Two things are surprising when the interview with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey starts. First, Burnett — the London-born kazillionaire best known for inventing “Survivor” and other pop culture touchstones — pours the reporter a glass of water before pouring one for himself. Second, the husband-and-wife team are clearly, adorably, very much in love. The intensity is striking and a bit unnerving. And they’ve turned every bit of that intensity to their latest project, “Son of God.”
Burnett and Downey (who played the lead in the long-running TV series “Touched by an Angel”) were among the producers of the miniseries “The Bible,” which was nominated for three Emmys and became the year’s No. 1 cable entertainment show when it aired on History channel in 2013. Now they’ve taken the parts of the miniseries that dealt with the life of Jesus and turned it into the feature “Son of God,” which opens Friday.
Burnett and Downey see the film primarily as a way to reach millions with the story of Christ, and secondarily as an artistic endeavor.
“There are many, many people who don’t know the story,” Burnett says. “There are 2 billion Christians out of 7 billion people on Earth. So clearly [the movie] needs to be totally moving to Christians, but it needs to be very clear to people who don’t know Jesus yet.
The movie leaves no misunderstanding about who Jesus is: He is God.”
For her part, Downey — who signed on to play Mary after filming had begun on the miniseries — found a more human side to the mother of Jesus.
“I have loved Mary my whole life. But it’s impossible, I think, to play an icon,” the Irish actress says. “I could only approach it from a human level, and while she was the mother of the son of God, she was also the mother of a son.”
Eventually, playing Mary changed Downey’s personal relationship with one of the central figures of the Catholic faith, she says.
“I’d never fully considered what it must have been to be his mother. So I guess it fully put me into a different way of considering [Mary], to really consider the humanity of her,” Downey says. “It was the most profound, beautiful role that I’ve ever had the privilege to step into.”