Cote de Pablo is making her big return to TV this week - and she only had to travel back in time nearly 2,000 years to do it.
The NCIS alum is toplining CBS' The Dovekeepers, a two-night miniseries based on the bestselling novel by Alice Hoffman. Executive-produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (The Bible), the adaptation tells the story of a group of Jews who escaped to Masada after Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 A.D. Events are told from the point of view of a group of women who took care of doves at the settlement (and become involved in various romantic entanglements there).
De Pablo has stayed out of the spotlight since leaving NCIS in 2013, and remembers being on vacation in Greece with her mother and sister when she got an email about The Dovekeepers. "I remember clearly reading the script by the pool," she tells TVGuide.com. "I was on page 20, I believe, and I started having this sobbing that was coming deep within my belly. And I thought, if that's not a sign, I don't know what is."
In the event series, she stars as Shirah, a woman known as the "Witch of Moab," who is having an affair with Eleazar Ben Ya'ir (Mido Hamada), the leader of the rebels who are fighting against the Roman Army. After years of playing Special Agent Ziva David on NCIS, she says she was thrilled to have another defiant female character to embody.
"It was such an emotional story, and it's a story about women - strong women, that really follow their heart against what everyone else is saying, what society dictates," de Pablo tells TVGuide.com. "They're very brave women, women who were, at the time, rebels in many ways. And I thought, there's a level of synchronicity in this, in the way I've been living my life in the past year. ... That is something I really wanted to explore. I have deep regard for their courage."
Adds Downey: "History has often been told through the eyes of men, and what was unique about The Dovekeepers was, the doorway into this extraordinary story is through the lives of these courageous women. That was certainly one of the reasons that I fell in love with this book. ... I was so moved by this story. It is a beautiful story - and it is a love story, but it's set against this dark time in history. The story of Masada must be one of the darkest moments in historic times."
Due to time constraints, the film version of The Dovekeepers concentrates on two of the titular women in particular. We get the story of Masada from Shirah and Yael (Rachel Brosnahan), who are relating their version of events to historian/scholar Flavius Josephus (Sam Neill), who wrote about the siege and ensuing mass suicide at Masada in great detail. (According to Josephus' account, the accuracy of which is debated, just two adults and five children survived the siege.)
"It stays very true to the essence of the book," Downey says of her adaptation, on which Hoffman served as a consulting producer. "There were many, many characters in the book, and we have four hours. So clearly, we had to condense some of those stories and expand in some places and condense in other places. But as a fan of the book - and this project began because I was a fan of the book - I think that fans of this book will love it, and yet they will see some differences."
And despite it being set 20 centuries ago, Downey says she believes modern-day audiences will be able to relate to the story. "There's still, unfortunately, persecuted people everywhere, people being persecuted for their faith," she notes. "So it speaks to that, the need for freedom. But it's a profoundly moving story. It has a tragedy to it, of course, but I think at its heartbeat, there's a beauty and a hope."
The Dovekeepers airs Tuesday and Wednesday at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Additional reporting by Robyn Ross
VIDEO: Cote de Pablo and Roma Downey tease how "hot" The Dovekeepers is