Roma Downey on 'A.D.' miniseries: 'People are hungry for stories of faith'

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett 's spiritual journey through biblical history continues on Easter Sunday when NBC premieres "A.D. The Bible Continues." The 12-part miniseries picks up where their ratings grabber "The Bible" left off.

Sourcing the New Testament's Book of Acts, "A.D. " takes the story forward from fateful moment of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection to the period of time when Christ's disciples go forward and disseminate his teachings.

To keep "A.D." focused on the story rather than have the audience be distracted by star power, the cast is relatively unknown, headed by Juan Pablo Di Pace ("Dallas") in the role of Jesus.

"We approached the casting of the role cautiously, wanting to find an actor who could portray the right amount of compassion and humanity," Downey tells FOX411. "Juan Pablo Di Pace really is amazing. He brings such heart and soul to the series, and, I think, his relationship with the disciples is very evident -- first expressed through their heartache at the loss of him and then expressed through their elation at his resurrection and return to them."

In "The Bible," which aired on HISTORY, Downey took on the role of Mother Mary when she and Burnett were having trouble finding an actress to play the part. But she shied away from reprising the role for the NBC version, instead casting Greta Scacchi.

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    "I felt this time that there was so much work to be done as producer that I did not enter into it," the "Touched by an Angel" star says. "But we have Greta who plays Mother Mary beautifully."

    Anyone who is familiar with the Bible will recognize the major story points in each episode of "A.D. The Bible Continues." But the series expands the tale -- coloring in between the lines, so to speak -- with an interpretation of what was happening politically and socially at that time, using Titus Flavius Josephus and other historians as guides.

    And, if one believes in signs, there was also a mystical moment during the filming of the trial of the disciples Peter and John when up in the sky a cross appeared. It could have clouds,  it could have been jet stream, or it could have been a higher power indicating approval for the production, perhaps?

    "We stopped filming for a few moments while all of the cast and crew pulled out their iPhones," Downey recalls. "You can find a photograph of that online somewhere. It was an amazing moment."

    It goes without saying that Burnett had a very successful career in reality television before he and Downey started working together. His shows include "The Voice," "The Celebrity Apprentice," "Survivor," "Shark Tank" and the list goes on. But it wasn't until he started working with his wife that he tackled scripted dramas.

    Of the collaboration, Downey says, "When I was on 'Touched by an Angel,' I had executive produced seven or eight TV movies for CBS, so I wasn't brand new to it when I partnered with my husband to bring 'The Bible' to the screen, but I really enjoy it. I love developing the material, I love the casting process. I have great compassion for the actors, having been one myself for so long. I think I have a good sense of story, having worked in drama for 25 years, and the emotional highs and lows of a story. It has been really fun to get to work on material that you love and to get to do that with the person that you love most of all."

    The 12-part mini-series "A.D.: The Bible Continues" premieres on Easter Sunday, April 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. In addition to Di Pace as Jesus and Scacchi as Mother Mary, "A.D." stars Richard Coyle as Caiaphus, Vincent Regan as Pontius Pilate, Adam Levy as Peter, and Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene.

    "We wanted people to be able to turn the television set on and see themselves in this story," Downey says. "We have gathered a big international cast. I think more than 15 countries are represented as we put this cast together."

    As for getting an Easter launch for "A.D.," Downey puts it down to faith, saying, "It was divinely appointed. People are hungry for stories of faith. People are hungry for hope.  'A.D.' is a great big feast that we believe will satiate that hunger."