Actress Roma Downey on fancy sheets, missing her mother, and being exhilarated over The Bible.
Roma Downey, actress, author and producer, is enjoying a runaway hit with The Bible: Epic Mini-Series, which aired on the History Channel in March, and with its release to DVD has become the top-selling TV series of all time.
Born in Derry, Roma, who produced The Bible (she also plays Mother Mary in the series) with her husband Mark Burnett of Survivor fame, received a classical training at the Drama Studio London and toured the U.S. with the Abbey Players in Playboy of the Western World. She went on to act on Broadway, but it was on television that Roma would make her name: first as Jackie Kennedy in A Woman Named Jackie, which won a 1992 Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries, and then as the angel Monica in Touched by an Angel, which premiered on CBS in September 1994 and ran for nine seasons.
Roma and Mark live in Malibu with Reilly, her daughter from her previous marriage to David Anspaugh, and James and Cameron, Mark’s sons.
In addition to her entertainment career, Roma, who graduated from the University of Santa Monica with a master’s degree in spiritual psychology, is a Smile Ambassador for Operation Smile. She and her close-knit family often travel together as volunteers for the organization, which provides surgeries for children around the world who are born with severe cleft lip and palate.
What at is your current state of mind?
Exhausted and exhilarated! Exhausted having just finished four years of working full-steam-ahead as executive producer of The Bible series. Exhilarated as 100 million viewers tuned in to watch the series on the History Channel and many millions more got the DVD. It was also very gratifying to receive a Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Miniseries.
Your greatest extravagance?
Frette sheets. I love the feel of that cool crisp cotton next to my skin.
Who is your hero?
Della Reese, my former co-star from Touched By An Angel, has been both mentor and mother to me. She is brave and bold, wise and loving. She has something to say and she is not afraid to say it. She is a black woman who made it in a white man’s world. I am full of love and admiration for her.
What is on your bedside table?
My father’s rosary. My well-worn Bible. Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. Several poetry collections from my favorites: Rumi,Yeats, David Whtye and Mary Oliver.
What was your first job?
While I was still a teenager in Northern Ireland I had a Saturday job as a sales assistant in a shoe shop. The job was short-lived as the shoe shop was blown up by an IRA bomb. No one was hurt, thank God, and we all had time to get out of the building, but I remember after it exploded there were odd shoes scattered all over the street.
Your earliest memory?
My mother died when I was ten. I have missed her so much all my life. As a little girl, I searched every corner of my mind, hungry for memories of her. My earliest memory is just a fragment but I have a fleeting vision of hugging her. She wore a yellow dress and I can remember my little arms wrapped around her legs and looking up to her face. But I don’t quite remember her face, that has faded and I just see an old black and white photograph of her.
Best advice ever received?
When you get out of bed in the morning and your feet touch the ground, say thank you with each step that takes you to the bathroom. Start your day in gratitude.
Do you strike up conversations on long plane journeys?
Not usually. I prefer to read or listen to music.I did recently watch Terms of Endearment on a long flight. I had not seen it for years and I sobbed all the way from NYC to LA! The stranger next to me was squirming as I had tears and snot all over my face!
Where do you go to think?
The ocean. I have always done my best thinking and praying by the water’s edge. I don’t like to be in the water or even on the water. I just like to be near it. I find the ebb and flow is like a massage of my mind and my spirit, and the scale of the sea helps keep any worries I have in perspective. It’s humbling.
What is your hidden talent?
Interior decorating. I love making a living space beautiful.
I also make a great chili.
Your favorite quality in friends?
Kindness and a good sense of humor.
Your typical day?
Starts with gratitude then a good work-out. After a healthy breakfast, I am in my office working, making calls, taking meetings. The Bible series is airing all over the world and there is much to do. Mark and I have one son (James) at college and two teenagers (Reilly and Cameron) still at home. We try to have dinner together as a family in the evening. It’s an important time for all of us to feel connected. On weekends we entertain. We love to throw dinner parties. Good food, good wine, good friends. Good fun!
Your perfect day?
Any combination of time spent with family and friends. Love and laughter and a hike in the hills.
Favorite country you have visited?
I love to travel and I am so fortunate to be able to travel a great deal. I have been all over the world on international medical missions with Operation Smile, to Asia, Africa and Central America. My husband produces the TV show Survivor so we have visited many exotic islands. For the making of The Bible we filmed in Morocco and, of course, I spent time researching in the city of Jeru-salem, but Jordan has a special place in my heart. Petra is amazing and the Wadi Rum desert changes color as the light moves across the dunes, like poetry in the sand.
Best opening line in a book or piece of music?
“These Are the Days,” by Van Morrison.
These are the days of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now
There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now
Movie you will watch again and again?
What drives you?
My father’s voice in my head saying,“If a job is worth doing then it’s worth doing well.”
Your most embarrassing moment?
Meeting President Obama at a White House event on the very day the silly news story broke that we had cast an actor to look like him in our Bible series, which of course was utter nonsense. But for this to happen on that very day was quite a bizarre coincidence. I was secretly mortified but he, of course, was very gracious and kind when I shook his hand.
Your favorite place?
Two places: Grianan of Aileach, an old Druid fortress in County Donegal, near my childhood town of Derry, and my current home, “The Sanctuary” in Malibu, California.
The sound of the sea.
Damp grass after rainfall.
Grilled sea bass or salmon and fresh vegetables and salad.
Water, tea, red wine.
What is your most distinguishing characteristic?
I am kind, reliable, honest and polite.
What trait do you most deplore in others?
Unkindness, unreliability, dishonesty and rudeness.
What is your motto?
Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you do?
Move to a village and run a little B and B, write poetry and breed Irish wolfhounds!
What question do you wish someone would ask you?
Do you really believe in God? As I see it, either there is no God or there is only God and for me there is only God.
What are you working on now?
Recutting and editing a feature length film from the Bible series called Son of God. To see it as a stand-alone film is powerful and poignant. It tells the story of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
It is truly inspiring. It will be released through our company LightWorkers Media and will be in theaters in the springtime.
What’s next for you?
Along with the movie, I am currently working on the follow-up series to The Bible tentatively called A.D. Beyond the Bible. Our hope is this will begin filming later next year. So I will be packing my bags and heading back to Morocco to shoot that on location.
What are you like?
I am smaller than I appear on TV!