The Next Chapter of the Greatest Story Ever Told
Actress-producer Roma Downey talks about A.D.: The Bible Continues.
In 2013, The Bible, a 10-hour miniseries on cable television, drew 100 million viewers in the United States alone. It became the most-watched cable miniseries of the year.
On Easter Sunday, April 5, the much anticipated sequel, A.D. The Bible Continues, makes its premiere on NBC. The 12-week miniseries picks up the epic story at the Crucifixion and follows the apostles as they inspire people with the teachings of Christ, spread despite hardships and persecution.
Executive producers and husband-and-wife duo Mark Burnett and Roma Downey continue at the helm.
Just prior to Holy Week, Roma Downey graciously took time during her busy schedule to have a phone conversation from her Los Angeles office with the Register about A.D. She concluded the conversation by asking for prayers for her, her husband and the cast as they continue their biblical journey.
What are your hopes for this series? What are you trying to bring to audiences?
We’re hoping we get to deliver that message of a loving God with our new series.
We’re hoping that it will draw an audience in because it’s exciting, dramatic and has all of the elements that prime-time drama should have. Then, at the heart and soul of it, it has meaning and purpose, hope and faith.
We couldn’t be more excited about it. It has come together in surprising ways. We have a tremendous cast, gathered from over 12 countries around the world, to bring these characters to life on the screen in a way we’ve never seen before.
Remember, these people did not know they were [going to be] characters in the Bible. They were living their lives and struggling. It was our job as filmmakers to pull back the veil on this first-century world and invite the audience to walk in the footsteps of St. Peter and the other disciples and try to understand what it must have been like in those dangerous days after the death of Jesus and how confused and scared they were. Danger lurked down every alley, and, in spite of it all, they had courage and perseverance, and they moved forward with it.
Did you have any surprising insights while filming?
Ironically, we were reminded that the cruel Roman occupation came in this region, and part of their mission was to build miles and miles of roads used to bring in their armies to take over the entire region of Judea. It was these very same roads — like the Internet of their day — that became the method [through which] our faith was helped to grow, because the Gospel went back out on these roads and spread through the world. We began with these Twelve Apostles, and, now, there are more than 2 billion Christians in the world.
When you were making The Bible, did you plan to continue the story with a sequel?
Certainly, when filming The Bible series in Morocco, we had the idea for this. We were living what we were doing. We love to tell stories. We are filmmakers of faith, and we are a married couple, and we love to get to do this together. And, in many ways, we were looking for an opportunity to continue the experience. In The Bible, we had only 10 hours to tell the story of the Bible: It was clearly an ambitious production.
A.D. continues to give us the opportunity to do a deeper dive into this segment of this story [which covers] Chapters 1 through 10 in Acts [of the Apostles] in this first season.
You have plans to keep the series going?
It is our hope A.D.: The Bible Continues will run for years. It will be an annual series, and for that, we are so grateful to our partnership with NBC.
You did have the privilege of mentioning God on your very popular and inspiring Touched by an Angel series. What are your thoughts on being able to do that again with this series?
There was nothing like that on television then. Here, A.D. continues [those themes] on broadcast TV. It’s going to be a network show. That’s extraordinary. Families will be able to gather around the television set on Easter and Sundays after that and learn the story of the early Church and these Christians.
It has an incredible potential for [reaching] the people who don’t know the story at all. We made the series exciting and created a humanity for these characters, [making them] relatable so a wide audience would come to this. It’s not corny, not preachy. It’s made for the wider audience and yet solidly done. Through the center is this heart [of love and truth].
Did you have priest advisers working on the series?
We worked very closely with Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl of [the Archdiocese of] Washington. He has been a friend and supporter from the very beginning of The Bible.
And the Archdiocese of Washington has created a beautiful curriculum to support the series and invited parishes to use the series as a resource and teaching tool to explore a variety of themes this series brings up.
It [can be] in schools and parishes through the country as a way to bring people closer to God.
You obviously have more than simple entertainment in mind with this series. What other benefits do you foresee or hope for?
There’s such an opportunity here. We know fewer people are going to church, and there’s an absence of any kind of formal religious education in the public-school system.
We are a generation away from people not even knowing the stories in the Bible. So this is such an important series, as a way to reinforce and re-engage people.
We hope that somebody watching the series will be surprised by a scene and say, “I don’t remember that,” and in order to satisfy his or her curiosity, will open up the book of the Bible and read it. This gives the opportunity for conversations to be started around the water cooler and at the kitchen table. People could be talking about faith in Acts [of the Apostles].
We are very hopeful the series will be provocative as a way to engage an audience and start bigger conversations.
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
Sophia Institute Press has resources to accompany the miniseries.