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- Irish actress and Emmy nominated producer and author from Derry, Northern Ireland
It may be one of the ultimate challenges in casting: finding the actor who can convincingly represent Jesus.
And when husband-and-wife producing team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey were trying to find an actor to portray the son of God in their new History miniseries "The Bible," seeking an actor who could play both "the lion and the lamb," Downey says, and who also looked like what viewers expected him to, proved to be a challenge that went right down to the wire.
"We wanted to find an actor who would embody both strength and humility," Downey tells Yahoo! TV. "We were maybe six weeks away from beginning principal photography, and we still had not found him. We were clearly getting somewhat anxious. We put it out in prayer that we would find the absolutely right actor. Through a series of remarkable coincidences, we were led to discover actor Diogo Morgado.
"We invited him to meet with us at our home. When he arrived and was walking up our garden path, we took a look out the window, and I turned to my husband and said, 'There he is. We've found Jesus.'"
Morgado is a Portuguese TV and film actor who began his career as a model at age 14, and, coincidentally, is now 33-years-old … the age Christ was when he died. The actor makes his debut in the miniseries in March 17's "Hope" episode, which begins the New Testament portion of "The Bible," and will likely add to the series' standout ratings performance.
More than 50 million cumulative viewers have caught at least a portion of History's miniseries since it premiered on March 3, including encore airings on History and sister network Lifetime.
[Related: Check Out Photos From 'The Bible']
"It's incredible with the ratings and all the attention on the series, and Jesus is not even on the screen yet," Burnett says.
Adds Downey, "Yeah, it's now going out across Twitter, 'Jesus is coming.'
"He turns in such a beautiful, nuanced performance," she says. "He's the heartbeat of the series. He will come on the screen this Sunday evening, and he will carry the episodes to conclusion on Easter Sunday. He did a remarkable turn in this role, and I think that through his work he will touch people. His work is deep and beautiful, meaningful."
British actor Darwin Shaw ("Casino Royale") also makes his "Bible" debut in "Hope," playing apostle Peter. Darwin earned a medical degree in England but switched careers after studying acting in New York, and his portrayal of Jesus's right-hand man is another high point of the series.
"He felt a calling to the acting profession, and he gives a great turn as Peter," Downey says. "I think maybe because of art and the famous paintings, we're so used to seeing the images of the disciples, the saints, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, as being old men. Of course they were all in the prime of their lives at this time, and we wanted to show them as the band of brothers that they were, so we gathered a great young, strong, vibrant cast to play the 12."
[Related: 'The Bible' Debut Blessed With Great Ratings]
Burnett adds, "Peter was only one year older than Jesus. The disciples didn't know they were [following Jesus]. They were following what they thought at first was a charismatic leader, and then it was revealed to them that he was in fact the son of God. Imagine the journey the disciples were on. We tried not to simply tell you that, but to let you feel that as a viewer, and walk in their footsteps."
"Touched by an Angel" star Downey took that idea one step further, deciding at the last minute to take an onscreen role in the project, as well. On March 24, Downey steps into "The Bible" as Mother Mary.
"I went to Morocco with my producer's hat in my hand. I really didn't plan to play any role," she says. "We had already cast and were working with a young actress playing Mary in the younger years from the Nativity and the early years of Jesus's life, but of the actors we were looking at to play Mother Mary in the later years, we weren't seeing her. And Mark said to me, 'I think you're missing the obvious, Roma. Would you not consider playing the role yourself?' I prayed on it, and decided that I would, and I'm so glad that I did. I brought to it a mother's heart. I have children myself. Those scenes that we filmed at the cross were very powerful, very poignant. To see her son being murdered in that way -- I can't begin to imagine what she must have been feeling."
"The Bible" airs Sundays at 8 PM on History, through March 31.