Playing the role of Mother Mary is one of the biggest challenges of her career, she says. “I have loved Mary my whole life. My own mother died when I was a little girl and I have always had such devotion to the Blessed Mother,” she says.
“I have always found such comfort in loving her. It was a great privilege to step into the part.”
In conversation, Downey reveals that she never planned to play the role herself.
“We had already cast a young actress to play her through the Nativity, but we needed an older actress to play her 30 years later. Eventually my husband said, ‘Roma, I think you're missing the obvious here.’
“So I prayed about it and I decided to step in. I brought to it the heart of a mother. All I could do was to imagine what she must have felt like. Those scenes at the cross (which will be broadcast at Easter) were very demanding for everyone involved.”
The nuns who taught her at her old school in Thornhill, Co. Derry would be happy with the result, she joked.
“I can't imagine they would have picked me as the girl most likely to make a series about the Bible. I don't know that that's the title I would have been given.”
Although making The Bible was the biggest challenge of their careers, testing them professionally and personally in unexpected ways, Downey has no regrets about working so closely with her husband on it.
“I think our marriage has deepened from the experience of this. There have been a few moments along the way and we didn’t always see eye to eye, but it has been an epic journey,” Downey reveals.
“It was really exciting to wake up this morning and see the audience figures.”
Downey and her husband are very conscious that the series is coming out at a particularly challenging time for the Catholic Church.
“I believe that there are no coincidences,” she says. “The fact that our series debuted this particular weekend, the first weekend we find ourselves without a Pope, is amazing.
“I think God is moving in all of our lives. If nothing else, I think this series will get the conversation going, to get people reengaged in a new way.”
The Bible also has a host of accomplished Irish actors on board, she boasts.
“I think the Irish community should know that our Moses is Irish and played by William Houston. St. Paul is played by Con O'Neill. And yours truly plays Mary. We're well represented! Get the word out!”
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