Jack Huston talks fulfilling Charlton Heston’s big sandals on ‘Ben-Hur’

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Charlton Heston will always be remembered for three roles: Moses, George Taylor from Planet of the Apes, and Judah Ben-Hur. The actor won an Oscar as Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. So who in their right minds would want to tackle a role already synonymous with greatness. Enter “Boardwalk Empire’s” Jack Huston. The excellent actor, who plays Richard Harrow on the HBO show, will be succeeding Heston in the 2016 adaptation.

We got to sit down with Jack Huston and asked the actor a few burning questions including…

When asked what his thoughts were knowing he had to succeed Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, Huston said:
“It was a real honor. I think everything starts with the script and I’m a big lover of the ’59 version. I adore that film and Charlton Heston’s performance, I think, is incredible. I read the script and I felt instantly that this wasn’t a remake. This was very much its own being, it was very much its own story. The character was so different that I felt there was a real reason to be making this film today, especially for a modern audience. Keith Clarke and John Ridley wrote this beautiful script that, as an actor, you’re looking for great characters and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better character than Judah. It’s really one of those characters that says ‘oh, I can go on a journey here. I can start one place and end up somewhere completely different.’ I knew it was going to be, physically and emotionally, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I loved that. I come from a family of risk takers [that’s done] sort of mad things. That was, to me, one of those beautiful calculated risks. I said this is something that I have to do. This is one of those characters I’ve been waiting to play.”

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When asked how the chemistry between Judah and Messala came about, Huston said:
“It’s a really interesting story, I went up for the role of Messala to begin with. I was auditioning for Messala, and Timur, very sneakily and brilliantly, let me audition for it and talk about the role. Then I got the call saying, ‘I think you’re Judah, would you come and do that.’ I did it and later he told me the great thing about me [playing] Judah was I loved Messala. The way I spoke about Messala and the way I understood the character. Judah needed to feel that love for Messala, for it to build that foundation throughout the movie because it’s going to come back at the very end. You need to believe in that solidarity between those two brothers, that real love. Then I had Toby, who’s one of the great actors and is now a dear friend of mine. We trained together, like on horses, that puts you together in such a way. We would talk, go out to dinner, and really get into it and we wanted to bring this natural element to our relationship. I wanted it to be very relatable for a modern audience. That this is still two guys who are best friends and brothers. So we worked very hard on that but, luckily, it was very natural.”

What was his most emotional part about filming the movie? Huston replied:
“I feel like what you see Judah go through throughout this whole movie, it’s lovely to see that the most emotional part, not being a religious person, was the moment where I let go of the rock. I’ve just been through so much already making that movie that the rock wasn’t in the script. That came naturally [through] me and Timur talking. The Centurion whips me and I pick up the rock and I say, ‘I don’t want to let go of the rock.’ So [Timur] says, ‘don’t.’ When it finally came to the crucifixion scene, I was up there and I suddenly feel like I want to let go of this rock. So [Timur] goes, ‘do it’ and everything just flooded out of me. It’s that moment when you realize in releasing all this hatred, all this anger, and how freeing that is, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. It’s one of those characters I got to really experience some amazing things.”

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When asked if Judah Ben-Hur completely changed when his world was turned upside-down? Huston replied:
“I wanted to make a very clear physical and emotional change in the character because we do such a fast jump cut, five years, that I didn’t want it to appear like, ‘oh, the five years have been a dawdle.’ The life expectancy of a slave back then in the galley of the slave ship would’ve been between 3 and 6 months. To last for 5 years would’ve been absolutely brutal. I lost 30 pounds for that part of the movie, I went down to it. Early on, he was a very open, happy, sweet human being who was going through a lot emotionally [and] personally. This was the hardened slave who’s been through… I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like 5 years on those ships. It was a very conscious decision to try and almost change everything. From my voice to the way I looked, the way I moved, the way I hold myself, it was a very conscious decision to go there.”

When asked what he wants audiences to take away from the film, Huston said:
“To go in open-minded, and experience what I got to experience. We’ve had such a beautiful reaction to the movie and the people that have reacted that way. It was such an amazing experience for me and for everyone making this movie. I believe the script is really, like I said, relevant for today, and I really want people to walk away and do something good. How easy it is. Sometimes in life, someone without them knowing it would do a little act of kindness when you’re really down or when something really bad happens. Someone does something, even [something] small. They don’t know they’ve done it but that will stay with you forever. It’s amazing how I can still think back at those little moments. Just believe in the goodness of humanity, and that actually we can do a little something now and again.”

BEN-HUR is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but an encounter with Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) leads him to the Crucifixion, where he discovers forgiveness and finds redemption.

Ben-Hur races into theaters on August 19th.

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1475 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.