Israeli actress Rush to portray Mary

Israeli thesp Odeya Rush has been tapped to play the role of Mary in Alister Grierson’s “Mary Mother of Christ,” which Lionsgate will distribute in North America next year and which will mark the first pic exec produced by Texas-based evangelical pastor Joel Osteen.

Rush joins Julia Ormond and Peter O’Toole in the pic, which is considered the biblical prequel to the story of “The Passion of Christ.”

Sanctum” helmer Grierson will direct from an original screenplay by Benedict Fitzgerald (“The Passion of Christ”) and Barbara Nicolosi.

“Mary Mother,” which is being shopped internationally by Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment, is produced by Mary Aloe of Aloe Entertainment and Shawn Williamson of Bright Light Pictures.

“Mary is portrayed as a brave, faithful young woman who readily embraces her divine destiny regardless of the sacrifices and hardships she must endure,” Osteen said.

Besides Osteen, Mike Dolan and Ben Barton of Smithfield Street Productions, Alan Weinberger of the ASCII Group, the Samaritan Group and individual philanthropists Frank Carlucci (former U.S. Secretary of Defense), Mike Connell, Robert Gottlieb, Mike Nead and Herb Lande will also serve as exec producers.

Filming is skedded to begin this summer in the Middle East.

Grierson is repped by CAA, Rush by WME, Ormand by Gersh and O’Toole by Kenis and Co.

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