'Ben-Hur' Premiere: Cast Reflects on Family Dynamics, Vengeance and Redemption

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"It’s important to say that this isn’t a remake of the incredible William Wyler film. It is our reimagining of Ben-Hur for 2016,” producer Sean Daniel tells THR.

The cast of Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur — including Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Ayelet Zurer and Jarreth Merz — turned out at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Tuesday night for the film’s premiere. Although many believe this film is a remake of William Wyler’s 1959 adaptation, producer Sean Daniel told The Hollywood Reporter that's not accurate.

“It’s important to say that this isn’t a remake of the incredible William Wyler film. It is our reimagining of Ben-Hur for 2016. We went back to the book, the incredible novel by Lew Wallace: Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ. We drew from the novel for our story [and] for our themes.”

However, Daniel did say that the tale between the two brother ends in a way that audiences are not expecting.

“There is no question that these two brothers are out for revenge,” Daniel shared. “The question is: How does it resolve itself? In 1959, Judah ended the chariot race with Messala dead on the track, [but] in this film, things turn out differently.”  

Ben-Hur is an epic story that centers around two brothers seeking vengeance. After Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) is falsely accused of treason, his adopted brother and Roman officer, Messala (Kebbell), sentences Ben-Hur in the galley of a Roman slave ship. Ben-Hur wants nothing more but to seek revenge for his brother’s actions. Five years later, Ben-Hur escapes the Roman ship after a naval battle and washes up to an island where he meets wealthy Nubian sheik, Sheik IIderim (Morgan Freeman). With the help of the sheik, Ben-Hur will face his brother in a violent and bloody chariot race to settle matters once and for all.

On the red carpet, Kebbell revealed his preparation for his role as Messala and opened up about how it differs from his previous roles.

“It’s a very precise part of the art, much like theater and dance," he said. "I was allowed to figure out things on the day rather than have to practice so much beforehand, except for the chariot race. You’re growing each day, you come in prepared but you’re trying to be flexible, [but] learning to chariot race from scratch was phenomenal.”

The relationship between these brothers is deeply rooted and has manifested over time. Zurer who plays Naomi Ben-Hur, the mother of the prince and Roman officer, told THR why Messala was so quick to sentence his brother.

“We put ourselves in a place where we are loved, believe in ourselves, and the comparison to our brothers and sisters. If you have someone who is more loved, you will feel not deserving, and have a problem in life and I think that’s what happens with Messala. It’s the core of all drama.”

Despite the drama and action in this film, the cast also shows a unique chemistry between the characters in Ben-Hur. Jarreth Merz who plays Florus, told THR that regardless of the given comparison to Wyler’s adaptation, this version will stand on its own.

“The film was so challenging, because — let’s not kid ourselves — there’s a classic out there. We had to come up with something new. We had to bring up a new chemistry, and I think we achieved that; we managed to do by just being very closely knit and supportive of one another.”

He added: “Filmmaking is magic, you never know what to expect. Once you’re on set, it’s time to make new rules, and I think we did that successfully. This movie is very honest, it’s not trying to be something it’s not.”

Ben-Hur hits theaters Friday.

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