By Ann Byle
Producer Mark Burnett and his actor/producer wife Roma Downey were in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently to promote the upcoming theatrical release of their newest project, the full-length feature film “Son of God.” They attended a Dove Foundation event at which the pair met with guests and the media. About 200 people saw an advanced screening of the film.
“The Dove Seal is a very important endorsement in our quest for recommendations from noted leaders in the faith and family community,” said Burnett.
Dove CEO Dick Rolfe said that Burnett and Downey are one of the most gracious celebrity couples he knows. He first met them at their home in Malibu in 2012 and was thrilled that they chose Grand Rapids for this special advance screening.
“West Michigan represents the heartland of America. Our audience is an excellent test market for any film that hopes to reach the faith and family audience,” said Rolfe. “We are pleased to play a role in spreading the word by giving ‘Son of God’ a five-out-of-five Dove quality rating and awarding the Dove Faith-Based Seal which includes a caution for some violence,” Rolfe added.
“Son of God,” to release nationwide via 20th Century Fox in over 1,000 theaters on Feb. 28, 2014, follows fast on the heels of Burnett and Downey’s epic miniseries “The Bible.” “The Bible” was seen by millions and became the top cable entertainment telecast of 2013; it garnered 3 Emmy® Award nominations.
“Son of God,” which uses some footage from “The Bible,” is the life story of Jesus made for the Big Screen. “It’s been 10 years since ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and almost 50 years since ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told,’” said Downey, who plays Jesus’ mother Mary in the film. “We know this film will touch and open peoples’ hearts, and when you open peoples’ hearts, amazing things happen.”
Burnett—producer of “Survivor” (CBS) and “The Voice” (NBC) among others—and Downey, who played Monica on “Touched by an Angel,” decided five years ago to begin work on “The Bible.” Their colleagues said no one would watch, but “100 million people watched; it beat ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Walking Dead’ combined,” said Burnett.
“We have traveled the road together,” said Downey. “We’ve seen a deepening of our faith and friendship. We know we can rely on each other and count on each other. It’s been hard work, but we’re both grateful for the love and support of each other.”
“Son of God” was filmed in Morocco and stars Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus. His casting could only have been a God thing, said Downey and Burnett. Just weeks before filming was scheduled to start, the pair hadn’t found their Jesus. But a self-made audition tape had them calling Morgado’s casting agent, who thought the pair were in London. The agent apologized and said Morgado was traveling and was in Los Angeles at the moment.
“We said, ‘Can he be here at 2 o’clock?’ We stood at our glass front door and watched him walk up the path, and said, ‘That’s our Jesus,’” said Downey with a laugh.
Burnett is quick to say that it’s difficult to produce a film, and that producers are the first into the project and the last out. Ideas, financing, writing, shooting, editing and marketing are all hard work. “But what a privilege to leverage our success to bring a movie such as ‘Son of God’ to the screen,” said Burnett.
Their goals and dreams are simple. “Our dream is to have a big opening weekend, to gather that collective energy and have the media talk about the film and talk about people who love Jesus,” said Burnett.
For Downey, she wants “not just a ripple but a splash; we want audiences to watch this film for a long time. We pray that ‘Son of God’ reaches the lost and brings them home.”
Burnett and Downey, through their company Lightworkers Media, are working on a sequel to “The Bible” miniseries titled “AD,” which focuses on Jesus’ disciples who, against all odds, spread the news of Jesus around the world.