Garth Davis: “The inspiration behind Mary Magdalene? Malala Yousafzai”

The Bible, Malala, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara: the australian director explains his choices

Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara and Garth Davis at Mary Magdalene film screening, National Gallery, London.

“One of the big inspirations for me for this film? Malala Yousafzai”. Lion director Garth Davis returns with an intimate epic about one of Jesus’ most well known disciples, Mary Magdalene, casting his Lion supporting actress Rooney Mara in the title role while Joaquin Phoenix stars as Jesus and Judas is played by Tahar Rahim: “For me Mary Magdalene was not someone who’s learning who she is, she already has the light in her, she already has a connection to God but she doesn’t yet know how to express it.” Here, Davis explains his choices and his spiritual journey.

Garth Davis in London with Tahar Rahim, Rooney Mara, Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

THE BIBLE “I wanted to avoid doing something that had been done before. Most biblical movies are shot in the desert and there’s an etiquette about them. I wanted Mary Magdalene to be more relatable, relevant and contemporary and I really wanted to avoid all the stereotypes.”

ME AND ROONEY “I’d just worked with Rooney on Lion, and thought she was such a remarkable actress. When this project came along, I and everyone involved thought of her because she’s got an otherworldly quality. She’s connected to somewhere that’s very unique and special, and, for me, that was Mary. Mary was not someone who’s learning who she is, she already has the light in her, she already has a connection to God but she doesn’t yet know how to express it. Rooney always feels as though she’s connected to something outside of the room but she’s also very strong and she cares about humanity. I thought she would connect to a lot of the film’s themes.”

Rooney Mara.

THE RELIGION “Rooney and I are not necessarily religious in any way, so that was a challenge because this would be seen as a religious movie. But the thing that we connected to was the spiritual message. And, in some ways, that’s the message that’s been lost. We’re taking people back to the core message of Jesus – that the power is within us, it’s not outside of us, it’s not about the ideology and the rules and the engagement, it’s about listening to what we have inside, and connecting in.”

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

MALALA “There was something about her story that, for me, mirrored Mary’s story. The fact that she was shot in the face by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school, and then won the Nobel Peace Prize and she gave her speech and forgave the Taliban for their actions. That act of forgiveness, that act of love, was something that was at the absolute heart of this film for me. When I read the script, I really thought of how she moved me and how Mary’s story is in her. I connect with that spirituality and that love. I also really loved how the script was very human and very relevant.”

Joaquin Phoenix.

JESUS & JOAQUIN “I really wanted to bring some reality to the role of Jesus and to present him as an energetic person. I kept thinking of Joaquin because he’s got an incredible sensitivity and is also a very spiritual person and very caring. There was no-one else in my mind so for me, it was ‘It’s him or I don’t know how we’re going to make the film.”

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