Pierce: Roma Downey still loves Salt Lake City

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The first time I interviewed Roma Downey was on an extraordinarily hot day in August 1994. Behind a bar on south Main Street.

OK, inside her trailer parked behind that bar, where the then-virtually unknown actress was filming an episode of "Touched by an Angel."

"I was just a child," she said with a laugh. "Isn't that crazy? Where does the time go?"

Downey, who produced the 10-hour miniseries "The Bible" (Sunday, 9 p.m. History) with her husband, Mark Burnett (producer of "The Voice" and "Survivor"), spent nearly the next decade in Salt Lake City. Nine seasons and 212 episodes, all filmed in Utah.

"I have such fond memories of doing 'Touched by an Angel,' " Downey said. "I loved my time in Salt Lake City. A bit of my heart will always be there."

This is where her daughter was born. Reilly is now 16 and eager to let everyone know that she can drive.

"That's the tangible evidence of the passing of time — watching our families grow," Downey said. "There she was born up at St. Mark's and made her first public appearance on the set of 'Touched by an Angel' to tumultuous applause as I went back to work five weeks after she was born. And she just grew up on that set.

"What fun days we had there!"

A lot has changed for Downey since "Touched" ended. She produced and starred in a few TV movies, but "The Bible" is her biggest project in years. She's a hands-on producer who also plays a small role as Mother Mary.

"This is more than just a TV production, this is very close to our hearts," she said.

The biggest change came in 2007 when Downey married Burnett in a ceremony officiated by her former "Touched by an Angel" co-star, Della Reese.

"She's as feisty as ever," Downey said with a laugh. "She's great fun. She's been so supportive of me as I've been working harder than I've ever worked in my whole life [on 'The Bible']."

And unlike so many actors who lose touch with their former castmates, Downey and Reese remain close.

"There's no safer place in the world than in the arms of Della Reese," Downey said. "And I still see Della with regularity. My mother died when I was a child, and she stepped in to be my mother. And then, when we were filming together, her only daughter died. I stepped in to be her daughter.

"And we know that was a God thing that we were brought together to be family for each other."

A decade after ending production on "Touched by an Angel," Downey feels the same way about Utah.

"It was one of the best times of my life," she said. "I'll always be grateful to the people there."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.