We are in the midst of a Christian film renaissance, if you will. War Room, God’s Not Dead (the first one, not the sequel), Son of God, and Miracles from Heaven are recent examples of works that performed surprisingly well at the box office. Then you factor in Fox’s live performance of The Passion, and there’s clearly an audience for these types of entertainment. Continuing the growth of this specific genre is a film about Mary Magdalene, and today brings word that Joaquin Phoenix is being eyed to portray Jesus Christ opposite Rooney Mara as the titular Biblical character.
A variety of actors have portrayed Jesus on screen, including Christian Bale (Mary, Mother of Jesus), Claude Heater (Ben-Hur), Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told), and Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ), though this would be a first for Phoenix. Deadline reports that a deal with Phoenix for Mary Magdalene is still far off, but with or without him, production is scheduled to begin this summer ahead of an anticipated 2017 release.
The actor was last seen on film in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and Spike Jonze’s Her, the latter of which was too good for the Oscars to ignore despite Phoenix’s constant denouncement of them. Marvel tried to get him for Doctor Strange before Benedict Cumberbatch landed the gig, but he dropped out of discussions. In short, he’d be a significant get for the film.
Mary Magdalene is a bit of surprising update for Phoenix, as well. The actor has been outspoken about his atheist beliefs in the past. In the 2008 issue of Nylon Guys magazine (via The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-filled Life Without God), he said:
I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe in soul. I don’t believe in anything. I think it’s totally right for people to have their own beliefs if it makes them happy, but to me it’s a pretty preposterous idea.
This echoed a previous comment he made to the U.K.’s Sunday Times: “I’m not into organized religion…For me, I believe in a God of whatever my own thing is.” If he still maintains these beliefs, I’d be interested to hear how the producers are pitching the subject matter.