Roma Downey brings Masada story to television with ‘Dovekeepers’

• The CBS mini-series “The Dovekeeper” looks at those involved in the siege of Masada in 70 A.D.

• Some characters for the mini-series were condensed from the original book by Alice Hoffman.

• Producer Roma Downey says Cote de Pablo was the perfect choice for a starring role.


Roma Downey had faith Alice Hoffman’s book “The Dovekeepers” would make a compelling television project. That belief partly came from how much she was moved while reading the story of a group of extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada in 70 A.D.

Equally important, Downey says, is that she picked the right actress to star in the mini-series: fellow CBS series alumna Cote de Pablo.

Downey, best known for her former starring role in “Touched by an Angel” but also an accomplished producer along with her husband, Mark Burnett, felt a connection to “The Dovekeepers.” During numerous trips to Israel and the Holy Land, Downey got to see the city that served as a refuge for 900 people after Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans.

“I think it’s very hard to be at Masada and to look out and not imagine what they must have felt up there. I think that they had to have felt that no one was ever going to be able to reach them,” Downey says. “They feel at first that they’re going to be OK. And then, of course, it just turns into a nightmare.”

This all moved Downey to turn the book into a TV production. Her efforts have resulted in a four-hour mini-series for CBS that she put together with Burnett.

Rachel Brosnahan, Kathryn Prescott, Diego Boneta and Sam Neill also star.

Every effort was made to stay true to the essence of the book. That was a promise Downey made to the author. Downey says the only challenge was to deal with all of the characters that are in the book.

“Clearly, we had to condense some of those stories and expand in some places. But as a fan of the book — and remember, this project began because I was a fan of the book — I think that fans of this book will love it, and yet they will see some differences,” Downey says. “But I think that everybody will be happy. Alice is a consulting producer on this. ... She has been with us every step of the way being an adviser and she’s very happy.

“And if Alice is happy, I think that you will be, too.”

“The Dovekeepers” was filmed in Malta and Jordan because efforts to film in Masada didn’t work out. The only footage of Masada was collected using a drone that flew over the area.

The story took place nearly 2,000 years ago but Boneta, who plays Amram, stresses its relevancy: “It talks about virtues like courage and honor and love.”

de Pablo brings ‘depth’

Just like her feelings about the story, Downey had faith former “NCIS” star de Pablo was the right person to play the central figure in the story.

“She’s so incredibly beautiful. We needed a mystery and depth for this character, and Cote provides both. The character of Shirah is, on the page, a complex character, a character who’s so passionate,” Downey says. “At its heart, ‘Dovekeepers’ is a love story. It’s a love story set against this historical backdrop, so it’s a love story in the face of tragedy.

“But the love story element of it is so beautiful, and Cote breathes such a heartbeat into the essence of this.”

“The Dovekeepers” is the first major work for an American television audience for de Pablo since she left “NCIS.” Since, she has worked on a feature film with Gabriel Byrne and spent some time with her family.

She spent two months working on the mini-series and the actress is confident it was time well spent.

“I think in the end, ‘Dovekeepers’ really is a story about love and hope, and I think we can all relate to that,” de Pablo says.