Easter is the most appropriate day possible for the launch of a certain miniseries.
Executive producers (and spouses) Mark Burnett and Roma Downey scored a ratings smash — and cemented their business in the area of faith-based projects — by providing cable’s History channel with the 2013 miniseries “The Bible,” which yielded the theatrical movie “Son of God.” They continue their efforts, and that saga, as their NBC miniseries “A.D. The Bible Continues” debuts Sunday (April 5).
The new 12-hour drama begins with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, as Juan Pablo Di Pace (alias the scheming Nicolas Trevino on TNT’s recent update of “Dallas”) assuming the role of Jesus. His disciples, including Peter (Adam Levy, “Rome”), set out to recruit more followers while being pursued by Governor Pontius Pilate’s (Vincent Regan) Roman troops and deputies of High Priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle). Babou Alieu Ceesay and Chipo Chung (“Fortitiude”) also are principal cast members as John and Mary Magdalene.
Burnett tells Zap2it that the new sequel to “The Bible,” which just completed filming in Morocco, “came out of sitting in the truck at ‘The Voice’ with (NBC Entertainment chairman) Bob Greenblatt and Bob saying, ‘Look, can it continue?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. We’re working on this thing called “A.D.” ‘ And Bob said, ‘We’ll make that.’ And here we are, 18 months later.
“We didn’t make it thinking we’d get an Easter Sunday premiere,” adds Burnett. “We had no idea when it would be on, but … well, how fortunate.”
Taking over the portrayal of Christ from “The Bible’s” Diogo Morgado is, Di Pace acknowledges, “a huge responsibility. It’s a daunting thing to do. Very few people have had the chance, and it’s certainly hard to do. I come from a Christian background; my mother is a religious painter. She has a painting in the Vatican, so I grew up with all of that. My name, actually — Juan Pablo — comes from John Paul II. So, you know, it was going to happen at some point.”
Former “Touched by an Angel” star Downey also acted in “The Bible” as Mother Mary, but she doesn’t reprise the part in “A.D.,” largely because she was so occupied on it — and also on last week’s CBS miniseries “The Dovekeepers” — behind the scenes. Both dramas come from LightWorkers Media, a Downey-supervised division of the United Artists studio, which she and Burnett now run.
“I felt this time that there was so much work to be done as producer that I did not enter into it,” Downey explains of not being an “A.D.” performer, “but we have Greta Scacchi, who plays Mother Mary beautifully, and we have gathered this great, great cast. We’ve just been extraordinarily blessed to see our company grow, and we’re doing a number of projects. We’re also producing [a movie remake of] ‘Ben-Hur.’ We love this first-century drama.”