EXCLUSIVE: Chiwetel Ejiofor is in talks to board the cast of Garth Davis’ Mary Magadalene, opposite Rooney Mara in the lead role and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ. Ejiofor will play Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles and his lead disciple.

According to the New Testament, Peter was a fisherman and played a key role, being with Jesus during events witnessed by only a few apostles, such as the Transfiguration. He famously denied Jesus three times, only to be forgiven after the Resurrection. Peter is believed to have been crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar — crucified upside down at his own request, believing himself unworthy to be crucified upright as Jesus was.

Buzz has been growing about Mary Magdalene ever since Deadline broke the news that The King’s Speech producers See-Saw Films were putting the project together, with Focus on board for international and The Weinstein Company taking domestic. Mara joined the mix shortly after in the title role, followed by Phoenix as the Son of God.

With the boarding of Ejiofor, one of today’s most respected and versatile actors, the assembling talent indicates an edgy, decidedly indie take on the greatest story ever told. It is set to be an authentic and humanistic portrait of one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood spiritual figures in history.

Davis is directing from a script by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett. Production is set to begin this summer for an anticipated release in 2017. See-Saw’s Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who have grown from strength to strength ever since they conquered the box office and awards season with The King’s Speech, will produce.

Davis and See-Saw already have Lion, with Mara, Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, coming down the pipeline. They also worked together on the TV series Top Of The Lake. The film will be overseen at  Focus chairman Peter Kujawski and president Robert Walak. Film4 co-developed the project.

Focus will release the film in all international territories except Australia and New Zealand, where it will be handled by See Saw’s longtime partners Transmission Films.

Ejiofor will next be seen in Marvel’s keenly-anticipated Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdams. He is repped by Markham, Froggatt and Irwin and CAA.