Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writers: Lew Wallace (based on the novel by), Keith R. Clarke (screenplay), John Ridley (screenplay)
Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebell, Rodrigo Santoro
MPAA Rating: PG-13
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The epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.
Here I am sandwiched between the 2 hotties
As I’ve stated before many times, I am a fangirl; a fangirl that loves meeting new celebrities –and if I get to ask them some questions, even better!
I was asked to go cover the press table for the upcoming super action-packed Ben-Hur and that two of the main cast would be there. Well, it was none other than Ben-Hur himself (played by Jack Huston) and Jesus Christ (played by Rodrigo Santoro). I had seen Jack earlier this year in his role as Lt. George Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (alongside my love, Matt Smith), so I was somewhat familiar with him. Rodrigo I hadn’t seen before, but I have now promised myself to check out some of his work because, after meeting him, I am that much more eager to see it!
I was very excited to meet these two incredibly talented actors because I have a great love for acting and, to me, meeting two fine and well-known actors is an honor. I have to say that these two were absolute and complete gentlemen: they were courteous, really looked each one of us in the eye as they responded our questions, and were all smiles. They even stayed longer than they were supposed to just to make sure we all got our questions answered, and they didn’t want to rush them. Big props to Rodrigo who was very sick with a bad case of the flu and said he felt terrible. Despite this, he was graceful and sweet and animated with all his answers. I am very honored to have met these two beautiful souls.
Enough of praising these guys, here’s the interview so you can read it for yourself:
What lead you guys to accepting the rolls you guys had in this movie?
Jack: To me, it was such a huge honor because, as an actor, you’re always looking for great characters. I truly believe the character Judah Ben-Hur is one of the great characters, and you know that because 130 years ago someone wrote a book and we are re-imagining this story for the fourth time on the movie screen. That’s what transcends everything. And I say re-imagine because the ’59 version is a very different version than the ’29 version, and because it was made for an modern audience and it’s introducing this amazing story to a new audience. This character really taught me a lot about myself, about life, about how things somehow that happened 2,000 years ago are still happening today, and this film is incredibly relevant right now, even though it’s written 130 years ago, even though it’s based 2,000 years ago. The subject that it’s about, it’s still happening right now. There’s so much hatred, so much animosity in the world, and it’s kind of beautiful to be part of something that has a message that has a way out of that: that it’s love, that’s forgiveness, and small acts of kindness. That’s what made it special for me.
Rodrigo: I think I had all the reasons to accept this challenge and responsibility because it doesn’t get much bigger, more special than that. But, also I don’t just get to play this part, but this part inside this film, this story. I was all over the place when I was offered to play him because I was swarmed with contradictions and anxiety and excitement, and doubts and everything. I took it as a real, personal experience; I really wanted to go through this experience. And the fact that I was going to be inside such a strong, beautiful, powerful story, was –as you say here in America –a no brainer. Actually, it was an all-brainer for me because I was all over the place and didn’t know what to think. But that lasted one day. I went to bed and the next day I woke up and thought ‘I really want to go through this experience, I really want to do this’, and I tried to shut down all the voices in my head telling me ‘are you sure? People are going to say this or that. It’s Jesus, are you sure? It’s been done so many times, what can you add to this?’ And I said, you know what? I think it’s going to be a very unique experience and I want to go through that and, basically, that was the instinct that told me to take it. Life is too short to rationalize everything, just go with your gut. I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience I had.
When the last Ben-Hur was made, it was a spectacle and it’s regarded as one of the best movies ever made. Were you guys trepid about going into it? Technology has advanced so much, do you feel it makes it more difficult to surprise audiences into this one?
Jack: As you said, the ’59 version was the first time we had seen a movie of that scale, of that epic nature, with that many horses and extras, the time it took to make it, it was unique at that time. But also, the style of acting back then was quite theatrical, it was a very different style of making movies, and it’s been nearly 60 years this movie and the Wyler version. The lovely thing that I think is so interesting is that, with all the special effects and the pressure of the film business, what Timur [Bekmambetov, the director of the film] and we wanted to do was bring it back to the characters, the story. We actually didn’t use that many special effects, we actually knew that the way to reach the audience was my immersing ourselves in those characters, and to do all those things and put ourselves through all these emotions and physicality; I’ve never trained harder in my life. I lost 30 lbs as a whole. Every time you see us with the horses it’s us with the horses. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this movie, because when you say re-imagining, it is re-imagining because most people haven’t seen the ’59 version, and so we get to tell this story to a whole new generation of people. And I think Lew Wallace would say ‘that’s pretty cool, my book is still filmed.’
Rodrigo: He said it all. I don’t know what else I can really add. Maybe what I can is that the first question I asked the director in our first meeting was: How do you feel, as a director, the responsibility of the story, the title, the Oscars, it’s inevitable to have comparisons? And he said, “Are you crazy? I would never touch that movie! This is a completely different movie.” So I asked him, what do you mean? He said, “From the way I am going to tell the story, from the way I am going to shoot it, from the narrative standpoint, everything, and your character. And I said, well, it’s been done so many times, are you sure you’re going to have a different take on it? He then said, “I’m not even going to go there. It’s not about being different; I have a very specific vision, which is that I would like Jesus to be a very relatable figure. I want him to be very, very human.” And then he had me look at YouTube videos as references; like, very realistic, very much the approach he wanted to bring to the film, and for this character he said we are going to be very careful, we want him to be very powerful, we want it to be the way it has to be because we are going to follow the scripture. [Timur said] “Everything is going to be the way it has to be, but, I want you to bring something to this character that hasn’t been written, which is to be relatable as a man, as someone who is planting seeds and showing acts of kindness and having a relationship with another man, a fraternal relationship.” That is the message because all his teachings are there, but I wanted all of us to feel that we are all sons of God too, which is probably, I don’t know, what Jesus was trying to say. We all can do this, we all should shoot in that direction and try to be better, try to evolve, and really try to love as much as possible.
Jack: There was such a beautiful atmosphere on the set, which meant that everyone had a voice, and we were encouraged to talk about it, and how do we relate to this. Because Timur is unbelievable! He is constantly playing references [on YouTube] that he knows will relate to a modern audience. The scene when I punch Toby (as Messala) in the face 3 times, that’s from a clip of 2 people fighting. Everything, in a weird way, had some sort of reference like that. And the first time me and Rodrigo met, it was like 2 guys talking, not Jesus and Judah. This guy is showing me such an act of kindness, and that is such a relatable thing for us now. That’s not Jesus Christ to Judah, it’s this carpenter dude doing something nice for a second. And I thought it’s so great because it’s between 2 people right to the crucifixion, there was a very human connection with us, and all the characters. And it was a cool thing to explore, and it gave it a more modern take on something.
What was the best part of making this movie on it’s own separate entity?
Jack: As an actor, whether a several million dollar movie, or TV show, I think you have to approach it from a place of love, the character. I always have chosen characters because I love them, and I feel I have a need to play them. Very much on this one, and I think the greatest thing about this one is the journey: where you start and where you end, and everything in between. I got to go on a journey mentally, emotionally, physically. It’s one of my favorite things, it’s why I’ve gone into this business. It’s tough and it’s trying, but it’s like the tougher the work, the more the rewards, and I found that this one was the toughest of all jobs I’ve done. And it’s true, the rewards were exponential, they were amazing. I’ve always loved cinema, and this is the reason we go to the cinema: to watch these movies, to go through that experience, for that moment when you forget and lose yourself. Sometimes if I watch a movie about a painter or writer, I feel inspired to go paint or write, and that’s something about this movie, that if someone can walk out of it and feel they’ve actually learned something, then all the better for it, and I feel incredibly proud about that.
Rodrigo: I’m going to try to be straight to the point. I’ve been everywhere inside myself in the process of preparing for this because I just didn’t know where to go. I was trying to find an answer and there was no rational answer, there wasn’t an equation that could solve it and tell me, ok, that’s how I play it. The approach was different than any other character I have played because of my own impression and relationship with the figure of Jesus in my own respect, in my own expectations, my own ideas of who he really was. So, I really had to dive inside myself. I practiced yoga, I practiced meditation –things I already do –but I really went for it, just to center myself to try to be in that place. So, what I think I brought to the film is everything I’ve got inside my heart, because I really wanted to stand for that character, I really wanted to be my best. But, maybe, for the first time, I was able to set my ego aside, say ‘Rodrigo doesn’t have to be a great actor here, it’s beyond that.’ Because we, as artists, are insecure and creative, but we want to be the best; I always want to become a better actor, but this time I wanted to become a better person. I gave it all that I had and, as you see in the story, Jesus punctuates the story; Jesus is not all the story. I don’t know if I even accomplished that, and it doesn’t even matter to me. What matters is what I went through, what that I know 100% that I am good with myself because I gave all I had.
This movie took a lot from you guys, the actors, physically and emotionally, and I am wondering what scene took a lot emotionally and physically from you?
Rodrigo: I would have to say the cross, because there was another ingredient that day, which was the weather and we all know what Jesus is wearing on the cross. So, I didn’t have a nice, warm, cozy scarf wrapped around my neck and it was windy and it snowed the night before, and it’s going to be very windy and very cold. I was freezing up there and on top of everything there were wind machines! (Jack intervened to say: “It was the coldest day. I had clothes and thought, this is mad!”) If you for a moment stop and think about, how must it feel to be crucified, how does it feel physically, mentally, and emotionally? And then you have to add the scriptures of everything that Jesus is saying up there, what did he mean? Like, the real meaning of all those words. How do I deliver this? This is so iconic, this changed civilization! It’s BC and AC, it’s as important and scary as it gets. The day of, I went there, I froze, I did it. But there were 2 things that were interesting: first, due to the physical conditions, I wasn’t able to think too much, I was just focusing that I had to get this done. I begged the director to please let this be just one long take because, they tried to keep us comfortable, but it was very cold on top of this mountain, so I said, I will give you the lines in different ways, give you different options because to think to be up here and then have to come back, just no. And then, there was Jack; they had developed this powerful connection, with another human being, with a man that went through so much turmoil, and you’re cheering for him to overcome it. He looked at me, and I felt it was a rope that pulled me, that was the connection to the whole world, all humanity in one man, and it was very special, and I will never forget it.
How does this movie compare to any of the other ones you’ve taken on before in your acting career?
Jack: We were very lucky with this one because we got to film in Matera [Italy], which is one of the oldest cities in the world. The wonderful thing to immerse in that we were in a town that looks and feels like Jerusalem, it was amazing. You’d think it’d be the hardest to do, to go back 2,000 years, but the way that Timur wanted to do it with this modern edge, the way we spoke to each other in a more relatable way, it actually was one of the easiest places to work in because time changes, but humans don’t really.
Rodrigo: It’s inevitable for me to not go to the character when talking about the film because the character, to me, it meant so much –and because it was taken as a personal journey as well –I can’t even compare to the other stuff I’ve been in. I am not talking about the result, or as an actor. As I saw the film, I remembered the experience, as a human. It doesn’t happen all the time because I do catch myself thinking I could’ve done this, or I could’ve said it differently when seeing my scenes because you are constantly trying to get better. This time, I couldn’t really judge much, which is something I probably learned with the experience itself. The city of Matera is incredible and it just brought a lot to my imagination, my inspiration, because when we weren’t filming, I was just walking around. The only thing that was very difficult was that I was on a diet, and there was pasta and gelato everywhere and I couldn’t have a piece of it. Being on a diet in Italy, it’s sacrifice.
Do you think this movie will bring people to Christ?
Jack: I think this isn’t discriminatory against any religion. The great thing about it is that, the underlying message, is that of a good one. And maybe that is Christian, or that’s another one, but what I love about this one is that it’s about finding good and the humanity in each other, in people. I don’t think you need to be religious to take away from this what we have, and what the message is underneath it, and that’s the beautiful thing. People can jump on it all they like, but until they haven’t seen it –that’s why I am so passionate about this movie because even before it has come out, they’re jumping on it. That’s exactly what this movie is about: fear, hatred, all this anger and crap that is out there. It’s what people jump to, but why not try to experience it in its moment? It’s people like you who can go out and say you saw it and say it’s not actually a remake of the 1959 version, it’s a stand alone movie, and it’s got a beautiful message, and it’s got good vibes, and at the same time it’s why we go to the movie. So, if it brings people back to Christ, or back to goodness, or back to kindness, all of it is worth it.
Rodrigo: The movie is clearly not about Christ’s journey. What it’s about is his presence, changing people’s lives while he was there. That’s why the writer of the book chose to tell the story from Judah’s point of view. If you see in Wyler’s version, you don’t even see Jesus’ face. It was a conscious choice, but I think it’s meant to go much more beyond, which is humanizing and making the figure of Christ more relatable. It’s about how it touches you, because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t hit you, it doesn’t move you, nothing is going to happen; there’s no transformation. So, if the question is if it will bring people to Christ, I not only hope so, but I think it all depends on how you see the film. If people are ready to compare, or judgmental, or expecting –because human beings are filled with expectations –but, it’s not about fulfilling expectations; it’s about the experience. It’s about letting it touch you, or not.
And that concludes the marvelous (but short) time I got to spend with these 2 up and coming hotties of the Hollywood world.