Tonight, Easter Sunday, April 5, the 12-part series “A.D.: The Bible Continues” premieres on NBC, with executive producers and spouses Mark Burnett and Roma Downey continuing the saga they began with “The Bible” on History Channel in 2013 (and its two-hour movie version, “Son of God,” in 2014).
A few days ago, I posted an interview I did at a press event in January with Burnett and Downey — click here for that — but that wasn’t all of our conversation, and they weren’t the only people I talked to.
Here’s a taste:
“There’s no basis for playing [Jesus],” said Di Pace, speaking to me in a corner of a party at a press event in January in Pasadena, California. “No one actually says how He felt. There is no description of what He was thinking at that particular moment, and the thought process and how He felt when they had to crucify Him, and He had to just take it.
“He believed in what He was doing, but of course, he was a man. He doubted it. I love the idea that there is a very small moment when He looks up at the sky, and He says, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’”
According to Burnett and Downey, when they struck the deal with NBC — which already airs Burnett’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” and “The Voice” — they weren’t sure when “A.D.” would air.
Said Downey, “We’re very encouraged to be on network television with this,with the potential of reaching millions of people with this story. We weren’t kidding today when we said this is the most anticipated piece of work in our careers, with the amount of people emailing and reaching out to us about how excited they are that this series is going to be available — remembering that many people still don’t have cable, with a subscription.
“So there’s the opportunity, Easter Sunday, for families to be able to gather together and turn the television on and get, ‘A.D.'”
Added Burnett, “We had no idea when this would come on. It’s amazing, because you never know when it could be available.”
There was also a sign in the heavens in the form of a cross-shaped cloud in the sky over the set in Morocco.
“The cross in the sky was a show-stopper down there,” said Downey, “as everybody fumbled underneath long robes for hidden iPhones to take photographs of that.
“At another point, there was a double rainbow, which kissed the heavens. A rainbow always feels like a blessing. The rainbow shows up in Scripture, so a double rainbow felt like a double blessing. There are signs everywhere if you choose to read them and feel the encouragement in them.”
“The key will be,” said Burnett, “to have the audience fall in love with Peter and Paul. You don’t have Jesus, as he is in the Gospels there, throughout.”
“But,” said Downey, ” we have the Holy Spirit, who is the star of the show — the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, which will occur in the third episode. Mary, the mother of Jesus is in there. With the wonders of CGI, we’re able to create this amazing supernatural occurrence with the wind and the fire descending into the Upper Room and sweeping around.
“You see the movement of their hair and their costumes, and it swirls so fast, it starts to look like tongues of fire on their heads. It’s very cool.”
Italian-Australian actress Greta Scacchi plays the Virgin Mary (seen at top with Babou Ceesay, who plays John, and Chipo Chung, as Mary Magdalene), who unfortunately will not be seen in all 12 episodes.
“Mother Mary will depart the series,” says Downey, “and she does go off. She’s been handed over to the care of John. She’s around those first few episodes. We have a really beautiful scene where the guys are all so anxious and fearful that Jesus has been killed — it’s in that few days before He’s risen.
“They’re almost arguing among themselves, filled with fear, and a little bit of doubt creeping in. ‘He said He would come back, what if He doesn’t?’ She overhears them and comes in and says to them, ‘Could you not wait three days?’
“She really addresses them in a way that gets their attention and reminds them to be of good faith. It’s a really beautiful scene, and Greta is incredible in it.”