'Ben-Hur': Roma Downey, Mark Burnett Talk Lesson of 'Forgiveness' in Remake of Classic

It’s about much more than simple entertainment, they said.

ByABC News
August 19, 2016, 8:37 AM

— -- “Ben-Hur,” the epic 1959 tale, is coming back to the big screen today, this time re-imagined for a new generation of moviegoers.

Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey described the motivation for remaking the classic in an interview with “GMA” co-anchor Robin Roberts.

“There is a ‘Ben-Hur’ generation and the 'Ben Who' generation. Millions of people never saw the 1959 ... Here's a chance for a whole new generation to get to know ‘Ben-Hur,’” Burnett said.

Set in the time of Jesus Christ, the film tells the tale of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish merchant who is falsely accused by Messala, an officer of the Roman Empire. The original, starring Charlton Heston, won 11 Academy Awards.

Downey and her husband, Burnett, are the producers behind “The Bible,” the hit miniseries.

Although the original “Ben-Hur” was set in the time of Jesus Christ, he was never really depicted, Burnett says. That changes in the remake.

“For anybody that did see the '59, if you remember, you never actually got to see Jesus' face. You never really got to hear I'm speak. But here in this ‘Ben-Hur’, you get to have a relationship with Jesus. You get to hear him, see him, and see how he impacts others,” Burnett said.

The story is ultimately one of forgiveness between Ben-Hur and Messala, Downey said.

“They end up ultimately, because of Jesus, in a story of redemption and forgiveness and reconciliation,” she said.

The film stars Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur, Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, the wife of Ben-Hur, and Morgan Freeman as Sheik Ilderim.

“I mean, Morgan Freeman, you just can't go wrong,” Burnett said. “The whole movie opens with looking at-- setting the stage in Morgan Freeman's voice. And when you hear that voice, you just know you've arrived at something important. It's amazing.”

Downey and Roberts said the film’s director, Timur Bekmambetov, studied NASCAR and Formula One races in order to make the chariot scenes as exciting as possible.

“There were cameras in the wheels of the chariots and in between the ears of the horses. And it's all cut together in a way that just feels tangible,” Downey said.

Burnett said he hopes viewers would take away more than just a sense of having been entertained.

“This movie is entertaining. But woven in through this is reconciliation and forgiveness. And maybe this movie adds some value to people who leave the theaters and think about reconciliation, forgiveness, and love,” he said.

Earlier this month Downey received a star next to her husband’s on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“I dedicated [it] to my hometown in Derry in Ireland, and to anyone who ever had a dream and walked down Hollywood Boulevard. Because I was here to say I was a girl with a dream once. And I was here to say that dreams do come true,” she said.