We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Cast & filmmakers at a Press Junket for Ben-Hur which was held at Four Seasons Los Angeles. Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey started the roundtable interviews.
Mark and Roma talked about the film’s Director, Timur Beckmamnetov. Mark Burnett said that Timur not only brought a grittiness to the film but a sensibility to bring a timeless classic to a new young audience. Roma Downey added how Timur studied Formula 1 and Nascar racing to bring different shooting angles to create the experience of not just sitting in the theatres but of being a part of the chariot race.
Roma and Mark shared the hopes that this film will bring to light the emphasis of forgiveness versus the vengeance that is needed during today’s upheaval that surrounds our country.
Jack Huston provided great insight on the challenges of playing the part of Judah Ben-Hur. The training for and filming of not only the chariot race but also Judah’s time on the slave ship required a lot of discipline. Losing 30 lbs. for the slave ship scenes was physically demanding but also emotional during his transformation of a sweet somewhat naïve prince into a hardened slave driven by hate Four hours of make-up and the physical side of filming the scenes was amazing yet taxing. Asked about his thoughts on portraying Ben-Hur, Huston shared that the film was one he loved and he respected Charlton Hesston’s performance but realized that the script paid homage to the original, but also allowed for the retelling in a modern, more relatable manner.
Ending the interview with a discussion of the chariot scene, Huston gave us a small look at the unbelievable experience of being a part of the scenes. Training nonstop, Huston and his co-stars were able to do all the scenes themselves. Morgan Freeman was very down to earth and talked about the stronger character he portrayed in this version. His relationship with Ben-Hur and the leadership he provides brings an added dimension to the characters. Mr. Freeman also brought up the fact that this film brings to light, especially in the today’s society, the meaning of love, hate, revenge and forgiveness.
Rodrigo Santoro & Nazanin Boniadi talked about their characters and the difference in how much stronger and more visible they are in this new version. Santoro’s demeanor and personality encompassed a calm and spirituality during the interview. Boniadi expressed the closeness she and Santoro developed during filming which helped bring to the screen the commitment and dedication to Jesus, as her character grows. Santoro’s comments about the crucifixion scene were that it was an iconic moment. Challenging to recreate and shoot carried a huge responsibility.
Toby Kebbell and Pilou Asbaek closed the roundtable with their thoughts about playing Messala and Pontius Pilate. Pilou comments about researching other military figures to help him portray his character. Sharing a story about a YouTube clip the director showed Asbaek about a unit in Afghanistan, Pilou realized the speech was from the film Gladiator and realized how film imitated life imitating film.
Toby talked about how interesting it was to be unlikeable and have to make such hard decisions. Toby wanted to make a point about his character in that it’s not about being a bad person but about the effects that a terrible decision causes. It was important for Toby (Messala) not to be the villain. The common theme between the cast was that their hope for the film is that viewers realize and learn the meaning of forgiveness.