MALIBU, Calif. - Everybody's favorite angel has landed after five years.
, the Irish-born star of the decade-long
Touched by an Angel
, has stashed her wings in favor of the car pool, scuba diving and studying for a master's degree.
But she hasn't given up acting. In fact, on Saturday she's starring in Come Dance at My Wedding on the Hallmark Channel, playing a lawyer who revisits her past when her friend is reunited with a long-lost father.
"I wanted to do something that was manageable with my schedule, that was foremost in my decision making," says Downey, ordering tuna tartare at a cafe here and looking radiant in the hazy sunshine.
"They came in with a block of time. They like actors to be there in case it rains or they have to change location. I said, 'I do understand production, thank you but no thank you. I can't come to Vancouver for three weeks.' They came back and said what could you do?"
Downey is stingy with her time because she's the mother of a 13-year-old daughter and two stepsons, 12 and 16.
Two years ago, she married reality show entrepreneur Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice). "I finally have a life and have children in school, and I'm the Queen of the Car Pool," she says, "and I find that long periods of time on distant locations aren't conducive to raising teenagers and keeping a stable family life.
"So I've moved into a stage of my life where my priorities are really different. When I was working all those years on Touched by an Angel, my daughter was so young and she really was transportable. If I needed to go somewhere, I just packed her up, tucked her under my arm and off we went."
But that has changed. "She's grown into a pre-adolescent with a life of her own, with her own schedule for school and activities and so on. And in the interim, I also fell in love and got married and inherited two gorgeous stepsons into my world. So, my personal life expanded and became a much more anchored life. So, with that, just came the need for me to reassess what I wanted and what was important to me."
Downey treasures her new family life. She lost her own mother when she was 10. "My dad raised us. I think in many ways it forces you to become very self-sufficient. That's not a bad thing. My dad became very withdrawn through sorrow. He is one of those Irishmen who's of few words anyway. I think when tragedy struck us, it created a slight remoteness, so I think perhaps that made the world of the theater all the more exciting and a way of communicating. I guess having come through that, you just learn how resilient we are really. To some extent my whole life I've sought out substitute mothers," she sighs.
Della Reese, her costar on Touched by an Angel, has become her surrogate mother. As an ordained minister, Reese married Downey and Burnett. When Downey first introduced Burnett to Reese, Reese whispered something into his ear.
Later Downey asked him what it was. "That's my baby girl," Reese whispered, "if you hurt her I will kill you."
Downey is also working on a degree in spiritual psychology. "It's like a soul-centered education, like a journey to the center of yourself," she explains. "It's sort of healing and peeling and revealing. As you move into a much more authentic experience I guess you're qualified to be a therapist. I don't know that I want to do that, or that I will do that, but the journey and the process of becoming qualified is really fascinating. When you think of it, the character analysis that actors have to do in order to get under the skin of a role you're about to play - that process is really about finding what motivates life and why people behave the way they do."
She and the family frequently take vacations in the exotic spots chosen as Survivor locations. "When I first met Mark my idea of roughing it was the Four Seasons with the window open," she says.
"Now I've been to places with bugs the size of your big foot. Also when we met I had a birthday with him and he gave me this enormous box. I couldn't imagine what was in it. It contained an entire scuba outfit. I said, 'I really appreciate you got this for me, but you've really got the wrong girl.' "
He asked her to try and even delivered a teacher for her. But Downey is no Michael Phelps.
"I still can't believe it's me. I can't claim I love it; I still bring some fear to it. But I'm finally realizing that courage isn't the absence of fear, courage is having fear and doing it."
Kendra's show. Evidently all it takes to star in your own reality show is a monumental body and a minuscule IQ. The latest to caress the video camera is Kendra Wilkinson, the blonde who always ranked third in her class on The Girls Next Door. Viewers will get a chance to see Kendra struggle to "adjust to a life filled with domestic responsibilities." Like, no one has done that before. The exciting proceedings begin on E! Entertainment Sunday, followed by another brain trust, Denise Richards, in Denise Richards: It's Complicated.
Looking for a host. Maybe your city will be one of the lucky ones to hear the inside dope from the creators of TNT's hot series, Leverage. From now until June 14, viewers can visit http://www.tnt.tv/series/leverage/heist/?contentId47936 to vote for a city to host a screening of the second season's opener.
In the five cities receiving the most votes, fans will also enjoy a Q&A session with the show's executive producers: Dean Devlin, Chris Downey and creator John Rogers via Skype online service. The five winning cities will be announced on June 17; the screenings will take place the week of July 6. Leverage tells the tales of a group of grifters who wreak sweet revenge only on the bad guys. It returns July 15.
Neighbors. Melrose Place will be back in the right zip code when it joins the new Beverly Hills 90210 on the CW Tuesday nights this fall. Two of the original show's cast members will be back: Laura Leighton as Sydney Andrews and Thomas Calabro as Dr. Michael Mancini.
Leighton recalls that Melrose Place was her very first role. And she was as green as Kermit the Frog.