Roundtable interview with Mark Burnett, producer of “Son of God,” & Roma Downey, actress in the film
Interviewed by Ronald P. Salfen for the Presbyterian Outlook
Dallas, Feb. 18, 2014
(Mark and Roma come in together, and sit beside each other)
Mark: Guess which one is the angel?
(everyone laughs; Roma Downey played the angel in “Touched By An Angel”)
Mark: I’m the mumbler.
Outlook: How did this idea come about to film “Son of God”?
Mark: It was one of the camera crew, while we were shooting scenes from (the television miniseries) “The Bible,” and he said, “This is epic. This should be on a big movie screen.” We talked about it and we said, “You know, we’re going to be here (in Morocco) for six months, we’re going to shoot way more (film) than we need, this really is good. And this would play so much better on the big screen, one narrative with no commercial breaks.” So we just started. You have to know that we had no clue if it would get to movie theaters. It’s expensive, you know: 5.1 Surround-sound, complete re-edit, special effects — but we thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We’d end up paying for it, we’d show it in a couple of theaters and a couple of group events. But after we sent it around, it was so well-received that 20th-Century Fox wanted to put it in wide release. So we’re thrilled, of course.
Roma Downey: It’s been so exciting. We didn’t even know if we could dare to dream that this would be happening on such a large scale. 3,000 theaters, a Spanish version. … it’s unusual to start on the small screen and move to wide distribution like this.
Jesus hasn’t been on the big screen for 10 years, and we feel there’s a whole new generation ready to see the story come to life in this way. I myself am a visual learner: If I see it, it emotionally connects with me, it stays with me. I find that after I worked on the film, I go back to the Scripture with a new aliveness. I think of the film as illustrating the Gospels. We wanted to show the story as a thriller, to show the political and historical context of the day, and on the other hand, the most beautiful love story, because it shows God’s incredible love, that he sent Jesus for us. And ultimately, Jesus to bring us home.
Mark: We’ve already reached so many: 100 million people in America watched “The Bible” miniseries. And in Canada we beat hockey! You know, we worked with church leaders even while we were making it, trying to make sure we had it right. Rick Warren said it well last week: “These guys have spent millions of dollars to make this. We, the church, get to use it.” It’s been the same with Joel Osteen, and Bishop Jakes, and the (Roman Catholic) cardinal of Washington, D.C., and many others — churches of all denominations so enthusiastic about its release.
Roma: You know, sometimes churches get known as people who speak out against things. There’s something wonderful about being the people who speak out FOR something. And what we’re for, in spite of the variety of denominations, is Jesus. We share a common love of Jesus. And our movie tells the story of his life in a way that if you don’t know him, would allow you to fall in love with him, as you discover him, and if you do know him, it gives you an opportunity to fall in love with him all over again.
Mark: The one thing unifying all Christians everywhere is who Jesus is. He’s the Son of God. God died on that cross for all of us. It’s like an ant trying to understand the Internet, a human trying to understand what God is. It’s that powerful. And yet he chose to come in human form, as a baby, and trust himself to humans to bring him up in a poor family, in the most tumultuous of times. The times predicted by Daniel. It’s amazing — it’s the one thing that unites us all: who Jesus is. And in this movie we’re very clear about that.
Outlook: Thank you so much.
Mark & Roma: Thank you.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.