Next to playing Jesus, perhaps, portraying the Blessed Virgin Mary for a movie or stage play is both an honor and an intimidating task. Mary, after all, is a symbol of absolute purity and love— virtues that are challenging for any actress to take on.
Still, these seven stars did justice to the role of a lifetime. Which of these actresses is your favorite on-screen Mary? (Read: 4 Books to Make You Love and Appreciate Mama Mary)
Olivia Hussey, Jesus of Nazareth
A decade after playing Juliet in director Franco Zeffirelli’s screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Olivia played the Virgin Mary, “with an appropriate gentility,” says film and TV review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, in the acclaimed 1977 TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, also by Zeffirelli. That part led her to portray another iconic religious figure—Mother Teresa of Calcutta—in a 2003 made-for-TV movie.
Now 70, the British actress with Argentinian roots is a wife, mother, and animal rights activist.
Roma Downey in Son of God
How many actresses can say they played Mama Mary twice? Roma can. After portraying the Savior’s mother in The Bible, the 2013 mini-series that aired on the History Channel, she reprised the plum part a year later in Son of God. Fans know Roma as the angel Monica on the TV series Touched by an Angel.
Married to producer Mark Burnett (of reality shows Survivor and The Apprentice fame), the 61-year-old Irish actress, director, and producer recently released the epic biblical movie Resurrection with her husband.
Alyssa Evangelista, Pinky Marquez-Cancio, and Ana Feleo in Magnificat
Actress, director, and Marian devotee Laurice Guillen directed this 2019 musical on the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of His mother. Alyssa, who made her stage debut in this musical, played the young Mary. Pinky and Ana alternated the role of the mature Mary.
Today, Alyssa runs Little Flower’s Online Music Studio, which she named after her patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. Pinky (who runs the food business Cocina La Marqueza) and Ana (daughter of Laurice and the late Johnny Delgado) continue to act on TV and film.
Verna Bloom in The Last Temptation of Christ
Verna, who appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter and was in the frat comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House, played Mother Mary to Willem Dafoe’s Jesus in the controversial 1988 religious drama.
Verna passed away in January 2019 of complications from dementia. She was 80 years old.
Maia Morgenstern in The Passion of the Christ
It’s been said that the award-winning Romanian actress bagged the role of the Virgin Mary because her surname in English translates to “morning star.” It’s one of the spiritual names of Mary, says actor Mel Gibson, who directed the 2004 biblical drama.
Now 59, Maia will appear as Mary again in the 2022 film, The Resurrection of the Christ.