Ben-Hur has found its Esther and its Pontius Pilate

pascal-gadotTimur Bekmambetov’s upcoming remake of Ben-Hur may be different from the 1959 version in a number of ways, but in one way it will be remarkably similar: it will feature an Israeli beauty-contest winner as Esther, the Jewish slave girl that Judah Ben-Hur falls in love with.

In 1959, the part was played by Haya Harareet, who won one of the first beauty contests in Israel after that nation came into being in 1948; and now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the part will be played by former Miss Israel Gal Gadot.

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Toby Kebbell in talks to play Messala in Ben-Hur remake

CA.0322.wrath.of.the.titans.Variety reports that Toby Kebbell is in “early talks” to play Messala, the Roman officer who betrays the title character, a former friend of his, in the upcoming remake of Ben-Hur. The part was played by Francis X. Bushman in the 1925 film, Stephen Boyd in the 1959 film and Stephen Campbell Moore in the 2010 miniseries. Kebbell has played a number of bad guys lately, in films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, and he has dipped his toe in the Greco-Roman genre via Wrath of the Titans and Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Kebbell joins Jack Huston, who is playing the part of Judah Ben-Hur himself, and Morgan Freeman, who will play the charioteer-training Ildarin.

Jack Huston to play title role in upcoming Ben-Hur remake

jackhustonLast month it was rumoured that Tom Hiddleston was being courted for the upcoming remake of Ben-Hur, but those rumours were scuttled today when it was announced that Hiddleston is going to star in the King Kong spin-off Skull Island instead. No matter, the makers of Ben-Hur have an announcement of their own to make: namely, they have cast Boardwalk Empire co-star Jack Huston in the title role made famous by Charlton Heston in the 1959 film.

Huston, as it happens, is the grandson of legendary filmmaker John Huston, who played both Noah and the voice of God in The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), which he also directed. The younger Huston played Flavius in the 2004 TV-movie remake of Spartacus — it was based on the same Howard Fast novel that the 1960 Kirk Douglas film was based on — and he played Lord Alfred in Al Pacino’s Wilde Salomé (2011). So he’s had a bit of experience with movies set in the ancient Roman empire. Nothing quite on this scale, though.

Morgan Freeman to play an Arab sheikh in Ben-Hur?

MorganFreemanRecent Bible epics like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings have been dogged by controversy for casting white actors in all the main roles — or at least in the most prominent roles. The makers of the newest version of Ben-Hur, however, may have steered clear of all that by announcing today that the first actor to sign on for the movie is none other than Morgan Freeman.

Deadline reports that Freeman will play “Ildarin, the man who teaches the slave Ben-Hur to become a champion caliber chariot racer.” Presumably the name “Ildarin” is a variation on “Ilderim”, which was the name of the Arab sheikh who sponsored Ben-Hur’s chariots in the original novel. In the 1959 film, he was played by Hugh Griffith, a Welsh actor in dark make-up who won an Oscar for his performance. In the 2010 mini-series, he was played by Art Malik, who hails from Pakistan.

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Tom Hiddleston to star in the upcoming remake of Ben-Hur?

tomhiddlestonDeadline reports that Paramount and MGM are “courting” Tom Hiddleston to play the title role in their upcoming remake of Ben-Hur. Hiddleston, who is best-known for playing the villainous Norse god Loki in The Avengers and the two Thor movies, has demonstrated his range in a number of smaller films, including Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (which I’m only mentioning here because his role as a cavalry officer might be as close as he’s gotten so far to driving a chariot), so it could be good to see him play the hero in a potential blockbuster such as this. The film currently has a release date of February 26, 2016 and is set to be directed by Timur Bekmambetov from a script by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley.

Ben-Hur gets Mark Burnett, Roma Downey & a release date

Apparently the new Ben-Hur is such a big, big deal that it requires the talents of nearly everyone who has worked on a Bible epic in recent months.

Two days ago, it was revealed that the studio behind Noah was going to co-produce this film, which MGM has been developing for over a year now.

And today, it was announced that Son of God producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have come on board the project too.

Is there a way to get any of the Exodus: Gods and Kings people involved, I wonder?

Even better, the film now has a release date — February 26, 2016 — according to both Deadline (which calls Burnett and Downey “Jesus Whisperers”, indicating perhaps that they have been brought on board not so much for their creative input as for their ability to sell films like this to the “faith-based” audience) and Variety.

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