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'A.D. The Bible Continues' sometimes strays from scripture, says Burnett

In this image released by NBC, Juan Pablo Di Pace portrays Jesus in a scene from "A.D. The Bible Continues. The new 12-part TV miniseries sometimes strays a bit from scripture, admits executive producer Mark Burnett.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, LightWorkers Media/NBC, Joe Alblas
April 05, 2015 - 5:02 AM

The new 12-part TV miniseries "A.D. The Bible Continues" sometimes strays a bit from scripture, admits executive producer Mark Burnett.

There are even shades of Kevin Spacey's "House of Cards" in it, adds Burnett's creative partner and wife Roma Downey.

One of the goals of the series, a sequel to the worldwide 2013 hit "The Bible," was to help modern audiences understand "the danger and the drama of the times," says Downey.

"It's a little bit like the thriller element of 'House of Cards' with all the political struggles and manoeuvring that are going on behind the scenes," says Downey, adding that the artistic liberties taken by the series creators were reviewed by scholars and theologians.

"It asks the audience to look at a scene that they may have felt they've known their whole life and consider it in a new way."

"A.D. The Bible Continues" premieres Easter Sunday on NBC and CTV and will also be available for streaming on CraveTV.

It continues where "The Bible" left off. The first episode of the New Testament tale shows the Crucifixion of Jesus, but more importantly, his resurrection, says Downey, a devout Roman Catholic who once starred on "Touched by an Angel."

The Irish actress and producer says the miniseries takes much of its inspiration from the Acts of the Apostles and ultimately asks, "How did these 12 disciples essentially bring down the Roman Empire?"

Even the most devout Bible reader will get something extra from the series' imagined moments, says Downey.

In one scene, after the body of Jesus is found missing from the tomb, an angry Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan) confronts High Priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), and sends him backwards into a bathing pool.

Burnett says what's not directly based on the Acts of the Apostles follows logical conjecture.

"Imagine being the guy who lost the body of Jesus!" says Burnett.

When they were out promoting "The Bible," Burnett and Downey took their message directly to church leaders in various cities. Bypassing the usual press process and going directly to the pulpit paid off.

"The Bible" set records on History, opening to over a million viewers in Canada and 13.1 million in the U.S.

Preaching to the converted also led to some constructive criticism.

Downey says that while "The Bible" had solid support from African American congregations, she and Burnett were told the cast could have been more diverse. That's addressed in "A.D." with the apostles representing many races and heritages. Downey feels it was important that viewers "could watch the series and see themselves."

The series was shot in Morocco. While there are no Canadians in the principal cast, Toronto-born Tony Mitchell, who directed episodes of "The Bible," returned to helm three episodes of "A.D."

Burnett's not in the cast but currently looks like he could be. The executive producer has grown a Moses-like beard over the past year-and-a-half.

"He's very hairy, I don't know what to tell you," says Downey, who calls her husband "a human Chia pet. I was joking that I'm going to do an Easter egg hunt in that beard."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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