the right actor for Jesus’ mother. That was a great privilege for me, an unexpected privilege to step into that role, to experience those things through a mother’s heart and to see them through a mother’s eyes.”
Burnett, on the other hand, does not appear on screen.
“At one point,” Roma remembers, “I tried to throw him in to play a farmer, but he resisted. So, don’t scan the crowds and try to find him amid the multitudes. He stayed behind the camera.”
“I remember, here I was in Morocco sitting on a little craggy piece of rock in the middle of the Sahara Desert, longing for some shade and finding it,” recalls Downey. “We would gather around with these actors who would express such touching sentiments about how much this project meant to them.
“So many times as an actor, you wish you could have access to the screenwriter, to ask, ‘What did you mean here? What are we trying to do with this scene?’ So, I would reach into my little dusty backpack and just happen to have my Bible.
“It was extraordinary to open it up and see exactly what the scene was all about.
“And it was the most extraordinary, wonderful thing when the actors allowed me to pray with them.
“Many of the crew were deeply affected,” recalls Burnett. “It was a wonderful challenge, studying the Scriptures and thinking ‘How do we tell this? How do we present that?’ and trying to be creative and be true to something that means so much to us.
“In the end,” he says, “what we’ve done is a meta-narrative, a grand narrative of emotionally connected stories.
“Roma and I know we’re not qualified to teach the Bible. But we’re qualified to be good television producers and storytellers.
Roma Downey as Mary
“By telling these emotionally connected, big stories, hopefully millions of people will reopen their Bibles.”
“And be touched,” agrees Roma, smiling like the angel we all remember so well.