Ben-Hur news round-up: Reporters visit the set in Rome, the soundtrack is now available for streaming, and more

Ben-Hur news round-up: Reporters visit the set in Rome, the soundtrack is now available for streaming, and more August 15, 2016

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Another week, another round-up of Ben-Hur-themed news items.

The Telegraph has a report from the set in Rome:

But despite the fact that Jesus – as depicted by the Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro – will appear in the film, there was a degree of reluctance to present it as a Christian movie. “I don’t think we ever really looked at it like a religious epic, and I still don’t,” says [Jack] Huston. “What I found when I read the movie is that Jesus isn’t Jesus, the myth, the man, the legend, whatever you want to say he was. When Judah comes across Jesus, he’s just a man, and he’s a man who shows him kindness.”

The Sydney Morning Herald also has a set-visit report:

The 1959 version distilled a revenge story from the novel – and that was its flaw, Timur [Bekmambetov] says. For him, the film ended with the chariot race. “What came after, I don’t really remember or care. This [2016] movie is about the two brothers, about revenge and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the most important message I think today in our world where we are all fighting – countries, people. I think to learn how to forgive each other is really important. Not many big movies have this message.”

He wanted a “grounded and real” movie, not a togas-and-sandals fantasy. “There are no slow-mo action shots, it’s all real-time. It’s not a graphic novel, it’s a drama with a lot of action. This movie is about the Roman Empire, how seductive and glamorous and dangerous its ideas are – it’s about power and competition. And we live in this world. We live in the Roman Empire today – and this movie is trying to find a way how we can survive today. It’s not a movie about Jesus’ time, it’s a movie about us.”

The Desert Sun reports that footage was being shot in the Palm Springs area in March of this year — well after the film’s original release date in February:

The majority of the movie was filmed in Italy and the role the Coachella Valley played was minor, but nonetheless significant for the local film industry. . . .

The initial “Ben-Hur” application submitted to the BLM on Feb. 22 requested two days of shooting with a production team of about 30 crew members, three cameras with one or more mounted on a moving camera vehicle, five personal vehicles, 10 trucks/trailers, a couple prop rocks, an artificial tree and a drone. . . .

What was finally approved after much revision and more than a month later on March 30 was a much smaller production team of eight, with no more than three vehicles and the use of a drone for only one day — March 31.

The Los Angeles Times also has a detailed story on the film:

It is the faith-based audience, though, that offers the companies’ encouragement that early tracking — currently at a low $15-million opening weekend — might be off-base. Paramount and MGM executives also believe the movie could play well beyond its debut weekend, with big summer flicks such as “Jason Bourne” and “Suicide Squad” having cleared out.

They’re relying on the Olympics too. “Ben-Hur’ had to be pushed from February due to a lengthy post-production time, especially after a late-stage decision to convert to 3-D. Filmmakers are banking that a release on Olympics’ closing weekend will a give them a Rio-related boost.

A set of NBC spots in the coming days, including one that intersperses scenes from the film with moments of Olympic glory, underlines the point. Michael Phelps and Judah Ben-Hur, it turns out, aren’t all that different.

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

What’s fresh about the new Ben-Hur?

There’s this wonderful message of being able to let go, move on, take a step forward, forgive and be merciful. I don’t like to watch stodgy, sodden, sandal movies; I feel like a modern audience has to be able to relate. Judah Ben-Hur is going through a crisis in his life. He doesn’t believe in God, per se. He questions his faith, he questions his life. There’s something very relatable to it.

Nascar did a short “21 Questions” video interview with Huston.

The Miami Herald spoke to both Huston and Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Jesus:

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.

Newsmax also spoke to Huston and Santoro:

“It’s about hope and love and about what we have inside of us and forgiveness,” Jack Huston, who plays Judah Ben-Hur, told Miranda Khan.

“It’s really not [a remake]. I can’t emphasize that enough. That’s the beautiful thing. I don’t want to go and remake something.”

Angelus News spoke to executive producer Roma Downey:

“Jack Huston isn’t a household name yet, but after ‘Ben-Hur’ he will be,” asserts Downey. “He’s sensational in this part. Same goes for Toby [Kebbell, who plays Ben-Hur’s childhood friend and adoptive brother who betrays him].” The cast is further elevated by Morgan Freeman, who is a household name, and whose voice — one of the most recognizable in Hollywood history — is the first and last voice audiences seeing the film will hear.

“He was amazing in the film, as he always is,” states Downey of the veteran Freeman, who portrays the wealthy Nubian sheik that trains Ben-Hur to become a charioteer. “He brought such dignity and charisma to the role.”

NJ.com spoke to Downey and her husband and fellow producer Mark Burnett:

Still, there’s something she doesn’t want.

“Donkeys and sandals,” she says. “No more donkeys and sandals.”

It’s understandable. As president of Lightworkers Media, Downey’s overseen a long series of religious epics, working alongside her husband on “The Bible,” “The Dovekeepers,” “Son of God” and “A.D. – The Bible Continues.”

Although she’s proud of all of them, she’s looking forward to turning to some more contemporary projects, a few of which are already in the works.

Downey got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week, and Variety ran several stories in conjunction with that event, such as this Ben-Hur-themed one:

The director credits Downey with helping him deal with the sort of on-set challenges that typically pop up during the filming of any movie, including maintaining the film’s core emotional thrust.

“She’s not only a professional producer, but also a good-hearted person,” he says. “Roma has the unique gift of hearing other people and making sure they hear her. That was one of the reasons we managed to maintain the emotional centerpiece of the movie. All the decisions she made were both emotional and well-balanced. Her sincerity inspired me and gave me the confidence that we were on the right track.”

Jack Huston, who stars as the Jewish prince and merchant Judah Ben-Hur, calls Downey “one of the most kind, generous and giving human beings.”

“I think coming from being an actress herself, she understands the process so well,” he says of Downey’s directing style. “She’s very focused and intelligent. She’s very story-driven, and really wanted to help us get the most out of these characters. It’s always nice to have someone on set who exudes warmth and light and is so approachable, and ready to help. She has a brilliant mind and is instrumental in developing a character.”

This one looks at the work Downey and Burnett do with Lightworkers:

“Roma has her finger on the pulse of the faith and family community in the United States,” says Burnett, who describes that demographic as “greatly underserved” by the entertainment industry. “This [need] provided an opportunity to [produce] several projects over the last few years,” says Burnett.

And this one looks back to the work they did on The Bible:

It was hot, dusty and working conditions were primitive, to say the least. When Roma Downey arrived in the Moroccan desert in early 2012 to work on the five-month shoot of “The Bible,” cast and crew members didn’t know what to expect.

Downey was an exec producer on the 10-hour miniseries with her husband, reality TV titan Mark Burnett. She’d been integral to the development of the project over the previous two years, consulting with faith leaders to shape the interpretation of Scripture for a new generation of TV viewers.

Everyone knew that “Bible” was a passion project for the couple, who are deeply committed to their Christian faith. But few expected Downey to roll up her sleeves on day one and firmly take the reins as producer.

“They took one look at me and thought I would last a week,” Downey recalls with a laugh of her start on “Bible.”

Variety also ran articles on Downey’s philanthropic work, her work on Touched by an Angel, and her Irish roots which do not mention her work on Bible films specifically.

Paramount also released this video from the Walk of Fame ceremony:

Fandango did a live interview with Huston, Morgan Freeman and Toby Kebbell:

Marco Beltrami’s score for the film is now available on CD and also via Spotify:

Paramount released a featurette on the Italian shooting locations:

Paramount also released a new TV spot:

And this British spot called ‘Legend’ is slightly different from the American version:

Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:


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