A classic returns 57 years after Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars
JACK Huston takes on the role of a lifetime in MGM’s remake of Ben-Hur. Following in the footsteps of Charlton Heston in his Oscar-winning role, 33-year-old Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur, a prince who is sold into slavery after being falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother.
In this Q&A the actor reflects on the very physical role, recreating one of cinema’s most iconic scenes and working with Morgan Freeman.
Q: How did you deal with the knowledge that another great performance had already preceded yours?
A: If anything that makes you want to go out and do a great job. It’s not something you want to take lightly. And even if you try not to think about it, you will always have at the back of your head that the last Ben-Hur from 1959 was this giant that won 11 Oscars. So you want to play homage to it in the sense of going out and making something truly beautiful and special. And if my senses are right I feel that we did that, which is quite amazing. Q: Who is Judah Ben-Hur in your eyes?
A: He is a prince that in his youth shied away from politics and religion, but who then is forced into a life that makes him question everything. This journey sort of takes him through to become a man. The story is an awakening for him.
Q: How did you connect with the character?
A: In its essence there is a real beauty to making something like this, because we are humans and in time go through the same emotions. We have families and best friends, and we also suffer tragedies and fallouts, but the great lesson is to know how to overcome that. And, no matter whether you are religious or not, I believe you can take something out of this in a rather beautiful way.
Q: What was it like filming that legendary chariot race using real chariots and horses?
A: I grew up with horses, and with all the respect I have for them I have to admit that they are still somewhat wild animals. When you put four together and attach them to a chariot you can be in dangerous territory, but we had such an amazing crew that took very good care of us. There is something so magical
about being on a chariot with four horses running in unison and feeling the power of that. Q: Did you especially train to prepare for the race?
A: Yes, we had a month of pre-production which included intensive training, and we really were going at it. We started with one horse, then moved on to two and gradually worked our way up to four. It was important to feel comfortable in the chariot and know what it could do.
Q: What is it like to work with an actor of the calibre of Morgan Freeman?
A: Unbelievable! The first day we worked together he had to do this monologue, but had not received that page in his script. So Timur gave it to him on the spot, Morgan stepped into his trailer with it and then came back out 10 minutes later and nailed it verbatim. I had one line afterwards, but I think I didn’t say anything in the end.
Q: Jesus has a bigger presence in this new version? A: Yes because in the 1959 version you never saw his face, even though you felt his presence; but we have come up with something new, so Jesus has a larger presence. Rodrigo Santoro, who is just a phenomenal actor, brought something very special to the part. There were tears in our eyes during the crucifixion.
Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur in the movie Ben-Hur.