Aussie Director Garth Davis Talks ‘Lion’ Success And New Drama ‘Mary Magdelene’


Garth Davis

Given that his debut feature film, 2016’s biographical drama Lion, was an Oscar-nominated production, it stands to reason that Australian-born director Garth Davis earns increased interest on his profile as he gears up to deliver his sophomore project. Not the most expected subject matter, but in the current climate of #MeToo it is understandable that a misrepresented figure like Mary Magdalene could have a film created solely about her. Talking with QNews film reviewer Peter Gray, Davis (pictured, left) discusses why Mary Magdalene‘s story meant so much to him.

First off I have to say congratulations on the success of Lion, and everything that came with that film. It must’ve been quite an intense experience?

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I mean it was such a soulful film, and to see it connect with that many people was amazing. I mean the accolades were a bit weird (laughs) but it’s been amazing, an amazing trip.

Coming off the back of that, did you feel there was added pressure? That everyone was going to be looking at your second project far more closely?

I’m aware of the expectation from people outside but I don’t have that expectation on me. When I came across ‘Mary Magdalene’ I felt just as passionate about it as I did when I first read Lion. In some ways I thought it had more depth, more areas to explore, so as a filmmaker I thought I could have a different experience.

Was there a particular reason you chose this subject matter?

The subject matter came to me, and I think the reason they gave it to me was because they wanted that spiritual, human telling of it. And that’s what really excited me about it too, I mean I love biblical, religious movies. I always have had a secret fascination for them, so I got a little bit excited about going down this path. To be able to reveal Mary’s story in a way that hasn’t been told in 2000 years… I love her story, she’s an exemplary spiritual figure, an amazing apostle… she reminded me of Malala, in that Malala forgave the Taliban.

You worked with Rooney Mara (pictured, right) on Lion, when this was offered to you was she the only person you considered?

Yes. When you feel it and you just know it and you can’t get it out of your head… when I was reading I just saw her. Because I knew her having worked with her, I knew her as a person and an actress and those two things connected her to this in such a deep way.

I’m guessing it didn’t take much convincing…

Well, I mean “Hey Rooney, how would you like to play Mary Magdalene?”…it’s a little crazy. There’s trepidation in that because we’re not religious people, but when we looked at it properly, the way this story is particularly told, it’s a spiritual story and that’s what we can relate to.

And how did Joaquin Phoenix come on board?

I mean once Rooney was involved I had to start thinking about the role of Jesus, and someone who could tonally match Rooney. I didn’t want a Jesus that was preaching the whole time, I wanted someone relatable. I just started thinking “It’s Joaquin, it’s Joaquin”…and I started watching interviews of him and he’s just got such beautiful insights into life, into people… and I thought he’s our guy. And I was actually coming home from camping with my kids and I got a text saying “Joaquin wants to talk to you about Mary”.

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It’s quite an intense film, was that a feeling that was mirrored in the shoot?

I think the film is trying to make the audience spiritually enquire themselves. It’s not some sort of external rollercoaster ride, it’s almost going inwards…

You’re not really glorifying anything here.

That’s right!

The misconception about Mary is that she’s a prostitute, did you feel any pressure or concern about changing a story that people assume they know?

I had no qualms doing that whatsoever. I thought it was more controversial that it hadn’t been told but you’ve still got to be incredibly respectful, and the writers who wrote this took 4 years to do so, and they had a lot of advisors and academics helping them, so the choices were made from that assistance.

And I know the film is caught up in a bit of a stalled release at the moment in the United States, due to the Weinstein Company involvement, is that worrying to you?

It’s absolutely my duty to get this film out there, I mean I’m aware of the irony of [Mary] not being able to be heard, but it’s such a beautiful, unique film about a fantastic historical female figure so we have to get it out there.

Mary Magdalene is in select Australian cinemas now.