Producers of the upcoming sequel to "The Bible," which premieres Easter Sunday on NBC, said on Friday it was important to hire an ethnically diverse cast for the story of what happens in the 100 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Christ's apostle John is portrayed by Gambian actor Babou Ceesay, while Mary Magdalene is played by Chipo Chung, an actress who is half-Zimbabwean and half-Chinese and is now based in London. Juan Pablo di Pace, who is from Argentina, has the role of Jesus.
"We wanted people to turn on their television sets and see themselves in this story," said actress Roma Downey, who produced "A.D. The Bible Continues" with her husband, prolific producer Mark Burnett.
The 12-episode series will air on consecutive Sunday nights starting April 5. NBC sought the series after Burnett and Downey's "The Bible" was an unexpected big hit for History when it aired in 2013.
Diversity was also a big consideration because Hollywood productions are being closely watched for the inclusion of non-white actors, Burnett said. Most recently, the Oscars were criticized this week because all 20 of the leading acting nominations went to whites.
The "A.D." story begins with the crucifixion of Christ. Burnett said he hoped it could be an ongoing series, beyond the 12 episodes that NBC has ordered for this spring.
"People are really excited," Burnett said. "We've heard from more people anticipating this than we have for anything we've done."
Downey is not a part of the acting cast this time, as she was in "The Bible." She said she's too busy.