Ben-Hur news round-up: Lots and lots of interviews!

Ben-Hur news round-up: Lots and lots of interviews! August 18, 2016


Ben-Hur comes to theatres tonight. Here’s one last pre-release news round-up.

The film had its Los Angeles premiere on Tuesday night (see the videos below).

The first reviews began trickling in yesterday, and they weren’t very positive.

The Los Angeles Times says the studio, Paramount, is hoping the film will gross $20 million this weekend, but some observers think it will open in the $10-15 million range, which “would make it one of the biggest flops of the summer.”

The Los Angeles Daily News has a lengthy story on the making of the film:

When Judah tries to return the favor when Jesus is carrying the cross, a Roman centurion whips him. Angered, he grabs a rock but Jesus quiets his rage.

“I told Timur I didn’t want to let go of the rock because I was so angry,” says Huston about the scene. “And he says, ‘OK, hold on to the rock.’ ” Only later at the crucifixion when Jesus forgives his enemies does Judah release the rock from his hand.

Downey, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the strife there in the 1970s, says that bit of acting improvisation has become a teachable moment.

“We’ve had letters this week from pastors who started sermons by asking everybody in the church to pick up a stone from a box of them,” says the actress-producer. “They then ask them to bring the stone up by the crucifix and drop it to represent releasing their anger or disappointment or judgments made about other people.”

USA Today spoke to several of the film’s makers about shooting the chariot race:

The movie re-creates the iconic chariot race between the characters that marks the earlier 1907 and 1925 silent films as well as the Oscar-winning 1959 movie starring Charlton Heston. Kebbell admits that scene is why he took the job. “That’s probably not the most sensible thing for an actor to say. I should talk about how wonderful the story was or how incredible the history of it is but the opportunity to pull four real horses was astonishing.” . . .

There was also a chance for filmmakers to improve on the beloved chariot so well known in Hollywood circles. Dent points out that the arena in the old movie was built wrong and the horses “had to slow on the corners. If you look at it again, you see them coming almost back to a trot.”

The Manila Times has a story on how Jack Huston was cast as Judah Ben-Hur:

“Finding the right actor to play Judah Ben-Hur was a process,” recalls [director Timur] Bekmambetov. “We needed someone smart who could create a character combining aristocratic irony and ability to truly care for other people. Jack proved to us that he is capable of doing all that.”

Agence France-Presse spoke to Morgan Freeman, who plays the sheik Ilderim:

The crowd this week wanted to know if he had any advice on playing divinity for the Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, who portrays Jesus in the chariot-racing epic.

“Divine is not that hard to play if you want to know the truth of the matter,” Freeman confides.

“People say ‘Well you’ve played God – how did you prepare for that?’” he said, affecting an exaggerated look of face-in-palm exasperation.

“Go to church, maybe? No. Read the freaking script, that’s how you prepare.”

The National Post also has a few soundbites from Freeman.

Metro spoke to Jack Huston, who plays Judah Ben-Hur:

You have to play Judah Ben-Hur in two very different stages: When he’s wealthy and fancy-free and when he’s starving and ripped. It must be particularly rough not eating great food when you’re shooting in Rome.
If you’re in the galleys of a slave ship, you’re not going to be eating three-course Italian meals. You’re just rowing every day. So I went a little Method and managed to drop down to 155 pounds. That’s pretty nuts.

How did you do that?
It’s kind of a funny story. The studio gave me a chef who’s also a nutritionist. He was this wonderful Italian man named Giuliano, who loved cooking and had the best heart. And he was just in a state of disarray every day. He’d come in to hand the food out, and I could see he wanted to cry every time. He had to make me the most bland, boring food — proteins and veg and no salt. It was tearing him apart inside. He really wanted to cook me the most extravagant pasta dishes with the best wine. Instead he was under strict instructions not do give me any food with any flavor.

Did you go out and gorge once you were done?
I did. I ate the equivalent of four meals in one go. I actually laid down after it. I was convinced I was going to vomit. It was a transcendent moment.

Screen Rant spoke to Huston about his take on the character:

When I read this script, this re-imagining of the great story that Lew Wallace wrote over 130 years ago, what I realized was that it was very much a different way of telling this. Judah in my version is very lost; he’s almost like a lost boy in the beginning, and it’s his journey into manhood and finally that wonderful ending of forgiveness and redemption, which I think is a beautiful message to be out there, especially in today’s world.

Time spoke to Huston about his character’s motivation:

For Huston, Judah’s journey is one that traverses the fine line between love and hate. “You can be driven by love as you can be driven by hate,” he says. Though Judah’s hatred for Messala drove him to survive what he should never have survived, it turned out to be a temporary shroud for love. “You don’t really hate anything you don’t love,” Huston says. “At the end, I think you realize maybe it was love all along.”

The Christian Post spoke to Huston about the crucifixion scene:

“That was very emotional actually. The actual act is very effective, the crucifixion that is followed by forgiveness, everyone was affected up there on that mountain,” Huston told The Christian Post at a recent screening, about the final scene of the film where forgiveness is put to the test.

“Forgiveness is not thinking that you have to be in control of everything [but more] so being able to let things go,” the actor continued. “To forgive someone means you have to be in control of them in a sense, so I think understanding other people and it not being all about you [helps].”

The Toronto Sun also spoke to Huston:

As for the next generation of Hustons, the actor and his partner, model Shannan Click, have two children. Huston’s little daughter visited the Ben-Hur set often.

“And my son is a Ben-Hur baby — he was made in Rome,” says Huston, who then laughs and apologizes in case that’s too much information.

“My daughter has somehow inherited the genes of loving cinema,” he says. “We were at Finding Dory and she saw a poster of Ben-Hur and just ran for it: ‘Daddy daddy!’

“And then she tripped over, went on the ground, scraped both knees — and just got up and kept running! I was like, ‘You’re awesome!’

“That was a proud moment.”

WhoSay, the Chicago Sun-Times and UPI also have some quotes from Huston.

MovieWeb spoke to Toby Kebbell, who plays Messala:

This is quite an epic tale you have here.

Toby Kebbell: Thank you. We were worried. We were all scared. I called my mom, and I was like, ‘Yeah, mom, I got the role in Ben-Hur.’ ‘Oh, why?’ (Laughs) Come on, mom.

‘You’re supposed to be happy for me!’

Toby Kebbell: Exactly. I heard how handsome Steven Boyd was and Charlton Heston was. Jesus, thanks mom. I appreciate the vote of confidence. . . .

I thought it was really interesting when Messala decides to leave, and you can tell he’s dealing with a lot. That decision to leave is the biggest in his life. Was there something specific that got you into that mindset when you were doing that scene? Because he has so much going on, but he knows he has to leave and establish himself on his own terms.

Toby Kebbell: Yeah, this is one of my first times in my experience being an actor that it represented a part of my life. I was that angsty teenager, who felt like I needed my brothers to feel proud of me. I wanted to go away, and, going away, from where I was, was to Nottingham or to London, to be an actor. I didn’t comprehend how it would work, or how it would be, but I knew I wanted their respect more than anything. That was a hard thing to do. It was hard to leave the family, you know, it’s always hard to do. The difference is, I had a very supportive family. My brothers would come and visit me, come and hang out with me, we’re brothers till the end. It doesn’t have that same dramatic storytelling ability, but it is basically the same thing. That was the first time where I played a role and was like, ‘I was this kid.’ I wanted to be respected and, slightly blindly and slightly foolishly, and I don’t feel that way now as an adult, but at the time, I understood that very clearly.

The Malay Mail spoke to Kebbell about the ups and downs of his career:

His big Hollywood breakthrough, playing the antagonist Garsiv in Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in 2010, was a formative, “heartbreaking” experience.

“I was given a bad guy and he was nuanced and he was interesting and I thought ‘wow — how fantastic that you get this!’“ he recalls.

“And that got diluted and diluted to nothing. So my ambition from then on was that if I get a bad guy again I want him to have what I know to be true, which is that people make terrible mistakes, but they’re still people.”

Kebbell evidently drew from this lesson for his interpretation of Messala in Ben-Hur, portraying the Jewish prince’s adoptive brother turned deadly nemesis, a man who made some poor choices but isn’t evil personified.

The Mirror spoke to Kebbell about the film’s lack of a gay subplot:

Speaking at the premiere in Los Angeles, Kebbell told the Press Association: “It wasn’t something we avoided but it wasn’t something we had.

“In 1959, the gay context was very important. They need a voice. You shouldn’t have to hide in the dark about something you feel and you’re grown with.

“That was their own thing they wanted to portray and we didn’t need to. It’s a different time, thankfully.”

Nerd Reactor spoke to Kebbell and Pilou Asbaek, who plays Pontius Pilate:

When asked what it was like to take on the highly disliked role of Pontius Pilate, Asbæk said:
“Yeah. I don’t get it. [laughs] He’s very loved in Europe. When we were shooting the chariot race, there were around 25 Italian journalists and I came in and they were like, ‘who is this idiot?’ Then they said, ‘this is Pontius Pilatus.’ All [the journalists] were like ‘OHH! OH MY GOD!’ They love him because, according to the New Testament, he tried to save Jesus.”

Time spoke to Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Judah’s love interest Esther:

Ben-Hur fulfilled a lifetime wish for Boniadi, who has always wanted to make a film about the ancient world. “It was on my bucket list to do a period piece set in that era,” she says. “I feel really connected to antiquity for some reason.” An added bonus: picking up horseback-riding skills and a renewed appreciation for Roman cuisine. Says Boniadi, laughing, “When we wrapped, I binged on all the wine and pasta and cappuccinos and gelato.”

Nerd Reactor spoke to Boniadi and Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Jesus:

As for how long he was on that cross, Santoro said:
“The take lasted 20 minutes, it was a long take because one take that I asked for. I was [on location for] an hour straight, but then I had 6 ½ hours in the make-up chair before that. So I arrived at 1:30 in the morning in the make-up room. I spent the night getting makeup on my body, and then we drove up to this mountain. They opened the door, it was windy, it was freezing, but there’s a crucifixion that needed to be done. From that point on, I kind of remember flashes of it because I was truly cold. I was trying to be brave, and doing this for [Jesus Christ]. That helped me get through it because it was unbearable. I think my brain was frozen. It was such a great feeling. It truly allowed me to speak from the heart… In a way, it helped. Weirdly enough that cold, freezing weather really helped.”

The Young Folks also spoke to Santoro (and Huston):

“I wanted to bring something to this character that is instantly relatable as a man. If it wasn’t Jesus there feeding water to Judah it could be another man still doing an act of kindness…I want people to feel (after watching the film) like we are sons of God too, we can do this which is probably, I don’t know, but probably what Jesus was trying to say. We all can do this.”

Catholic Online spoke to executive producer Roma Downey:

I think perhaps the only thing that maybe Catholics in particular would be interested in is that, to pay attention to the young zealot, the character of Dismus, and to watch his journey in the movie because he’ll end up being the Good Thief on the cross next to Jesus. And I don’t know that we’ve ever seen that in a film before.So that might be just interesting for our Catholic audience to pay attention to in the story.

Nerd Reactor spoke to Downey and her husband and fellow producer Mark Burnett:

When asked if their next project will be like Ben-Hur, Burnett said:
“I think we’re done with donkeys and sandals [laughs]. That’s 5 in 4 years, we’ve done The Bible, Son of God, A.D. The Bible Continues, The Dovekeepers, and Ben-Hur. Five giant Romans, sandals, deserts, and things in four years. We do have a couple of things which have the same value propositions but contemporary. I think that’s what’s next for us.”

Parade spoke to Burnett and Downey about the story’s background:

“When the book was written, it was 15 years after the American Civil War,” Burnett tells “Imagine living in America after the Civil War. Many, many people died in awful ways. The country was ripped in two and may have not survived. This book is written and it becomes the most read book. Prior to this book, the most read book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin and this displaced that as the most read book, possibly, because of the story of forgiveness and reconciliation.” spoke to Burnett and Downey about the film’s possible appeal:

Burnett agrees, adding that while the film gets across the message of faith, it is still entertaining. “This is an action movie. It can be a fanboy movie, and it’s has all the elements of a summer blockbuster. But very few of those movies have reconciliation and forgiveness by the protagonist and antagonist at the end of the movie. There’s something really important about that.” and the Christian Examiner also spoke to Downey and Burnett.

ET Canada spoke to Huston, Boniadi and Ayelet Zurer on the set in Rome:

CBN News devoted a 22-minute special to the film:

The Associated Press spoke to Huston and Santoro on the red carpet in Los Angeles:

Inside Edition also spoke to Huston and Downey on the red carpet:

And Reuters has a video report from the red carpet, too.

There are also lots of new video interviews. Here they are, grouped by interviewee:

Jack Huston, who plays Judah Ben-Hur:

Huston and Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Jesus:

Toby Kebbell, who plays Messala:

Morgan Freeman, who plays Ilderim:

Santoro and Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Esther:

Pilou Asbaek, who plays Pontius Pilate (warning: some NSFW language):

Executive producer Roma Downey:

Downey and her husband and fellow producer Mark Burnett:

Collider also has a video interview with Burnett and Downey.

Freeman, Huston and Boniadi (via Good Morning America):

Burnett, Downey, Huston, Kebbell, Asbaek, Boniadi and Santoro:

And, finally, ‘Ben Hur Done That’ with Huston, Kebbell, Downey and Burnett:

The studio has also released some behind-the-scenes B-roll footage:

Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:

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