Even after the award nominations, the nine-season-long starring role on an iconic TV series, and the producer credit on one of 2013’s most-watched programs, Roma Downey still has work to do.
And and the Northern Ireland native couldn’t be happier about it.
“I’m so grateful to America, because I really feel that you can come here with a dream, and if you re willing to work hard and you get the breaks, that it really is the land of opportunity, and I’m just enormously grateful,” Downey, 55, tells PEOPLE.
The former Touched by an Angel star is slated to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next year – a far cry from her first days in L.A., when she walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard admiring the others.
“All these years later to become one of those stars is just very meaningful,” Downey says.
She has earned it both in front of and behind the camera. Her acting career includes notable turns as Monica in Touched by an Angel, as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in A Woman Named Jackie and as Mary, the mother of Jesus, in The Bible.
“If you look at those roles, you can see that each of those women were courageous and showed grace under fire. I suppose that’s the kind of role I’ve been attracted to,” Downey says.
But accepting accolades is hardly the only thing on her plate, and Downey has as much to say about her second career as a producer.
“I didn’t want to wait around for roles that weren’t coming, so I decided to get into production and start creating, she says, instead of feeling bad about the death of parts.
From that came the upcoming religious epic Ben-Hur, as well as 2013’s The Bible, which the couple created and which was a ratings juggernaut that Downey believes turned attention to an overlooked demographic of Christian believers.
“I just think that there s a huge under-served audience of people who are hungry for hope, who are hungry for connection to God,” she says. “A cynical industry … was taken unaware by the amount of people who showed up to watch the Bible.”
Downey will next bring her faith to TV with Answered Prayers, a six-part series she’s hosting on TLC, produced by Lightworkers.
Mixing interviews, dramatic reenactments and more, it tells the real-life stories of people who faced perilous situations, prayed for recoveries and were miraculously saved.
Downey says the seed of it came from the news, which Burnett likes to watch each night.
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“One evening,” she says, “after a particularly heartbreaking evening of headlines, in exasperation I turned to him and said, ‘I wish we could watch the good news channel, somewhere where we could see stories that have positive outcomes and more hopeful resolutions.’ ”
Downey hopes that both Christians and non-Christians will enjoy the stories of unbelievable triumph.
“I think people who are of faith will have no doubt that all of the series of coincidences that needed to occur to create the rescue or to provide the healing are God-filled,” she says.
“But I think there’s something for everybody … It’s hard not to be moved by the anxiety they were feeling or the grief that they were feeling, and it’s impossible not to be touched when suddenly a healing occurs.”
Answered Prayers debuts Sunday at 10/9c on TLC.