Garth Davis is the Australian filmmaker who came to attention co-directing the first season of the New Zealand drama Top of the Lake with Jane Campion. He went on to direct the six-time Oscar-nominated film Lion, starring Rooney Mara. Now he reunites with Mara for the Biblical epic Mary Magdalene, in which she plays the title character, a follower of Jesus said to have witnessed his crucifixion and the empty tomb after his resurrection.
ASFF: What attracted you to Mary Magdalene?
GD: It’s all my producer’s fault. I have this long relationship with Emile Sherman [and See-Saw Films], having done Top of the Lake and Lion. They just said, “We’ve got this other project for you, which you might like, and its called Mary Magdalene”, and I thought, “Well that’s an unusual idea.” I read the script and once again – like with the other projects – I found myself deeply connected to the emotionality and spirituality of the story. Secondly, I thought it was astonishing that Mary’s story had never been told before.
ASFF: In what way is she often portrayed?
GD: She’s often seen as the prostitute, which was really an invention by Pope Gregory in the year 591. Her true story had just basically been hidden for such a long time. When you have conversations with people, ninety-nine percent refer to her as a prostitute. It’s just one of those common understandings. For the first time, I think, in any film that I’ve seen, we’re going to show actually what went on.
ASFF: How was the story researched?
GD: Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett are the writers and a lot of their inspiration was from the Gospel of Mark and also the Gospel of Mary. They’ve got incredible, immense contacts and journeys they went through with their material. Essentially, the Gospels is where most of that research came from. Then when I was given a script, I also worked with a lot of academics and experts on First Century History to try and bring to life the everyday life of Mary and the families and the disciples.
ASFF: Would you describe the film as epic?
GD: This movie is defined by its realism, its rawness and its humanity. It’s a very human portrayal, I think, which is unusual. You don’t usually get that to this extent. That’s what really excited me about this too – I wanted the audience to really relate to these people and maybe find huge parts of themselves in the characters, and hopefully awaken their own spirituality and their own connection to God through these characters as well.
ASFF: What’s the relevance of the story to today?
GD: At the end of the day, it really does celebrate love and faith and forgiveness and I think people can relate this to themselves. There’s a contemporary figure that always inspired me, which was Malala, the Pakistani girl. The speech where she forgave the Taliban…sometimes there are those incredible acts of humanity that I find incredibly inspiring to my life. And I feel like this is a story that, like her in some ways, brings such a simple and powerful message back to the screen.
Mary Magdalene is now in cinemas. For more details, click here.
1. Still from Mary Magdalene.