“When my own daughter was born I felt whole again for the first time since my own mother had died. Becoming a parent restored to me a relationship I had been longing for. With Reilly's birth I really felt a healing come in.”
If her mammy and daddy had lived would she have emigrated, or at least emigrated with such ease?
“I just kept stepping forward into the unknown fearlessly. I moved first to Brighton to art school and then to London to drama school and then I hopped over to New York for a bit working in theater,” Downey recalls.
One of Downey's first and least glamorous jobs in New York was as a coat check girl. Her first great American moment arrived, she says, when she checked the coat of Regis Philbin at a society affair. She was pleased to see that he took the time to say hello and give her some face time.
"I remember that struck me about him and he left a very generous tip. Years later when I was starring on Touched by an Angel I was invited to appear on his show. I told him about being a coat check girl and he blushed and said, ‘You are only telling that story one for two reasons, either I completely stiffed you or I left you a good tip.’”
Downey knows she is an example of the American Dream in action, and she’s certainly grateful for the blessings she’s experienced.
“At the height of the run of Touched by an Angel we had 25 million people watching the show. It was a huge hit. It was like a lifetime we spent working on it and we all became so close in the filming of it,” Downey says.
“Five years in I got to re-negotiate my own contract, and that meant I’d never have to work again. I never would have dreamed of that growing up in my modest three up three down house in Derry.”
Actors depend on the emotions they have lived through themselves, she says.
"I think that sometimes born out a great personal hurt is the ability to find compassion and empathy for people who might be hurting. Having developed that skill it was a way to bring that role to light,” she says.
Compassion, empathy and healing hurt have been themes in her work for years, and now with Little Angles she's hoping to pass those skills on to a new generation. The inspiration was easy to come by.
She just had to look at her own daughter.
“Little Angels is a big departure for me, but it’s something I’ve been working on for 18 months and I’m hoping that families will recognize they have value. When I was raising Reilly I sometimes had to sit her down with a DVD while I took an important phone call and it occurred to me it would be better if she could watch something that supported our values, you know?"
To get the word out this week Downey's coming to New York to do The View and Rachael Ray and then on to Chicago to talk to Rosie O'Donnell.
“I’m committed to Little Angels and I’m in it for the long haul,” she says. "I really believe once families discover it, it will speak for itself you know?
“The challenge is to let people know that it’s out there. All I ask is that you get along to Target or Best Buy and check it out!”