EXCLUSIVE: MGM and Paramount have found Ben-Hur. The studios are setting Jack Huston, and you just knew he was going to get a big, star-making film role after his portrayal of the masked, war-scarred assassin Richard Harrow on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. It would be hard to imagine a bigger-scale picture than Ben-Hur, with Timur Bekmambetov directing the epic remake in Europe next year. Huston joins Morgan Freeman, whom Deadline broke will play the role of Ildarin, the man who teaches the slave Ben-Hur to become a champion-caliber chariot racer.

hestonMGM and Paramount still have to find their Messala, Ben-Hur’s former close friend-turned-bitter rival. Actors have been circling both parts, and it looked for a while there like Huston might have played the latter. He read for that role, but Bekmambetov decided instead he had the sympathetic manner and grit to play the title role, the one that brought a Best Actor Academy Award to Charlton Heston for the 1959 William Wyler-directed pic that won 11 Oscars in total. They’ve set a February 26, 2016, release date on the epic film, which has a script by Keith Clarke that John Ridley rewrote. This one hews closely to the 1880 Lew Wallace novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ – the biggest-selling novel of its time until it was eclipsed by Gone With The Wind. Mark Burnett, Sean Daniel and Joni Levin are producers, with Clarke and Jason Brown exec producing with Roma Downey.
Messala will be the next major role to be filled.

chariotThis comes after Huston closed a deal to play Wickham in the Burr Steers-directed adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, alongside Lily James, Sam Riley and Bella Heathcote. Huston is wrapping the George Tillman-directed Fox 2000 adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride for Temple Hill partners Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey. He also scored in a West End production of Strangers On A Train and last year in American Hustle. Huston is repped by UTA, Untitled, The Artists Partnership and attorney Alex Kohner.

jachThis version of Ben-Hur plays up the parallel storyline of Jesus Christ, but the main drama is the blood feud between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, who grew up best friends before the Roman Empire took control of Jerusalem. Ben-Hur was a Jewish prince and Messala the son of a Roman tax collector. After the latter leaves to be educated in Rome for five years, the young man returns with a different attitude and mocks Judah and his religion. When a procession passes by Judah’s house and a roof tile accidentally falls and hits the governor, Messala betrays his childhood friend and manipulates the accident so that Judah is sold into slavery and certain death on a Roman warship, with his mother and sister thrown in prison for life. Judah vows revenge, culminating in the famed chariot races.