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Robert Redford is in talks to portray Oral Roberts in biopic

Published: Monday, May 26 2014 4:00 a.m. MDT

Robert Redford seen onstage at 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival - American Riviera Award ceremony on Friday, Feb, 7, 2014 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Richard Shotwell, Invision/AP

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He may have captured the world's attention playing a turn of the century outlaw, but Robert Redford may soon portray one of America's best-known televangelists, the late Oral Roberts, on film.

But unlike the recent "flood" of Bible-related Hollywood epics — "Son of God," which was filmed alongside the 2013 TV miniseries "The Bible"; "Noah," starring Russell Crowe; and the forthcoming "Exodus: Gods and Kings," starring Christian Bale — don't expect this to be an overly sympathetic feature, if the story line is any indication.

On Thursday, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Redford, 77, will be "enlisted" by director Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs") to play Roberts, who died in December 2009, in a forthcoming film, "Come Sunday," which tells the story of Carlton Pearson, a Roberts protégé who lost much of his ministry when Pearson denied the existence of hell.

"Hunger Games" actor Jeffrey Wright, dubbed "quite possibly the most underrated and underexposed actor of his caliber and generation" by the IMDB.com website, is in talks to play the role of Pearson, the news account stated.

Pearson, who now heads a "radically inclusive" congregation in Chicago, was a graduate of Oral Roberts University and spent 15 years on its board of regents. For two years, he was an "associate evangelist" of Roberts' ministry, and also claims to have "sold into the millions of CDs" of his gospel music recordings.

But following his 2007 teaching that man, not God, created hell, all you-know-what broke loose. Bill Weir, then an ABC News correspondent, reported that Pearson's 6,000-member church collapsed: "Pearson began sharing this message, and it wasn't long before Christian magazines demonized him. The denomination that made him a bishop officially labeled him a heretic. His assistant pastors quit, and his congregation dropped from 6,000 to fewer than 300."

No word is available on the exact nature of the story line, but The Hollywood Reporter account said the project was "formerly titled 'Heretics,’ ” and languished for four years at Endgame Entertainment until it "was resurrected thanks to Demme's interest."

Redford, according to the CelebrityAtheists.com website, is not a believer himself. It quoted a 2007 magazine interview in which Redford declared, "If anything is my guide, nature is. That's where my spirituality is. I don't believe in organized religion, because I don't believe people should be organized in how they think, in what they believe. … When somebody thinks God speaks to him, you've got trouble."

Citing his "working-class" upbringing where "I was ashamed to have people come to our house," Redford is also quoted as saying, "Is there an afterlife? As far as I know, this is it. It's all we've got. You take your opportunities and you go for it."

Production on the film is expected to begin in 2015.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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