"Ben-Hur" stars Rodrigo Santoro and Nazanin Boniadi opened up about how they were transformed - both spiritually and personally - by their roles in the big-screen retelling of the biblical fiction, which hit theaters Friday.
The movie, which is executive produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a Jewish prince falsely accused of treason by his own adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), a Roman soldier. Because of his brother's betrayal, Ben-Hur was separated from his family and Esther (Boniadi), the woman he loves, and forced to become a galley slave.
However, after a shipwreck, Ben-Hur is washed ashore and 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, and prepares the young man for the big race. The theme of the film, however, is forgiveness and compassion: During her husband's absence, Esther becomes a follower of Jesus Christ (Santoro) and shares her newfound faith with her husband. Similarly, throughout his journey Ben-Hur encounters Jesus and is forever transformed by his example, allowing him to extend forgiveness to those who wronged him.
"It was the most intense journey I've ever had playing apart," Santoro told The Gospel Herald during a sit-down interview in Beverly Hills, CA of taking on the tremendous role of Jesus Christ.
"I can't compare it with anything else. It was personal, it was spiritual, it was something that absolutely transformed a lot of things inside myself. It was a personal exploration of my own faith, of my own heart. It was rewriting many things in my life, somehow re-writing my own heart, just in the process of trying to get close to what's supposed to be Jesus' heart with my human limitations, of course. It was a unique experience," he continued.
Throughout the film, Esther is depicted as the gentle voice of reason, often encouraging her revenge-driven husband to act in a Christ-like manner. But despite her calm demeanor, she conveys a quiet strength derived from her special relationship with Jesus Christ.
"I was really inspired by [Esther] - her peaceful courage, she's very quiet and dignified, and I love how she didn't have to be boisterous or loud to show her power and her strength," Boniadi said. "She just had to live in truth. I love that, and I hope for myself that I can do that. I strive for that everyday, to be more like her, because there's a power that this woman holds; she can get a lot of things done that men can't, but she can also do it with this sort of grace, and that's exactly what she personifies."
Boniadi shared how she was particularly moved by Esther's ability to extend grace and forgiveness to even the most violent of persecutors.
"[Esther] personifies this quiet, graceful, dignified strength, and even when she's confronting Messala, somebody who's essentially torn her from the man she loves and killed her father and torn her family apart, she does it with sort of this serenity that I find so inspiring," the actress said.
Santoro maintains that the themes of forgiveness, grace, and redemption are a timely message in the face of the violence and unrest seen all around the world.
"We have not learned our lessons, we are still not loving as we should, we are still not forgiving as we should - I mean, look at the world," the Brazilian actor said. "We're back to barbarity, basically. The violence nowadays, we can't even describe it. We can't even understand what's going on. So, more than ever, it's a very relevant film, and the message that the film tries to bring to the audiences is a very important one."
He added, "I think more than ever, it's a story that should be told, and more than ever, people should get more and more in touch with internal values, human values that we're too distracted nowadays. It's just hard to keep them in check, and so I think it's a very necessary thing to think about."
"Ben-Hur" is based on Lew Wallace's timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. To learn more about the film, visit www.benhurmovie.com