EXCLUSIVE: Tahar Rahim is in talks to play Judas Iscariot in Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene opposite Rooney Mara in the lead role and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ. As Deadline previously reported, Chiwetel Ejiofor is also in talks to play Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles and his lead disciple.

The character of Judas is a plum one for Rahim, one of France’s most versatile leading men. Vilified as the man who betrayed Jesus, Judas is nevertheless one of the most complex villains history has to offer. His act of betrayal ultimately led to the crucifixion and, importantly, the resurrection, which some believe led to humanity’s salvation. As such, some believers now regard Judas as one of, if not the, best of the apostles for his part in Jesus’ story. Elsewhere, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, via identifying kiss to the Sanhedrin for 30 silver coins, has more typically been portrayed in popular culture as a dastardly act. Other accounts have Satan entering Judas, leading to the betrayal.

Buzz has been growing about Mary Magdalene ever since Deadline first 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 Rahim, 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. Rahim shot to prominence with his mesmerising turn in Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophete. Since then he has established himself as a sensitive, thoughtful leading man. He starred most recently in Sky Atlantic’s critically acclaimed event TV series The Last Panthers.  He is repped by Agence Adequat and UTA.

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 since they conquered the box office and awards season with The King’s Speech, will produce alongside Liz Watts, who produces through her banner Porchlight Films.

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.