‘Dovekeepers’ EP Roma Downey: ‘Everyone Should Know This Story’

CBS miniseries presents “the triumph of the light over the dark,” producer says of Masada tale

Alice Hoffman’s epic novel “The Dovekeepers” comes to the small screen in a big way on Tuesday night, when CBS premieres its two-part miniseries adaptation of the book.

“The Dovekeepers” takes on the story of the siege on Masada from a female perspective. Though the siege by Roman troops ended poorly for the 900 Jews who fled to the mountain fortress after a failed uprising — only two women and five children survived the siege — executive producer Roma Downey characterizes the tale as uplifting.

“This is the story of the tiumph of the light over the dark,’ Downey told TheWrap while discussing the project.

Downey and Cote de Pablo — who plays Shirah in the miniseries — spoke to TheWrap about the importance of telling a Biblical-era story from a female perspective and the challenges of bringing Hoffman’s epic book to television.

TheWrap: “The Dovekeepers” is such a female-driven story, something of which there aren’t a lot of from that era. How important was that to you?

Roma Downey: I know as an actor for many years you don’t often get a script that offers such beautiful roles for women — not just one, but many of them. And then the anchor role, the role of Shirah, which Cote so deliciously brings forward to the screen.

Cote de Pablo: I think she said it best … I believe that the only thing that I have available to me are, really, the choices that I make in the future. And when I read this I thought, how amazing to be, first, working with many women, but to be telling this epic story from the point of view of women. And of course the idea that that they were rebels for their time, that they were following their hearts. They were going against a lot of things, and in the end they fought for what they believed was right.

Did adapting Hoffman’s novel for the small screen entail deviating much from the book?

Downey: Yeah, it did. I mean … it would have taken us hours and hours to bring that [to the screen]. We had four hours to tell the story, so obviously we had to condense. But the heartbeat remains the same. And it was something that was very important to Alice. She birthed these characters. She went to Masada and discovered through the writing and the history that only two women and five children survived what happened at Masada. And so she took that fact and conceived a narrative that then she created on her own.

We were very grounded in the history of the time, but we also had the freedom and the license and the invention of these beautiful characters. I think for fans of the original book, they’ll be very pleased with how we have adapted it to the screen, but there will be some surprises even for people that know the story. To have this combination of characters, it was like weaving a beautiful braid together with the different dimensions. Alice’s writing is always sprinkled with that air of mystery and magic.

Let’s talk about the difference between filming “The Dovekeepers” and filming, say, “NCIS.”

De Pablo: You know what day is like, you know what night is like. It’s very different … First of all, we’re shooting on location [with “The Dovekeepers”] things that on “NCIS” we could never do, because there are 24 episodes, 10 months a year. We were shooting two months, roughly … and when you know the story is going to go from A to B, and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of it and you’ve got all this stuff that’s growing within you, and it’s coming out. You know you only have a little bit more to get to the end of it, and you can see the light, very clearly, at the end of the tunnel … and you still have to give 110 percent, because now you’re getting to the place where it really counts, the end of the story, the epic end. And so that’s a fabulous thing.

What would you say to people who haven’t read Hoffman’s book to convince them to watch the miniseries?

Downey: Everyone should know this story. This is the story of the triumph of the light over the dark. That was one of the the darkest moments in history, and this small group of people stood up and said, “No, we don’t have to take this from you.” Love and faith are more important than hate, and courage is more important than fear. And hope — there is always hope.

The two-part miniseries “The Dovekeepers” premieres Tuesday night at 9 p.m. and concludes April 1 on CBS.