Londonderry actress Roma Downey says the memory of her parents - both of whom sadly passed away when she was still a girl - inspired her ultimate conquest of the small screens of the United States and the world.
Speaking to the Sentinel ahead of the Boxing Day launch of her hugely popular, ‘The Bible’ series, on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD, this side of the pond, Roma says she probably wouldn’t be were she is now if she hadn’t undergone such a painful early trial.
“My mother [Maureen} passed away when I was ten and my father [Paddy} passed away when I was away in College ” she said. “I remember my father saying, ‘if you can bury your father you can do anything.’”
“I don’t know if I would have made the journey [first to New York and later to Los Angeles] if it weren’t for my parents,” she confesses.
“I’ve taken them with my in everything I’ve done and I know they would have been especially proud of ‘The Bible,’” she adds.
Roma, reared in Beechwood Avenue, rose to international stardom when she played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the US television miniseries, ‘A Woman Named Jackie,’ before irreversibly cementing her fame as ‘Monica’ in ‘Touched by an Angel.’
But by her own admission creating - with husband Mark Burnett - and acting (as Mary, no less) in ‘The Bible’ is perhaps her most ambitious project to date.
“It’s absolutely been a labour of love,” she explains. “It’s something I believe in and I’ve stepped in that belief.”
She adds: “It’s been madly challenging and a very bold move to have made. No-one has ever done this before - people have made films of individual stories from the Bible - but no-one has ever attempted it as a grand piece.”
If ever a book, or more accurately a series of books - resisted adaptation for the small or silver screens, that book is the Bible.
Nonetheless, Roma says she has been guided in the endeavour by an ecumenical team of theologians as well as superb writers, remembering always that it was scripture she was dealing with.
“The shame was not being able to tell all the stories,” she says, adding: “I wanted people to be able to walk in the footsteps of the characters in the stories and tell the full story. After all, the only perfect character in the Bible is Jesus.”
Roma says playing Mary was intensely emotional both as a Christian who first worshipped in St Eugene’s Cathedral in her girlhood and youth, but also as a mother.
“The episodes you are seeing now [on Channel 5] in which I play the role of Mary was very emotional work. On the one hand you are playing the mother of the Son of God and on the other hand you are playing the mother of a son. It was a privilege to experience the role.”
Roma has a large extended family in Londonderry descended and tied to her much missed parents Paddy and Maureen.
She says she experienced a rather serendipitous accident straight from a ‘Touched by an Angel’ script when she returned home for a visit during the summer.
“A very curious thing happened,” she explains. “I held a party for my extended family in the City Hotel.”
“My sister told me ‘you know, it’s dad’s birthday.’ But it wasn’t only his birthday, it would have been his 100th birthday, if he had still been alive.
“It added something to the big day and it was sad and sweet. We were wondering if maybe dad had something to do with it.”
Roma says she does not intend resting on her laurels following the huge popular success of ‘The Bible’ and has plans to release a new feature film in the United States on February 28, entitled ‘Son of God.’
The feature involved fleshing out the episodes of ‘The Bible’ featuring Jesus using additional film, which was cut from the hyper edited TV series.
She also has two more miniseries in the pipeline both drawing from the same Judaeo-Christian tradition that inspired ‘The Bible.’
‘The Dovekeepers’ with CBS will dramatise the brutal suppression of a Jewish uprising against Roman occupation at Masada in the first century AD.
Meanwhile, ‘AD’ with NBC will examine the story of the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus.
If you haven’t caught ‘The Bible’ on Channel 5, it’s available here (£29.99 (Blu-ray)/£24.99 (DVD)/£19.99 (Digital HD) from December 26.