NEW YORK, Aug. 17 (UPI) — British actor Jack Huston admits he feared he might be “dead before lunch” the first day he began chariot-racing for his big-screen epic Ben-Hur.
“I’ve ridden horses for all my life and I feel very comfortable with horses, but that doesn’t prepare you in any way for chariots,” Huston said at a recent AOL Build discussion about the film in New York.
“So, there was quite a rigorous training process. It was about three months before we started shooting the chariot scene, where we started on a seated cart with two horses, then four horses on a seated cart and then two horses on a standing chariot. Finally, four horses on a standing chariot and that’s something else. It’s a rush… It is incredible. When in life do you get the opportunity to do that? I love that kind of stuff. It’s, like, the funnest part about this job. You actually get to experience something that never in your life would you ever get to experience.”
The actor went on to say the cast and crew worked hard to get the chariot-racing scenes perfect, in part, to pay homage to the classic, Charlton Heston-led, 1959 version of Ben-Hur, but also because a mistake could mean serious injury of either the human or equine variety.
“They built the arena to scale and we would go around that, 32 horses sometimes at a time, weaving in and out. It was insane. It seemed like everyone was like, ‘Yeah, this is dangerous.’ This isn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re OK, you’re an actor.’ They were like, ‘Yeah, no, no, no, you could die, so watch out,'” he explained.
Huston revealed director Timur Bekmambetov used an unlikely resource when learning about the ancient blood sport in preparation for the film.
“Timur did amazing research and a lot of the research was on YouTube, looking at NASCAR, looking at certain things like that,” he noted. “He was very aware that he wanted to bring this to a modern audience and a modern audience who are so used to now — which is so bizarre — of seeing the most incredible effects and seeing the most beautiful CGI. And now we are seeing cars turn into robots and people living on different planets and it’s the beauty of cinema. But [Bekmambetov] said, ‘In this, you almost want to completely reverse that and go the other way because today’s audiences are really smart and they are always looking for something.’ … He was like, ‘For an audience, if there was even a moment that they felt like you weren’t on this chariot, you’d lose them instantly — because of the history of the previous race [in the 1959 film.]’ So, we had to do everything and it was imperative that we were on those [chariots,] doing it.’ … You’re going so fast, you don’t turn the corners, you drift around the corners. The first day, you assume you are going to be dead by lunch.”
Set in Roman-occupied Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, Ben-Hur is to open in U.S. theaters Friday. It co-stars Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro.
Huston is also known for his work in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, as well as the films Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Longest Ride and American Hustle.