Yes. Ben-Hur is indeed another remake in the long line of remakes. The original 1959 film starring Charlton Heston ended up winning 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It may seem difficult to follow that up with a remake of the film, but Timur Bekmambetov‘s telling doesn’t seem to have any intentions of doing that. Instead, Keith Clarke and John Ridley‘s adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace draws inspiration from the previous two big-screen films that came before it, while also being sold as a faith-based film.
We were invited to sit down with a group of journalists to talk to Jack Huston, who plays the title character; Toby Kebbell, who plays Messala, Ben-Hur’s adoptive brother; and Morgan Freeman who plays Sheik Ilderim. The three talked about their experience on the set, the training they went through to prepare for the role, and the hesitations of remaking a classic. Check out the top five things you need to know about the film below.
5 – Morgan Freeman Says He Joined Because Of The Costumes
A lot of actors say the reason why they take certain roles is because of the way the character was written in the script, but for Freeman, he joined because of the great costumes and that he got to dress up. When asked about that, he responded, “You got to have something to say.” But he admitted that he took the job because when you do, “It is going to somehow fulfill something in you, workwise.” He added “It’s alright to say that I enjoy wearing the costumes. I always thought it was a joy.”
While it looked like it may have been hot, Freeman says the comfortable wig was actually created by the same guy who did the wig for him in Driving Miss Daisy. “He’s one of those Italians, whose family has been doing this for generations,” said Freeman.
4 – Hesitation Of Doing A Classic
Freeman didn’t have any hesitation to do a reinterpretation of a classic and said it was all the more reason to do one. “I worked with Timur [Bekmambetov]. I know he is very innovative when it comes to special effects and stuff like that,” said Freeman. “So I couldn’t see how it was not going to be an exciting adventure.” The film does have a few progressive twists, namely in Freeman playing the Arab Sheik Ilderim, who was played by Hugh Griffith in the 1959 film, for which he won an Oscar. But the film is much more loyal to the book in terms of race as Sheik Ilderim was African, so that was something the actor wanted to address in the film. “In the book, they wanted to call him Arab,” said Freeman. “One of the things I asked Timur for was one of the lines, ‘I am not Arab!'”
3 – Tobey Kebbell Not Wearing Mo-Cap Dots
Ben-Hur is one of the rare instances where we get to see Tobey Kebbell’s face without motion capture. He jokingly said it wasn’t fun. “I enjoy motion capture,” said Kebbell. “It’s a brilliant art form. It was nice for my mom. She can tell her friends that I am in a film and believe her. She’s like ‘No, he’s him, he’s the monkey, or the orc, or the crack addict.’ ‘We know that Michelle.'”
2 – Racing Chariots
A film taking place at the height of the Roman Empire wouldn’t be much of a historical drama without some epic action scenes taking place in a coliseum, and there is plenty of that when we get to see the brothers finally race each other on chariots in the third act. Of course, there is plenty of training that Kebbell and Jack Huston had to go through before they could ride in their own respective chariots. “The insurance situation is, your stuntman has to do it until you are trained,” said Kebbell. “So once you become trained, you kind of leap into a place where you are doing it. Sort of putting your stuntman out of a job.” The actor revealed that it was a month’s worth of training where he started with one horse before moving on to two and then finally four. “By the time you are on four, it is so terrifying,” said Kebbell. He compared it to the fear when you first start driving, when you are concentrating on everything, then getting so comfortable that you start to realize that you can do it without concentrating so much.
But the dangers are real, and the fastest that the actors were allowed to turn on those corners were 46 miles per hour. “The margin of error was minute,” said Kebbell.
Huston said they would train “solidly for six weeks” on the first unit, then they would get on the second unit for the chariot races. The actor says it was “great because you have who’s your brother in arms.” “It’s a real camaraderie that comes together and we had that,” said Huston. We just got on really well, personally.”
1 – Getting The Call
Because Huston has such a deep love for the ’59 film, he says getting the part was one of the most beautiful things. “As an actor you’re looking for great characters,” said Huston. “This is one of the great characters, Judah Ben-Hur, the way it was written.” The actor did say that he originally went in for the role of Messala, but when he sat down with Timur he told him that he might be better suited for the title role. So when he tested for it, he somehow got it. Huston said, “He said later to me, ‘The reason I felt that about you as Judah is not only did you feel like Judah to me but it was the way you spoke about Messala. You spoke about Messala with such love that he was never the bad guy to you.'”
Ben-Hur opens in theaters on August 19, 2016.