Paramount’s upcoming Ben-Hur – a fresh cinematic adaptation of the 19th century Lew Wallace novel – begins filming in Europe early next year and as such, there have been several casting updates for the historical epic over the past month. Leading the way for director Timbur Bekmambetov’s film is Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur, the Jewish prince who is betrayed and forced into a life of hardship by the man he once called friend, the Roman Messalah.
The latter will be portrayed in this retelling of the story by Toby Kebbell, who’s quickly becoming a go-to actor for complicated antagonists following his acclaimed motion-capture performance as the vengeful ape Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this past summer. Meanwhile, Deadline is reporting that the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate – who is included in Wallace’s source material as part of a parallel storyline about Jesus Christ – may be brought to life in Bekmambetov’s film by none other than Game of Thrones‘ Oberyn Martell, a.k.a. actor Pedro Pascal.
Whereas Huston was once rumored to be in the running to play Doctor Strange in Marvel Studios’ upcoming comic book film of the same name, Pascal has long been a popular fan choice for the magical superhero. However, unlike with Huston, there’s never been any indication that Pascal has actually been considered by Marvel’s studio heads to portray Stephen Strange, as the movie’s current actor shortlist is primarily composed of bigger names.
Regardless, Pascal’s fans will no doubt be glad to learn that he’s getting more work – and Pascal’s time on Thrones will have prepared him well to play politics in the ancient world setting of Ben-Hur.
The subplot about Jesus’ persecution (and, in turn, Pilate’s role in those events) will reportedly be more important in Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur than it was in the multiple Oscar-winnining 1959 film adaptation directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston – and thus, will allegedly be the key element that distinguishes the pair, in terms of their narratives. Wallace’s original book was adapted to script form by Keith R. Clarke (The Way Back), before his draft was reworked by Oscar-winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), so the talent is there for a more character-heavy take on the Ben-Hur story.
Then again, the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings was also, for a long time, sold as being a more “character-heavy” take on a told-and-retold tale. However, Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic currently looks to be little more than another straight-forward rendition of the Moses story – one where its director’s style and personal approach to the subject matter are the main distinguishing factors. Ben-Hur (2016) will, if nothing else, be quite different stylistically than its predecessor, seeing how Bekmambetov is known for having a very distinct visual storytelling method (see: Night Watch, Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).
Beyond that, Bekmambetov’s film has a solid cast assembled together so far, between Huston, Kebbell, and (assuming his talks work out) Pascal, along with Morgan Freeman and possibly also Fast and the Furious alum (and future Wonder Woman) Gal Gadot. Wyler’s old-Hollywood historical epic will probably remain the iconic screen version of the Ben-Hur story even after Bekmambetov’s film arrives, but at least the latter seems to have some interesting to offer, taken on its own merits.
Ben-Hur opens in U.S. theaters on February 26th, 2016.