Ben-Hur finds its leading lady, starts casting extras

nazaninboniadiThe new version of Ben-Hur has found its Esther.

Deadline reports that the part, which was going to be played by Gal Gadot until her Wonder Woman commitments got in the way, will now be played by Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-British actress who currently co-stars on the TV series Homeland.

Deadline reports that other actresses who were up for the part included: Sofia Boutella, who is Algerian; Moran Atias, who is Israeli; and Natalia Warner, about whose background I currently know nothing.

Boniadi made the news a few years ago when Vanity Fair reported that she briefly dated Tom Cruise between November 2004 and January 2005, after the Church of Scientology conducted some sort of “wife-auditioning process” for him. She no longer belongs to the Church.

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Ben-Hur gears up for its Italian shoot next year

benhur1959-raceThe Charlton Heston version of Ben-Hur was filmed partly at the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, so it comes as no surprise that the new version will be filmed there, too, as Variety reports today. The four-month shoot is set to begin in February.

More interesting is the fact that the new film will also be shot partly in Matera, the Italian town that was thought to be “a shocking example of European poverty” back when Pier Paolo Pasolini shot The Gospel According to St Matthew there in the 1960s, but has since become something of a tourist spot — not to mention a location for several other Bible movies.

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Ouija star Olivia Cooke may play Judah Ben-Hur’s sister

oliviacookeBen-Hur’s family is coming together. Just two days after it was announced that 45-year-old Ayelet Zurer is in talks to play the title character’s mother in the new version of Ben-Hur, The Wrap reports that Ouija star Olivia Cooke, who turns 21 next month, is being considered for the part of Judah Ben-Hur’s sister Tirzah. Judah himself is being played by Jack Huston, who turns 32 next month. (In the 1959 movie, Judah and Tirzah were played by Charlton Heston and Cathy O’Donnell, who were both 35, and their mother was played by Martha Scott, who was 46. In the 2010 miniseries, Judah was played by Joseph Morgan, 28; Tirzah was played by Kristin Kreuk, 27; and their mother was played by Alex Kingston, 46.)

The mother of Kal-El is in talks to play the mother of Ben-Hur

ayeletzurerGal Gadot may be out as the love interest in Ben-Hur, due to the fact that she’s too busy playing Wonder Woman, but another Israeli actress with experience in the DC Comics movie universe is stepping in — to play Judah Ben-Hur’s mother, rather than his lover.

The Hollywood Reporter says Ayelet Zurer, who played Superman’s mother in Man of Steel, is in talks to play Naomi, one of two women in Ben-Hur’s family (the other is his sister Tirzah) who, in the original story at least, are sent to prison and become lepers there after Ben-Hur is betrayed by his former friend Messala.

Zurer’s other high-profile English-language films include Munich and Angels & Demons.

Ben-Hur’s mother doesn’t have a name in the original novel. In the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston she was called Miriam and played by the distinctly non-Israeli Martha Scott. (Fun fact: Ben-Hur marked the second time that Scott played Heston’s mother onscreen, following the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.)

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Another actor joins the Romans in the new Ben-Hur remake

marwankenzari2Deadline reports that Marwan Kenzari, a Dutch actor of Tunisian descent, has joined the cast of Ben-Hur in the role of Druses, a Roman officer who works for Messala, the Roman official who betrays his boyhood friend Judah Ben-Hur.

Druses appears to be identical to Drusus, a character from the original novel who appeared in the 1959 film, where he was played by Terence Longdon. (The 1925 and 2010 adaptations don’t seem to have any characters with either name, at least not according to their IMDb pages.)

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Newsbites: Women of the Bible! Ben-Hur! Noah! Clavius!

redtent-rt_061114_da_0142oIt’s been a big week for Bible-movie news. Here are a few of the highlights.

1. The Lifetime Network announced that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are producing a two-hour special for them called The Women of the Bible, featuring interviews with famous pastors’ wives (Kay Warren, Victoria Osteen) and others who will tell the stories of Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. The special will air right before the premiere of the two-part miniseries The Red Tent on December 7.

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