On March 27—just in time for Holy Week—MGM and LightWorkers, a division of MGM, along with the producers of The Bible and Son of God, will release RESURRECTION, a biblical epic on the aftermath of the earth-shattering event of Jesus’ Crucifixion in first century Jerusalem.
Debuting on discovery +, RESURRECTION is produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (The Bible miniseries, A.D., Son of God, and Ben Hur). Directed by Ciarán Donnelly and with a score by Hans Zimmer, it stars Juan Pablo Di Pace (Jesus), Adam Levy (Peter), Babou Ceesay (John), Chipo Chung (Mary Magdalene), and Greta Scacchi (Mother Mary).
BuddyHollywood’s Paula K. Parker had an opportunity to talk with Roma Downey about the making of RESURRECTION and its timely message of hope and life.
PAULA K. PARKER: In 2021, when introducing The Bible miniseries, you and Mark explained how you had shown Cecile B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments to your children and they were not impressed with the older style of filmmaking. You said this led to your decision to make The Bible miniseries, and later A.D, Son of God, Ben Hur, and now RESSURECTION. What do your children think of these films?
ROMA DOWNEY: (laughs) My children are very excited about RESURRECTION. They know that we lovingly, and with great intention, made a movie that would speak to our own generation but would also speak to their generation. We know that movie-goers are sophisticated, that they expect excellence; there is no reason that a film that tells the story of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord should not be an excellent movie.
It takes a village to make a movie. We brought in an incredible team of actors, designers, writers, a Hans Zimmer score, and the best special effects that we could find to bring these supernatural miracles to life on the screen. The collective experience is very compelling and entertaining, but ultimately inspirational and my kids just loved it.
PKP: Like many other Christians, I have watched almost every biblical film about Jesus. I have to say that your special effects were stellar. Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension are my two favorite scenes in the film. Those angels looked like they could take down the power of Rome with just a glance.
ROMA DOWNEY: I have a particular interest in angels (laughs) from my almost decade-long experience of playing an angel—along with the fabulous Ms. Della Reese—on Touched by an Angel. Our team had discussions about the angels in RESURRECTION. Were they going to be light filled, like gossamer wings? Were they going to be ethereal? There were many options on how we could have gone with them.
The time that these people were living in was so dangerous. The Roman regime was so oppressive and so cruel under the iron fist of Pontius Pilate. We felt for that time, we needed to see the impressive strength of God’s army.
PKP: The Ascension scene gives me goosebumps.
ROMA DOWNEY: I’ve seen it many times and it still gives me chills. When the camera turns around to get the face of those Roman soldiers—
PKP: (laughs) Their expression was hilarious!
ROMA DOWNEY: It’s hilarious, right? The soldiers are there because the Jewish leaders are so afraid that—in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy—the followers of Jesus will try and steal His body from the tomb. So, they put a Roman guard there and even put a Roman seal on the stone.
Of course, it’s no match for the Angel of the Lord. When he arrives, he pushes that stone away and the light floods out from inside of the tomb, blinding the soldiers. They just can’t believe what they are seeing.
Of course, the world is changed forever.
PKP: Everyone globally has been impacted by the COVID pandemic. How did it affect working on this project?
ROMA DOWNEY: It affected us insomuch as we knew that, if ever a story of hope was needed, it was now. Certainly, the Resurrection story is the greatest story of hope there is.
We looked into our library for footage we had already filmed. We worked with our editors to craft and shape and pull this story together, telling the story about this time period, and focusing more on the point of view of the disciples.
We rushed to get it ready. At Christmas, we still weren’t sure what was going to happen with the pandemic; was it going to be over quickly, was it going to continue into the summer? What would be happening with theaters; could we get the movie into theaters? It’s a big biblical epic drama, it deserved a big screen feeling.
It became apparent that was not going to be safe to do. We are very grateful for our partnership with discovery +, which is a brand-new platform. All the streaming channels were interested in us, but we selected discovery + because they have a lot of family-friendly content, which we thought would be a good match. Families can go there, and there would be a ton of things to see, and it would be a safe place for parents and kids to explore. It’s so inexpensive, compared to buying theater tickets, popcorn, and soda. Here, for just $4.99, you can gather in the safety and comfort of your own home.
We’re hoping that families will gather together over Easter; that they will be able to use the film, as an entertainment of course, but also as a resource to have as a conversation starter with the family around the dinner table.
PKP: Your portrayal of the Crucifixion showed enough of Jesus’ suffering so that people could understand that He felt pain. Your Jesus cried out when the soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and feet. At the same time, it was not so much that parents would say, “Oh, I can’t show my children.”
ROMA DOWNEY: It’s always challenging to know what to do. You don’t want to minimize the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us because He loved us.
I can say that when those moments show up in the film, they are not unmotivated; it’s not gratuitous. It’s very much part of the story. As a producer, I have filmed four crucifixion scenes in my career, with The Bible miniseries, with Son of God, with A.D., with Ben Hur, and now RESURRECTION. I have to say that—even for a reenactment—it’s never easy. It’s always painful and it’s always challenging. There are real logistical challenges involved. How do we put a man up on a cross? How do we make sure the cross is bolted to the ground so that it won’t fall, and the actor gets hurt?
Juan Pablo Di Pace, who played Jesus in RESURRECTION, gave such a marvelous performance. He was apprehensive about the Crucifixion scene, of course. He wanted to get it right. He wanted to make sure that he was worthy of playing the scene in that moment.
Mark and I flew down to Morocco—where we filmed—and we flew his mother to be there for that sequence. She was off camera, of course, but she was down near the foot of the cross, to be an emotional support for him.
PKP: How sweet.
ROMA DOWNEY: Yes, I think it meant a lot to him. Of course, the scene played out beautifully. We know that John the Beloved was there; Babu Ceesay gave such a tremendous performance, as did Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene, and Greta Scacchi as Mary the Mother of Jesus.
The fact that Mary the Mother of Jesus stayed at the foot of the cross is always a scene that makes me cry. In my own mother’s heart, I can’t imagine what that must have been like for her to have to watch her own Son die so brutally. Yet, I believe the strength and courage she showed to stay there was clearly because—with all the things happening to Jesus—she wanted Him to look down, see her face, and be comforted by her love.
But the great news of the Resurrection story is that, yes, the Crucifixion happened—and it was utterly painful and devastating for everybody—but Jesus promised that He would rise. And He did. He did it for us. He did it to take away our sins and our fears.
If you imagine for a moment the symbolism of the film and how it runs parallel with our lives. A year ago, we were all locked in our homes; our homes were like our tombs. We spent the better part of the year, if we had the good fortune to be healthy—and many people have not even had that good fortune—in isolation, disconnected from the people. It has still been an incredibly challenging year. A very lonely year for people and a year that people are still struggling to make sense of.
I think—if you imagine that we have all been in our tombs—you can certainly also imagine that we are longing to step out of it into the light. We are looking for a resurrection in our own lives. We’re looking for a resurrection in our schools, that they can re-open safely. We’re looking for a resurrection in our churches, that our churches can open safely, and we can once again get together in community to worship. We are looking for a resurrection in our jobs, in our economy.
I think that the symbolism lends itself to accepting that this film is the perfect movie for such a time as this. In a year when we have been consumed by fear and anxiety, I hope and pray that people will be comforted to see this story.