'Bible' aims to make 'emotional connection' with audience

It took the combined clout of an actress best known for playing an angel and her big-ratings executive-producer husband, but Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have pulled off the making of a 10-hour miniseries, "The Bible," that gets its premiere Sunday, March 3, on the History cable channel.

The miniseries runs 8-10 p.m. (check local listings) each Sunday in March through March 31, Easter Sunday.

Downey's career role was playing the angel Monica for nine seasons in the TV drama "Touched by an Angel." Husband Burnett, whose U.S. TV hits include "Survivor," "The Voice," "The Apprentice," "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and "Shark Tank," added his Hollywood muscle.

"He doesn't take no for an answer. When he hears 'no,' he just thinks of a new opportunity. When it was a tough sell, he just persevered," Downey said of her husband. "He's just like (St.) Paul, very courageous."

Unlike other biblical films and TV miniseries, "The Bible" splits its 10 hours evenly between the Old and New Testaments.

Another difference, according to Burnett: "For example, in a lot of older biblical films, it looks like a lot of the disciples, Jesus, the Romans, stepped right out of a dry cleaner. Not a speck of dust on them. And the lighting didn't feel real."

He surmised that such films were made "over the years (by) people with great hearts for service and faith, but with very little budget and very little experience, and sometimes the result isn't optimal, and it's not the best movie or show. ... History Channel provided us with a great budget, and I knew we wanted to make this emotionally connective, and very real for today's audiences."

Burnett and Downey were interviewed by Catholic News Service prior to an invitation-only screening Feb. 5 in Washington. The day before, they were in Dallas, showing a 45-minute grouping of miniseries scenes to about 60 U.S. Catholic bishops.

Downey singled out "Cardinal (Donald W.) Wuerl (of Washington), who has been a great supporter and adviser to us for the last year or so," said Downey. She and Burnett added later there were about 40 theological and biblical advisers who helped before and during filming.

"We had a very great and warm reception," Downey said, adding she had told the bishops that, while growing up in Derry, in Northern Ireland, "I went to a convent school and was educated by the Sisters of Mercy; the girls fondly named them the 'Sisters of No Mercy,' and it got a big laugh in the room."

"The Bible" used the same special effects team that won an special-effects Oscar for the period film "Gladiator." It borrows a page from "Gladiator" and "The Passion of the Christ" in its depictions of violence and brutality. While some violence takes place off-screen, the fighting between the Israelites and their opponents, including the Roman occupiers of Jesus' time, sliced, diced, thrust and gouged their way to victory or conquest; what's not visible on the screen is still made plain by the sound effects.

Even for Christians such as Downey and Burnett, "it's very daunting to take on the Bible," she told CNS. "We only had 10 hours to tell the story. We wish we had ten hundred hours.

"We had to break it down. We wanted to make an emotional connection with the audience, to draw the audience in and tell the stories from a very human point of view. That meant we had to tell fewer stories."

Downey portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in "The Bible." "We had a younger actress playing Mary during the Nativity and so on," she said. "And in the early stages of the script, she was referred to as 'Young Mary,' and in the later stages the script referred to 'Old Mary.' And I said, 'Well, you know, that's gotta change.' So, we rewrote that, that it would be 'Young Mary' and 'Mother Mary.'

"Oh, vanity, it's a terrible thing, you know?" she chuckled.

"I certainly tried in my career to make choices that would be pleasing to God," Downey said. "One of our central intentions in making this series was to make something that would glorify God.

CNS

Back-to-back installments of "The Bible" continue Sundays through Easter, March 31.



Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

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February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

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