The Dovekeepers — the newest TV event from Roma Downey and Mark Burnett under their LightWorkers Media banner — is based on a bloody chapter of human history. But, says Downey, the tale’s true foundation is love and the resilience of the human spirit. “We’re most interested in telling stories that find light in the darkness,” she explained at a recent press event. “Dovekeepers is really a love story … a love story in the face of this incredible tragedy.”
Inspired by Alice Hoffman’s heralded 2011 bestseller, The Dovekeepers tells the intertwined tales of mistreated beauty Yael (Rachel Brosnahan), mystical Shirah (Cote de Pablo) and fearless Aziza (Kathryn Prescott), whose lives intersect at Masada, a mountaintop fortress in the Israeli desert where 900 exiled Jews united against the Roman army in A.D. 70. The two-night event recounts the residents’ harrowing struggle through the eyes of the women, all of whom keep the doves that are crucial to the colony’s crops — and keep plenty of secrets, too.
Downey said the genesis for the project came from a journey she took to Masada several years ago. Moved by the plight of its heroic people and the idea that “the power of courage was greater than fear, and faith and love was greater than hate,” she reached out to Hoffman to secure the rights to her book, then brought the project to CBS chairman Nina Tassler, who had just returned from Masada herself.
The resulting miniseries remains true to the spirit and essence of Hoffman’s fact-meets-fiction novel, but condenses the story to fit its four-hour timeframe. “What attracted me was that it had these amazing, courageous and powerful women,” said Downey, who seeks out similar roles for herself. “It’s profoundly moving, and it’s incredibly inspiring.”
Downey said she was thrilled to bring former NCIS favorite de Pablo aboard as her “complex and passionate” Shirah. “We needed a mystery and depth for this character, and Cote provides both,” Downey beamed. “And, of course, it’s no accident that … we will [premiere] after NCIS.”
“We needed a mystery and depth for this character, and Cote provides both,” Downey beamed. “The character of Shirah is, on the page, a complex character, a character who’s so passionate. … Cote breathes such a heartbeat into the essence of this. We were thrilled to get her. And, of course, it’s no accident that … we will [premiere] after NCIS.”
De Pablo says that while she considered NCIS her “home,” choosing to step away after eight years on the CBS mega hit gave her time to rediscover her passion for her craft.
“I have been living, spending time with family, which was very important to me,” she smiled. “How can I tell stories if I’m not infused by life? I’ve had the great fortune of being able to have a balanced life, work and family.”
Though the miniseries filmed on Malta, the women agree that the island’s intense heat, light and proud citizenry made it a moving stand-in for the actual Masada.
“The light in Malta is completely different from anywhere in the world that I’ve ever been, says Brosnahan. “Everything there is made of limestone, and the light reflects off of every structure in a way that I had never seen. So our Masada set was actually filled with this light that made it feel otherworldly in a way. We talk about the light that they found amidst all this darkness. It was literally represented there.”
Like her character who finds solace in her winged charges, Brosnahan also forged a bond with her avian costars..
“At one point, we looked over and Rachel had a dove in each hand and was walking around the entire set, going, ‘You know, I really think this scene …’ de Pablo laughed. “She was walking around with these doves, and they were just an extension of her.
“In the book, Yael specifically has a very beautiful and deep relationship with them,” Brosnahan explained. “Once I figured it out that they’re so gentle and if you hold them properly, they just don’t move. So I was wandering around with a dove in each hand, like, taking selfies.”
“You baptized one,” added de Pablo. “What was her name?”
“Gertrude,” Brosnahan grinned. “She was lovely and she hung out with me all day.”
The Dovekeepers airs in two parts, Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, April 1 on CBS.