There are not many times when the word “epic” truly applies in these days of social media slang, but we think we’re pretty safe using the term to describe the latest “Ben Hur.” The movie, out Friday, is a “reimagining” of the Biblical-era drama, based on the 1880 novel by soldier/politician/lawyer Lew Wallace.
Most people are familiar with the iconic 1959 film starring Charlton Heston as the Jerusalem prince cast into slavery, so as the star, Jack Huston had huge sandals to fill. The “Boardwalk Empire” star and Hollywood royal (his aunt is Angelica Huston; his grandfather is the Oscar-winning director John Huston) was in town at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Miami to discuss the experience. With him was Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro (“Che”), who plays Jesus Christ.
Huston is also in the running to be the next James Bond, so — yeah — huge sandals.
What an amazing film and timeless tale of revenge and redemption. What was it like to be a part of such a large undertaking?
Huston: When I read the script I realized we were possibly going to make something really special. Something that is a complete departure from the previous “Ben-Hurs” that have been made [there was also a 1925 silent film]. But at the same time we were staying true to the beautiful story that was there in Wallace’s book. I was left with the sensation that this film is so relevant and has such a wonderful message. It is an epic adventure, but it’s such a character piece, and that’s what we are looking for as actors, trying to bring this stuff to life. I felt completely honored to be a part of it.
Santoro: I agree. It’s a very contemporary story but was written so long ago. How many years later and you can still make analogies. The same basic values apply. It’s impressive.
The stunts were on the awesome side. Was there a lot of CGI?
Huston: That was sort of the trick: Everyone is going to think this is an effects-driven movie, but on the whole, if we were able to do something ourselves we did, like the chariot race. We discussed it with the team early on. Our director [Timur Bekmambeto] did an incredible job. If an audience is going to relate to this movie, we needed to do a lot of our stunts. I have a horse riding background.
What was it like for you to play Christ, Rodrigo?
Santoro: Well, you can imagine. I had all kinds of feelings. It was a surprise, and I was full of different thoughts and fears and excitement all at the same time. It was so clear that this was such a unique opportunity and a very personal journey. There’s no way of trying to play this character correctly. You have to dive vertically inside yourself to get a glimpse of Jesus’ heart. What is this unconditional love we grew up hearing about? How do you put his words into practice? You have to work hard for that transformation.
What was the chemistry like on set for you two?
Huston: I am someone who is spiritually but not religiously inclined, one way or the other. I thought, ‘Let’s make it relatable.’ How do we bring humanity to this relationship? Right up to the moment of the crucifixion we were so immersed in the brutality of it all. When I lock eyes with Rodrigo, it was from the gut up.