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'Ben-Hur' actor reveals on-set 'miracle' - and one big movie myth gets debunked

Posted August 27

"Ben-Hur" actor Toby Kebbell recently revealed an on-set incident involving a stuntman who escaped potentially serious injuries, saying it was a "miracle."

Kebbell, who plays Messala — a Roman army officer who is the adopted brother of main character Judah Ben-Hur — told The Christian Post that the close-call unfolded while the cast was filming an intense chariot-racing scene.

"I'm not sure that the studio would be happy about it, but a stuntman was thrown," Kebbell recently said. "Four horses carrying a chariot leapt clean over the fallen stuntman."

The actor said the potentially life-threatening situation concluded in what he dubbed a "miracle," as the stuntman was left unharmed, The Christian Post reported.

Kebbell said the shocking moment unfolded when, due to a problem with the chariot, the stuntman was launched into the air.

"He falls onto the track and all four horses jump and he is left clean," Kebbell said.

But was this the first time that potential calamity struck during a "Ben Hur" production?

According to The Christian Post, some have said horsemen died during the 1925 rendition of the film and that one horseman perished while filming the 1959 version. Despite many claims to this effect, others say it simply isn't true.

Citing the notion that "A stuntman was killed during the filming of the chariot race scene in the 1959 version of 'Ben-Hur' and that his death was left in the final cut," fact-checking website Snopes rated the claim "false."

Watch the chariot race in the 1959 film here.

The outlet noted that actor Charlton Heston, who played Ben-Hur in the film's 1959 rendition, wrote in his 1995 autobiography titled, "In the Arena," that no one was hurt seriously while making the film.

The only injury during the chariot race was a cut to stuntman Joe Canutt's chin, requiring four stitches, according to Snopes.

And the only death was apparently totally unrelated to filming. Sam Zimbalist, 54, was a producer who died of a heart attack about 40 minutes after leaving the set.

As for the earlier production in 1925, there reportedly was a death. Snopes, among other sources, bases its assessment, in part, on a claim from actor Francis X. Bushman, who played Messala.

"During one take, we went around the curve and the wheel broke on the other fellow's chariot," Bushman said of the chariot scene. "The hub hit the ground and the guy shot up in the air about 30 feet."

He continued, "I turned and saw him up there — it was like a slow-motion film. He fell on a pile of lumber and died of internal injuries."

As Yahoo! reported, there were also rumors that some Italian extras were killed during the filming of a battle scene between the Romans and a pirate ship. An intentionally set fire on the Roman ship ended up getting out of control.

That's when the extras, including those in extremely heavy armor, reportedly jumped overboard and into the water. Some apparently couldn't swim, with claims that three men went missing; others say those men were later rescued.

The newest rendition of "Ben-Hur," which was released Aug. 19, tells the traditional story of Judah Ben-Hur, a character who is falsely accused of treason after his adopted brother Messala becomes a Roman officer.

Ben-Hur goes on to seek retribution against Messala, but, in the end, the two brothers discover the power of forgiveness. It's a theme that executive producer Roma Downey recently discussed with Deseret News National.

"We see a man who has been brought to his knees, empty and angry, filled with the desire for revenge," she said of Ben-Hur. "Then, through an encounter with Jesus, he is forever changed. It's profoundly moving."

There have been some other intriguing stories to come out of the film of late as well, including actor Rodrigo Santoro's explanation of what it was like to portray Jesus Christ on the big screen.

"We are talking about a character who's bigger than life," Santoro recently told FlickDirect's Judith Raymer of Jesus. "I researched a lot from films, literature, paintings, gospels, and what I found out is that the point that unifies, that is common to all the references were his heart, love … he was a loving human being."

Despite attracting press in recent weeks, the film, which cost $100 million to make, ended up bringing in just over $11 million during its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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