BYU graduate and Mexico native Liliana Corona originally auditioned for a part in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s videos depicting scenes from the Bible. Although she had the acting ability, she was told her physical features didn’t match the Mediterranean figures from the Bible. Since then, she has been eagerly awaiting the filming of the Book of Mormon videos, since the Book of Mormon is a “record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas,” according to the book’s introduction.
The Church’s website states, “The Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ and confirms the truths found in the Holy Bible. Far from undermining the Bible, the Book of Mormon supports its testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Corona, who plays the wife of Book of Mormon Lamanite king Lamoni, said she’s been waiting 10 years for the production.
“It’s such an honor to be cast as the queen. It’s an epic role — one of the few females in the Book of Mormon,” Corona said.
After three years of planning, casting, writing and filming, the crew has nearly completed three seasons of the Book of Mormon video series. Season one’s first episode, detailing the experiences of Lehi and Nephi and their family leaving Jerusalem, will be released Sept. 20. Unlike the Bible videos, which contain segments that are just a few minutes each, the Book of Mormon videos will be released as weekly 13- to 20-minute episodes.
Corona, as well as other cast and crew members, spoke with reporters at a media day Tuesday, Sept. 3, at an LDS Motion Picture Studio set in Provo.
Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, and Sister Reyna I. Aburto, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, are two of the ecclesiastical advisers over the project.
Curtis said he and Aburto read over the scripts, watch the rough drafts of the videos and suggest changes.
“We want to make sure it corresponds completely with what the Book of Mormon says,” he explained.
Curtis said that like the Bible videos, the Book of Mormon video library will be used in many different ways, including missionary work, seminary classes and family and individual study.
“Missionaries will have them to use when they explain the Book of Mormon so they can show a piece of it to help introduce who the characters are to help emphasize teaching,” he said. “Most importantly, families and individuals will have them in their homes.”
Adam Anderegg, one of several directors for the films, said he has been “blown away” by the impact of rewatching scenes and said he feels like he’s sitting in the same room as the real Book of Mormon figures.
Anderegg emphasized these videos are not a dramatization like most modern movies, but rather a visualization of the Book of Mormon.
Anderegg noted that the main purpose of these video productions is to help enhance viewers’ comprehension of the Book of Mormon and also provide spiritual experiences for them.
“It’s been very impactful to me, both spiritually and also just in understanding and comprehending what happened,” he said.
Corona also expressed the impact the project has had on her personally and the impact she hopes it will have on viewers.
“I hope that these videos will inspire (people) enough to spark an interest to read the Book of Mormon, because the Book of Mormon is so powerful and it’s changed my life, and I want to be able to share it with the whole world,” Corona said. “And what better way to use media to share these stories visually finally — not just orally, and not just written, but now it’s visual.”
Corona said her role as the queen was daunting at first because she felt inadequate because of her physical appearance and her faith. But as she prepared and began playing her part, she said she recognized her capability.
“It’s not really about me, it’s about the story. It’s about the testimonies that were given and what it’s going to do for people and how it’s going to inspire them,” Corona explained.
Corona said she feels blessed and honored to play this role and hopes it will impact all generations.
“It’s been really rewarding because growing up, I didn’t see a lot of women of color on TV,” Corona said. “And so it’s been really rewarding to be able to take on this role and feel empowered and also just for the children to be able to see, ‘Hey, our people are being highlighted finally. Our faith and our stories are finally being told on the screen.'”
Iffer Mitchell is an assistant costume designer for the project. A professional seamstress of 43 years, Mitchell spends around 8 to 12 hours each day working on costumes for the actors and actresses.
According to Mitchell, a costume takes between one and three days to complete.
“There are hundreds of costumes with thousands of pieces,” she said.
Mitchell noted the difficulty of creating costumes when no one knows exactly what figures in the Book of Mormon might have worn.
“We pray a lot,” she said. “We pray each day for inspiration, and we feel like the inspiration comes in the form of the fabrics, (which) just kind of tell us what they want to be and they fit together just beautifully.”
Mitchell said the ultimate reward for her efforts is watching the actors wear the costumes on camera.
“I hope that the costumes are not distracting. I hope the costumes are beautiful enough and they seem authentic enough to the viewer that they’re caught up in the spirit of the movie and not distracted by anything that the costume is or isn’t. We just want the costumes to enhance the spiritual experience, which will be the Book of Mormon video library series.”
Actor Ryan Wood said it typically takes around an hour to get ready for his 7 a.m. call time, including dressing in his costume, applying makeup, and putting on his wig and contacts.
Wood plays the Book of Mormon character Abinadi. He has previously played the roles of Hyrum Smith in “The Work and the Glory” and Oliver Cowdery in “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration.”
“I have really loved when what I would call the ‘more powerful parts’ of (Abinadi’s) story come out,” Wood said, citing an experience when after he delivered Abinadi’s word, there was a silence on the set, even after it was over.
Amber Weiss portrays Abish in the films, a servant in King Lamoni’s palace who secretly converted to the Lord. Weiss flew out from Oklahoma for a week and a half to film her scenes.
Weiss said that since Abish is rarely mentioned in the Book of Mormon, her character is easy to overlook.
“I knew who she was before. But I didn’t realize how awesome she was,” she said. “We just kind of overlook her role even though it is so influential.”
Weiss recounted the story of Abish and her conversion, which she said was a catalyst for others’ conversions.
“When I think of my own personal experience with conversion, there was kind of like a big turning point in my life where I felt that,” Weiss said. “It is a very personal experience, and there’s a lot of power that comes from it. So I really identified with Abish in that respect and really came to respect her ability to seize opportunities to do the Lord’s work and to be a huge influence in that regard, but also to be very humble about it.”
Weiss said her favorite part of being involved with the videos has been meeting people and hearing their stories.
“A lot of the people who we had here were Native Americans, and to hear their stories and how much they identify with the Book of Mormon people has been just really awesome to hear. There’s been a really special reverence and spirit here for the work that we’re doing,” she said.
Corona also noted the feeling on the set and the closeness she’s felt with the cast members since she says they are all descendants of the Lamanites.
“Here were so many clans and countries and indigenous people sharing of their culture and their customs, working together to tell one story, and you felt that unity and that love. There were no more walls; we were all just united,” Corona said. “It was such a privilege to be able to be a part of this production, and I can’t even imagine what these stories are going to do. I can’t even comprehend it. But once we actually see it, I think the impact that it’s going to have will go on for generations. And what a blessing.”