The cast and crew of Mary Magdalene on humanising biblical figures and diversity in the film industry

Rooney Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim and director Garth Davis discuss the new film

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Mary Magdalene, the new film from Lion director Garth Davis which repositions the titular figure as an apostle of Jesus Christ, comes at a watershed moment for the film industry.

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The movie serves to correct a myth that dates back to 591 AD, when Pope Gregory I ruled that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

It’s a fitting story for 2018, as the industry scrambles to level the playing field between men and women.

“The timing couldn’t be more perfect or important for this story to come out,” says Rooney Mara, who plays the title role with grace, exhibiting a dogged determination to be included by a group of men intent on undermining her. “It’s going to be a great conversation piece for a lot of people.”

The film texturises Mary, Jesus Christ and the apostles – on top of being historical figures involved in the genesis of a global religion, they’re also flawed people. None more so than Judas Escariot, played by The Looming Tower star Tahar Rahim.

“It feels good, because it’s a different way to write Judas, it’s a different way to see him,” says Rahim. “He’s totally human in this movie. When you have to play someone like Judas or Peter or Mary or Jesus, you want to be surprised, you want to do something different. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars as St Peter, adds: “Philippa [Goslet, who penned the film with  Helen Edmundson] has written a script that I think complicates these characters, all of them in a really interesting way and contemporary way. In a way that’s also truthful to their time as well. So they feel rich and alive and in their place.”

“I had to collect the right actors and actresses that bring that authenticity and bring their own humanity to the performances because we had to feel it,” says director Garth Davis of his second feature, which comes hotly anticipated after the success of his debut, Oscar-nominated Lion. “In some ways it was that was the character, was that internalisation. It was feeling their inquiries and their journeys – the lens had to kind of feel it. So yeah, I really wanted to do that and make people really relate to these characters, to get under their skin.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor as St Peter in Mary Magdalene
Chiwetel Ejiofor as St Peter in Mary Magdalene

And while the film itself has come under scrutiny for perceived white-washing of a couple of its primary characters, Ejiofor is feeling optimistic about the future of diversity in the industry after his experiences on the film.

“Having more complex understandings of race and gender and our society moving forward and being more embarsive and diverse is an amazing,” he says.

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Mary Magdalene is out in UK cinemas on 16th March 2018