- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Roma Downey is proud that she will be carrying the Olympic torch on one stage of its journey in Salt Lake City to light the flame for the Olympic Winter Games.

Miss Downey, of course, is best-known for lighting up the TV screen as Monica on "Touched by an Angel," the faith-based CBS series that is filmed in Utah locations.

This Christmas season, she also is starring in a heartwarming movie, "The Sons of Mistletoe," airing tomorrow at 9 p.m. on WUSA Channel 9

The Irish-born star plays a Scrooge-like businesswoman who, in the process of wrapping up the sale on her late father's estate, threatens the closure of a foster home for boys.

"It has the prerequisite kids and a dog and Christmas trees," Miss Downey explains in a telephone interview from Utah, where the snow has been falling thickly.

There was no real snow when "The Sons of Mistletoe" was filmed in Canada in midsummer. It had to be faked.

She admits it was a bit trying "all bundled up in wool and cashmere in desperate heat, even at 3 in the morning, surrounded by tired kids."

Miss Downey is the co-producer of this film, directed by Steve Robman. George Newbern plays the director of the foster home. Doris Roberts of "Everybody Loves Raymond" is the local sheriff.

The story's redemptive message is something Miss Downey believes her ardent "Angel" fans will enjoy. Yet her character, Helen Radke, is different enough for the stage-trained actress to show off "some different colors."

"Monica is always so emotionally available, so it was interesting to play someone like this woman who is emotionally remote, detached and I got to be a blonde," exclaims MIss Downey, whose long angel hair usually is shades of brunette or red.

"I've just glowed," she says with a laugh, explaining that the interview is taking place during a lunch break after she has filmed an "angel reveal" scene. That is the requisite moment in "Touched by an Angel" when Monica, amid a bright light, shucks her disguise to assure the person who is in need of faith that "God loves you."

The series is in its eighth season. Once a Sunday-night hit, it has been relegated this season to 8 p.m. Saturdays. It still wins its time slot, but Miss Downey doesn't know its fate.

"We don't know, but we've never known. Hopefully there is life in the old girl yet."

The original pilot was reworked extensively. Only Miss Downey, as naive angel-in-training Monica, and Della Reese, as boss angel Tess, were retained. The critics had little faith that the series would survive its first season. Viewers proved them wrong.

John Dye signed on in 1996 as Andrew, the Angel of Death. This season, Valerie Bertinelli joined the spiritual trio.

"Valerie has come up with a lovely personality for Gloria. But her arrival doesn't seem to have lessened my workload," Miss Downey says. Monica and Gloria have been undertaking assignments together, "but maybe soon she'll go without me and we can trade some time off."

Miss Downey, 38, says her role as Monica has worked its way into her life.

"If doing this show all these years has taught me anything on a personal level, it has taught me to listen. I've grown so fond of this character.

"Not to suggest that I'm angelic, but I think you would be enormously thick-skinned not to have it penetrate your psyche to some degree. This is someone I certainly don't mind taking home with me."

Home life is what matters most. She cites "motherhood" at the top of her list of achievements.

She has written a children's book, "Love Is a Family," recently published by Reganbooks.

The Chagall-like illustrations depict a mother and child much like Miss Downey and her daughter, Reilly Marie, now 5. She hopes it will help children like Reilly, the child of divorced parents, understand their family situations.

"It's a story of a single mother whose daughter worries that they will be the only two-person family at the school on 'Family Fun night.' Of course, they are not. There are families there of all different shapes and sizes. It's a strong and sweet message a celebration of family in all its forms."

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