Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Roma Downey's pride at her latest scroll

Actress delighted to be back home as she picks up honorary degree from UU

Roma Downey with her honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Art for her outstanding contribution to acting and philanthropy
Roma Downey as Mary in The Bible

She may be worth more than a quarter-of-a-billion pounds and be a major TV star in America, but Roma Downey was clearly delighted to be back in her native city yesterday.

The actress-turned-executive was in Londonderry to pick up an honorary degree from the University of Ulster in recognition of her contribution to acting and philanthropy.

Ms Downey brought her daughter with her to see the massive changes in Derry since she grew up in the Bogside at the height of the Troubles.

Reilly (18) was named after Ms Downey's mother, Maureen O'Reilly Downey, who sadly died when the actress was just 10.

"I am delighted and thrilled to be sharing the stage with all the graduates who have all worked so hard to get their degrees," she said.

"It is very, very special to be here in my home town. You can take the girl out of Derry, but you can't take Derry out of the girl, it is so nice to be home.

"On this particular trip I have brought my daughter Reilly and it has been great to show the city to her and to see it anew through her eyes.

"My formative years were in the 1970s when Derry was pretty much annihilated in the bombing campaign.

"At that time it was a sad shell of a city but it has been with great enthusiasm that I have seen the resurrection of the city, it has just been beautifully rebuilt.

"When I grew up here, the Waterside and the Derry side were firmly divided. But I think the metaphor of joining the people of the two parts of this city together with the Peace Bridge connecting our communities in a free flow of people moving back and forth is just gorgeous."

Ms Downey has two major films in the pipeline – a follow-up to her massive mini-series The Bible, and a remake of the 1950s Hollywood blockbuster Ben Hur.

And while she has no immediate plans to make a film in Northern Ireland that could all change.

The Bible has been watched by more than 100m viewers in the US alone and the show has been the number one downloaded TV show in iTunes.

An excited Roma said she was enjoying her role as executive producer and being behind a camera for a change.

"The first part of my career was spent in front of the camera and it has been with great excitement that I have embraced the second half as an executive producer and along with my husband we have produced The Bible series, which has had an unprecedented number of viewers.

"We are going back down to Morocco in September to begin filming the next series called A.D. which will pick up the story at the Crucifixion of Jesus and the dangerous days that remained for the disciples.

"We are also going to South Africa before the end of the year to film a mini-series called The Dove Keepers, that's the story of Masada, and in the new year we are biting off a very big, exiting project – a remake of the epic Ben Hur.

"Unfortunately, I don't have any plans to film in the north of Ireland at the minute; if you consider the nature of the productions I am shooting, they are first century history, biblical dramas and the need for a desert locations and that kind of exotic middle eastern feel.

"I know that the north of Ireland is versatile but I don't know if we have too much dry weather but certainly in the future, nothing would give me more pleasure than to bring a production to my own country and to work in Ireland – so never say never."

Star’s original plan was very different brush with fame

When she picked up her Doctorate of Fine Art yesterday, it wasn't Roma Downey's first degree.

Born and raised in Derry, her original career plan was to be a painter and she completed her BA degree at Brighton College of Art.

However, she turned her attention to acting and attended the London Drama Studio to gain classical training.

She joined the Abbey Players in Dublin and toured the US in a production of The Playboy Of The Western World.

The production led to a nomination during the Broadway run for the Helen Hayes Best Actress Award in 1991.

In 1991 she gained the role of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis in the US mini-series A Woman Named Jackie, which went on to win an Emmy.

This led to her most famous role, as Monica in Touched By An Angel, which ran from 1994 to 2003.

Roma was nominated twice for an Emmy and once for a Golden Globe for this role. She has established her own charitable foundation and is particularly supportive of projects in the Third World.

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