British actor Jack Huston is not a religious person - but taking on the iconic role of Judah Ben-Hur in the big-screen retelling of the biblical fiction Ben-Hur opened his eyes to the person of Jesus Christ in a way that astounded him.
While promoting the Paramount film in Beverly Hills over the weekend, the actor told The Gospel Herald he's in "no way religiously inclined," but thinks of himself as a "spiritual person."
"When I say that, I mean I believe in the goodness of humans and what we're capable of doing," he said. "What was really interesting was that Jesus Christ wasn't really 'Jesus Christ' - he was just a man who showed Judah kindness. And that's a wonderful lesson, just the simple act of kindness, how far that can take us, how far that can carry us. And that is something that one should parlay into our life a little more."
Produced by Hollywood power couple Roma Downey and Mark Burnett and written by John Ridley and Keith Clarke, "Ben-Hur" tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a Jewish prince betrayed by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) and falsely accused of treason. Ben-Hur is subsequently exiled and becomes a slave.
After years of traveling on sea and a sudden shipwreck, Ben-Hur encounters Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who later on becomes his mentor. He tells Ben-Hur to take revenge against his brother through a chariot race instead of killing him directly. Together, the men prepare to compete in the monumental race. Throughout his journey, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) and is forever changed by his example.
The 33-year-old actor revealed that taking on the role of Ben-Hur was no small feat: He lost a staggering 30 lbs in order to play a malnourished galley slave, and spent months learning to drive a chariot for the movie's brilliantly shot finale. However, it was the film's deeply emotional storyline that left him most affected.
"I have to say - and I don't say this lightly - this whole experience was such an undertaking, but one of the most beautiful experiences," he said. "There was something very emotional about it, because when you're putting yourself through things as an actor, you can't help but be deeply affected by it. I found that [the scenes] that affected me deepest were the more personal scenes, like between me and Toby. There's some stuff at the end that was very transformative, I would say."
While the film is set in Roman-occupied Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, Huston says its themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, and grace in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles are incredibly timely.
"The same crap is still going on," he said. "There's still these awful religious wars, awful political wars - the world is in turmoil. People hate far too much, there's so much anger. And anger is this sort of insipid thing that grows inside of us and cripples us. In this movie, it's very much about the other side, which is it's so much easier to forgive, and redemption, and hope, and love. I think that's a message for today, because even though it's based 2,000 years ago it's mirroring life today, what's going on around the world."
"Ben-Hur" hit theaters on Aug. 19 in the U.S., and is also available in 3D and Digital 3D. For more information visit ShareBenHur.com.