Roma Downey, co-producer of the History Channel's new hit drama "The Bible," dished to Newsmax recently about her reaction to the show's massive ratings, how she found the perfect actor to play Jesus, and how the producers set the series apart from other biblical retellings.
Downey, best known for her role as Monica on the popular television show "Touched by an Angel," marveled at the 13.1 million viewers who tuned into the premiere of "The Bible" on March 3
. The ratings topped both the popular zombie show "Walking Dead" and Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice."
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"My favorite headline after the premiere was 'God beats Zombies,'" Downey told Newsmax.
"The Bible," a 10-hour, five-episode epic that condenses stories from the Old and New Testaments into one overarching narrative, incorporates live action with computer-generated imagery to create an action movie-feel.
"No one has ever tackled the Bible as a series from beginning to end," Downey said. "It's ambitious and bold."
Co-produced with her husband, reality television mogul Mark Burnett, "The Bible" offers a different take on the biblical genre unlike the older, more sanitized versions such as "The Ten Commandments" and "King of Kings."
"They were squeaky clean," Downey said of the classic biblical films. "It looked as though they stepped out of the dry cleaners."
Finding the perfect actor to play Jesus provided perhaps the toughest challenge for Downey and Burnett. Downey said that throughout the process, she took solace in an old adage that she and her "Touched by an Angel" cast mates used to say: "Coincidences are God's way of staying anonymous."
"We were about six weeks from the start of principal photography and still hadn't cast the role of Jesus," she said.
She let her friends know and asked for their prayers via email, the subject line stating "Looking for Jesus."
A friend’s suggestion led to a taped audition for the part by Portugal-based actor Diogo Morgado.
Morgado was perfect for the role, but Downey worried about the logistics because of his location in Europe. She spoke to the actor's agent and discovered that he was "coincidentally" coming to Los Angeles.
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"The only thing I could say was Hallelujah," Downey said.
"The Bible" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on the History Channel. This weekend's episode marks the first appearance of Jesus in the series.
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