From Spartacus to Ben Hur is not a dramatic role change, but for Jack Huston the changes that went on between those two films are . . . well, dramatic. The man won’t turn 34 until December, yet he has a list of acting credits that includes scores of roles from villain to hero and darn near everything in between. Actually, maybe it’s not so surprising when you consider Jack’s immediate ancestry.
Jack Huston comes from an impressive line of actors, directors and titled folk and he can trace his lineage back to Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. He was definitely born on December 7, 1982 in England, though if you want to quibble, the actual birth may have taken place in either London or in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, depending on the source of different reports.
At any rate he’s got drama in his blood; his parents are Tony and Margot Lavinia, American actor/writer/director and English Lady (with the capital L), respectively. There is also a marquess or two, at least one Marchioness and a Rothschild in his family tree, but word has it that he decided to be an actor at the age of six, after starring as Peter Pan in a school production.
Other than his attendance at the small prestigious Hurtwood House sixth form college in Surrey, not much is mentioned about Jack’s early training for his acting career.
His first appearance on screen was in the television production of Spartacus in 2004, where he had the role of Flavius. Maybe that was a portent of things to come, but between then and now Jack has played an amazing variety of roles, some small and some large, all notable.
The first big screen appearance was a non-starring role in Factory Girl (2007), a semi-documentary set in 1960s New York when Andy Warhol’s “Factory” loft was the meeting point for artists of all sorts. Next of note was Shrooms in 2008, in which he played Jake, a central character in the midst of a wildly hallucinogenic camping trip in Ireland.
In 2009 Jack was Wulfric, a Viking fighting with Viking weapons against an extraterrestrial menace in Outlander; the film is a minor cult classic. Also that year he played Shamus in Shrink, a film about a confounded psychiatrist with Hollywood clientele which got mixed but mostly positive reviews due more to the cast than the plot, which also included Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams.
2010 was a busy year for Jack, with major roles in Hemingway’s Garden of Eden and Boogie Woogie and a brief appearance as Royce King in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Garden of Eden featured Jack as writer David Bourne, and some critics were quite scathing in reference to the director (John Irving) but gave credit to Jack’s performance. In Boogie Woogie he was Jo Richards, one of a very motley crew in London’s 1960s international art scene.
Also in 2010 Jack took on the role of Richard Harrow in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire; he ended up staying for four years and 24 episodes, becoming a central character through his almost uncanny ability to ‘feel’ the part. Harrow, a sniper in WW1, comes back with his face badly disfigured. Jack wears a tin mask over the damaged half through the entire five seasons of the series, and “stole the show during every scene” according to The Daily Beast. Jack said, “I feel like when I put that mask on, I transform.” The show won two Golden Globe awards, in large part due to Jack’s portrayal of a lost soul.
While he was still working on Boardwalk Empire, Jack also had major roles in several lesser-known films including Mr. Nice, Parade’s End, Not Fade Away, Love, Marilyn, Night Train to Lisbon, Two Jacks, Wilde Salome, The Hot Potato, and a TV presentation of Miss Austen Regrets. When he took on the role of Jack Kerouac in Kill Your Darlings (2013) the name Jack Huston was beginning to ring a lot more bells in the halls of Hollywood and elsewhere. That character (Kerouac) was portrayed with skill and sensitivity as the slightly older and more cynical writer in his association with young Allen Ginsberg, who was played by Daniel Radcliffe.
That same year Jack had a relatively minor role in American Hustle, a film that got eleven Oscar nominations and a lot of other awards; critics applauded loudly, specifically for the performers. Huston didn’t make star billing but made a powerful impression as the character Pete Musane. He then co-starred with Alan Alda and Scott Eastwood in The Longest Ride, and with Brit Marling in Posthumous, both of those films garnering even more solid praise from both critics and the general audience.
This year so far, three films have been released with Jack Huston in the credits. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies got him another villain role which he performed admirably; in Hail, Caesar his character was described as ‘cad in cab’ – not a headliner but memorable all the same. And then there was Ben Hur, and times they certainly are a’changing.
Most everyone knows the story of Judah Ben Hur from the 1959 Biblical epic version starring Charlton Heston in the title role, which garnered 11 Academy Awards. As one reporter has remarked, “It’s a ballsy move to remake Ben Hur.” Director Timur Bekmambetov clearly thought so too, and the movie, which came out last week, has gotten radically mixed reviews – but everyone seems to have a strong reaction, either for or against. Regardless, the role of Judah Ben Hur is a great big boost to Jack Huston’s volatile career.
As he has mentioned in several interviews, Jack prefers character actor roles; he said of his Ben Hur performance that is was “. . . was very much my own interpretation.” He deeply admires the work of Heston and that of many retired or bygone actors, but his goal is to put his own personal spin on the characters he plays, whether they be minor or major, courageous or cowardly, saint or sinner.
In Jack’s interpretation of the prince betrayed by his brother and forced into slavery, Judah Ben Hur is not just an angry man out for vengeance; he’s also a boy turning into a man – and of course experiencing some of the most dramatic conflicts a man can face in the world as it was when Jesus Christ was going about his ministry. That unforgettable chariot race is just the culmination of quite authentic violence.
Yes, Jack really did drive those horses, and yes, it would be easy to get yourself killed in many of the action shots. In fact he told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s like NASCAR [the speed]. The first day, you’re completely convinced you’re going to die.” Those leather costumes aren’t just for show, either; they’re crucial as protection, “. . . so you don’t shred off your privates.”
Win, lose or draw, as far as Jack Huston is concerned chariot racing is just another challenge he enjoys meeting. And as for where he’s going from here, we’re waiting for news on that front but according to all reports it will be far from the sand and sweat of his recent job. He’ll be the face of Italian shoe brand Tod’s for the upcoming 2016-17 men’s autumn/winter campaign. He has also completed two new films, The Yellow Birds and Above Suspicion, both set for release in 2017.
Back in April Jack was voted “CinemaCon Rising Star of the Year” based largely on his Boardwalk Empire performance. We hope his future includes a lot of those good ‘character’ roles that will allow plenty of scope for his considerable talent.