Roma Downey: Utah’s Real-Life Angel

When it comes to star power, actress Roma Downey has universal appeal. As the young angel Monica on CBS’s “Touched By An Angel,” Downey spreads the message of God’s love to people of all ages. But to Downey, it’s a very special part, the lessons of which she hopes to take into her personal life.

“I certainly don’t mind taking my work home with me,” Downey said. “It does resonate in my own life. I would have to be thick-skinned not to have it impact my own soul in some sense.”

When as Monica, Downey tells a character God loves them she’s really telling her audience God loves them and is very sincere in that sentiment. “When I speak of God’s love I am sincere. I’m not really acting. I don’t think you could fake that kind of sincerity.”

Downey was raised in a very spiritual family in her native Derry, Ireland. Her oldest brother is a Catholic priest. She feels pain over the religious strife that’s torn up her country.

The Angel episode she’s most proud of is one that promoted peace in her native Ireland. “That’s something near and dear to my heart,” Downey said.

Downey thinks it is very important that “Touched By An Angel: not come down on the side of one religion more than another. “It’s a spiritual show, not a religious show. That’s an important distinction,” she said.

“God is a God of love and God of all,” Downey said. “As cast members we all have different religious backgrounds but the common line throughout is that we believe in God. That’s what I love most about the show.”

Downey thinks that the show is popular because of its uplifting and clean content. “We in our show are very proud of the fact that you can watch with your kids without your finger on the remote,” she said.

Downey commends the writers for the way they’ve taken on pertinent social issues in a though provoking and positive way.

“People are saying they’ve really been impacted by the show. It’s helped them deal with real situations or validated their feelings at low moments. It’s prompted conversations,” she said.

“All of us are aware we are part of something bigger than all of us, we have the potential to touch people’s lives and are grateful to be invested with that gift.”

And because of the trust the public has in her, Downey chooses the messages she spreads in real life carefully.

“I’m often asked to lend my name to all sorts of charities, but I choose only the ones I really believe in. If I endorsed too many I think that my name would lose some of its power,” Downey said.

One of the causes Downey is firmly behind is fundraising for Primary Children’s Medical Center. Downey goes up to the hospital often to visit with the kids and say hello to moms and dads.

“I have nothing but admiration for the great staff there. It is a great cause,” she said.

Downey tells the story of one visit she made to the newborn ICU. “I passed one particular incubator where there lay a little boy who had open heart surgery. The parents were out getting something to eat, and I felt like I needed to do something for them. I had a nurse take a picture and left a little message on the Polaroid, she said.

“A few years later I was filming at a park in Springville, and a security guard brought me this picture as a calling cared. He then pointed to the parents who were waving. Standing next to them was very robust 3-year-old-boy. It brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “They told me that when they came back to their son they knew the angels were there and the little boy would be fine. I told them I’m not an angel, just an actress. But they said maybe God sent you. It was a lovely conclusion.”

Helping people is what Downey enjoys most in life. “It’s more rewarding than covers of magazines and good tables at restaurants. It’s a good feeling to touch people’s lives,” she said.

As a child in Derry, Ireland, Downey never dreamed she’d reach such dramatic heights. In fact, Downey never thought she’d be a professional actress.

“Where I grew up, we didn’t have a theater, even a movie theater, because of the bombing that had gone on. We didn’t even have a library,” Downey said. “The idea of becoming a professional performer never crossed my mind because there was nothing to be inspired by or aspire to.”

Downey’s first love was the visual arts. “What I was always good at was painting and drawing. I excelled in that and pursued a B.A. in fine arts,” Downey said. “While in school I was drawn magnetically toward performing arts and became involved with the drama society.”

“Some of the people I was working with looked me in the eye and said ‘you really have a talent for this’.”

After graduating, Downey set off for New York. “My very first job in America was as a coat check girl in New York. Now here I am. That’s what I love about this country. It’s where dreams are made and anything is possible,” she said.

Downey has continued drawing and painting but finds less time for her art these days as a busy single mother. Balancing her professional duties with home life is a challenge, but something Downey is determined to do.

“The hours are very demanding, more so than people realize,” she said. “I’m on a shoot from 12 to 14 hours a day, that’s time I’m not at home with my family.”

Because spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, Reilly, is so important to Downey, she often brings her to the set. Downey’s trailer has been turned into a nursery with so many toys and games that sometimes she can barely find a seat.

The mother-daughter relationship is so important to Downey because her own mother died when Downey was 10 years old. “Having Reilly has changed my life completely. It was the best thing I ever did. It filled me up in places I didn’t know were even empty,” Downey said. “Losing your mom has to be the most traumatic thing to happen to a child. The woman I became when Reilly was born filled up around the void losing my own mother created. When the doctor said it was a girl, I was filled.”

Reilly was named in honor of Downey’s mother’s memory. Reilly was my mother’s maiden name. Family is important to Downey and while far away from her own, she gets support from the cast of “Touched By An Angel” and they have become family.

“Della Reese is my daughter’s Godmother, and she calls John Dye Uncle Johnny,” Downey said. “During our time together we have really the whole texture of life that we’ve experienced as a group, really as a family. We’ve been together for births and deaths and all in between.”

When Downey misses most about Ireland is the ocean. “It’s a small island, and any way you stretch your arms you can feel the ocean breeze. Living in Salt Lake I feel a bit landlocked some of the time” she said.

On the weekends Downey often flies with her daughter Reilly to her beach home in Malibu to “get an ocean fix.”

Though she’d never been to Salt Lake before “Touched By An Angel,” Downey had heard of the place. “Like other teenage girls of my time I had a crush on Donny Osmond and knew he and this family were from here,” she said.

Downey finally got to live her dream and meet Donny and Marie as a guest on their show a few years ago.

In the future, Downey hopes to get into producing. For the past few summers she has had the privilege of starring in or producing a movie of the week for CBS. Her most recent feature was the TV movie “Second Honeymoon” that aired in October.

“It’s a great opportunity to hang up my wings and become a flesh and blood human,” Downey said.

Utah Spirit Magazine - January 2001. Used with permission. Return to Official Roma Downey Pages