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- June 03, 1996
- Vol. 45
- No. 22
Tv's New Angel
The Luck of the Irish Brought Roma Downey to Touched by An Angel
These days the actress is feeling blessed in many ways. On June 9, Downey, 33, and her husband of six months, director David Anspaugh (Hoosiers), are expecting their first child. The baby was a surprise to the couple, who had no plans to start a family just yet. Anspaugh, 48, says he experienced "maybe two seconds of shock" at the news. But now Downey thinks it was "God's way of saying, 'This little baby wants to come to you guys.' " Viewers probably can't detect Downey's maternal bloom—recent scenes have been filmed from the shoulders up. "A pregnant angel," says Downey. "It's certainly a first."
Her show seems to be setting a precedent too—for making up ground in the Nielsen rankings. When Angel started in 1994—costarring Della Reese as Tess, a saucy angel supervisor—critics gave the show hell. (Variety called it "a sudsy little weep-along.") Executive-producer Martha Williamson clipped the computer-generated wings and focused on family values instead of special effects. But she kept the stars. "Della and Roma have a chemistry that you can't buy," says Williamson. The audience agrees: Angel, once barely airborne at 74 in the ratings, is now a Top 20 hit.
With good things happening to her, Downey says she firmly believes in angels. "How could I not?" she asks. "It's just that sometimes they come disguised as friends or family or strangers." Heaven knows, she's needed help at times. Growing up in the Catholic minority in Derry, Northern Ireland, Downey was the youngest of six born to Patrick Downey, a schoolteacher, and Maureen, a homemaker. As a child, Downey became accustomed, she says, to the British Army's "sandbags and guns."
Violence claimed many in her town, but Downey's deepest sorrows were more personal. Her mother died of a heart attack when Roma was only 10. Her father's death from a heart attack 11 years later, while she was studying at Brighton Art College in England, hit equally hard. "I don't think you ever get over it," she says. With her parents gone, though, Downey says she also felt a sense of liberation, "the freedom to say, 'Where should I go, and what should I do with my life?' " Realizing she did not want to paint, she turned to acting and enrolled in the London Drama Studio. During a brief marriage in 1986 to a fellow student, she moved to New York City to act. Her break came in 1989, when she was cast opposite Rex Harrison in his final Broadway show, The Circle. Then in 1991 she starred in the TV miniseries A Woman Named Jackie. When Angel came along, she found herself touched by the script. Compared with others she had read, "there was no violence, no bad language, and I wouldn't have to take my clothes off," she says. "It was a breath of fresh air."
Busy preparing for the show in 1994, she had little time for romance—and kept putting off attempts by a mutual friend to introduce her to Anspaugh. He put them off too but finally invited Downey to Hal's restaurant in Venice, Calif., where his resistance melted. "When I kissed her at midnight," he says, "that was it."
He proposed five months later, and the two married last Nov. 24 in Salt Lake City, where Angel is filmed. Downey's brother Lawrence, 37, gave her away, and Anspaugh's only child from a prior marriage, Vanessa, 17, was bridesmaid. Reese gave her costar the kind of wedding present that only someone who is an ordained minister and a singer can give: she performed the ceremony, then entertained the 70 guests after dinner with a jazzy, romantic set.
The couple own a sunny townhouse in Santa Monica and just bought a rambling French country home in Salt Lake City, where Downey has already decorated the nursery. To welcome the baby, Reese plans to tape some lullabies but suggests that Downey keep mum. "Have you heard Roma sing?" she asks, grimacing. "I don't want the baby to be tone-deaf."
CATHY FREE in Salt Lake City
- Cathy Free.
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