clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

`TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL': FILMING IN S.L. AREA FAR FROM GLAMOROUS, BUT STARS REESE AND DOWNEY SAY THEY'RE HAVING FUN.

One extremely hot Utah summer afternoon a couple of weeks back, the cast and crew of the CBS series "Touched by an Angel" were filming at a bar on South Main Street.

As if the extreme temperature wasn't enough, stars Roma Downey and Della Reese were jammed into claustrophobic Duffy's Tavern with about 50 other people - actors, extras, crew members, etc.When the lunch break finally came - well past 3 p.m. - Downey and Reese had to pick their way through huge weeds and broken glass to their tiny trailers.

It's all part of the average 12- to 14-hour day for the cast and crew.

And people think that TV stars lead glamorous lives.

"I think anybody could be invited onto the set for a day and would soon be rid of that notion," said Downey, looking just stunning despite the decidedly unglamorous surroundings and the bathrobe she was wearing.

The Irish actress looked a bit fatigued, both by the heat and by the pressure of carrying an hourlong network show.

"It's very hard," she said. "In this show, it's primarily myself and Della. At least in these first few episodes I'm taking most of the weight of it. I'm in almost every scene.

"When you read the script, you think, `Oh, isn't that great!' And then, suddenly, you get down to the reality of doing it and I'm just exhausted all the time."

What makes it particularly tough for Downey is that her fiance, director David Anspaugh, is in Toronto working on a movie with Whoopi Goldberg and Kathleen Turner.

"It's very hard to be apart when you're madly in love," said Downey, who has been flying back and forth to Toronto on the weekends.

"I went up there last weekend and I'm going up again this weekend. I must be out of my mind."

In "Touched by an Angel," Downey portrays Monica, sort of an apprentice angel, and Reese is her mentor, Tess. They help people at crucial turning points in their lives.

"We go in sort of undercover, if you will. Undercover angels," Downey said.

"The thing that I like is that I'm not confined to any one thing," said Reese. "Last week I was the nanny and cook for a little boy. This week I'm a barmaid who also has a great knowledge of baseball. I don't know what I'm going to be next week, and I like that."

Reese is a charming mix of a rather formidable exterior that quickly melts away when she hugs whoever she's meeting. She's frank and funny and concerned with putting a guest at ease.

"We're having fun," Downey said. "It's sort of fun getting into these different situations every week."

Both women were sort of out of their league when it came to baseball. Which didn't make things any easier when they were out at Granite High filming baseball scenes.

"I couldn't have told you a baseball bat from a tennis racquet," Downey said. "Della had to pitch yesterday and I had to hit, and between the two of us, it was just terrible."

"I don't know a thing about baseball," said Reese. "My husband was teaching me, the prop man was teaching me, the drivers were teaching me - how to hold the ball, how to throw it over(hand). I've been throwing it under forever.

"Yesterday I broke Roma's leg with the ball. I hit the camera. I hit everything but what I was supposed to hit because I didn't know what I was doing."

Well, she didn't quite break Downey's leg, although Roma did have a bit of a bruise on her shin.

"When she hit me with the baseball she started crying," Downey said. "I just love her."

The series has been shooting at various locations around the Salt Lake area, some of them even less hospitable than the weed-infested parking lot behind the bar. A week earlier the cast and crew had been out in the desert, and Downey had a scene with a rattlesnake, of all things.

"I wasn't happy about that, because, as you know, there are no snakes in Ireland," she said. "And to be honest I'd never seen a rattlesnake, let alone had to walk by one.

"And this wrangler said, `Now, don't worry, it can only leap the length of itself.' "

The snake was about 5 feet long, and Downey was supposed to walk about 51/2 feet from it.

"To him, that was perfectly logical. I said, `Frankly, you could nail it to the ground and I am not walking any closer than about 7 feet.'

"And I had to do this sort of angelically," Downey said with a wry smile. "And look at it and smile with love and affection."

Despite the snakes and the locations, both Downey and Reese seem remarkably happy to be in Utah working on this series.

"If you're looking for something to complain about, this would give you a chance," Reese said. "But it hasn't really been hard because they do everything they can to make us as comfortable as possible.

"And I love being an angel."

Downey is also enthusiastic about her character.

"I just love this Monica. And I get to be Irish, which is so liberating for me," Downey said. "Usually I have a dialect coach, who we nickname `The Brogue Basher.' When I played Jackie Kennedy (in the miniseries `A Woman Named Jackie') they were especially concerned that no Irish-isms creep in.

"So he'd come over and hit me with a big stick, so this is so liberating."

And, at least on the set, a definite chemistry is developing between the two actresses, who had never met before signing on for "Touched by an Angel."

"What's interesting is that the Monica-Tess relationship echoes a little bit off the set," Downey said. "She's wonderfully wise. She's a minister and she's got great faith. . . . And I'm going through this separation from the man I love and having these little personal moments of loneliness, and she's always there with a hug and an optimistic way to look at things."