Filming starts on Jan Žižka biopic

Ben Foster and Michael Caine will star in the big-budget Czech film

American actor Ben Foster is in Prague to star in the title role of the historical film Jan Žižka, about the Hussite military leader from the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The film is slated for release in 2020 and is expected to be the biggest-budget Czech film of all time.

Prague expats should know Žižka from the large equestrian statue on Vítkov Hill and for the entire neighborhood of Žižkov, which is named after him.

Foster, known for roles in Hell or High Water, 3:10 to Yuma and X-Men: The Last Stand, was among several cast and crew members to meet with the press ahead of the start of filming on Sept. 17. International actors Til Sweiger, William Moseley, Sophie Lowe and Czech actors Marek Vašut and Jan Budař spoke also about their upcoming roles.

Director Petr Jákl said it took eight-years to get filming started. “I am happy and excited to be working with such an excellent team of actors. Some are here and others are still one their way,” Jákl said. Michael Caine, who will have a large role as Lord Borš, was not present.

Jakl said he was inspired to start the project because as a younger man he saw films like Gladiator, Last Samurai and Braveheart and wanted to make a film like them. “I always wanted to make a film about a Czech hero. I think we have great heroes. I am proud I can do this for the Czech Republic, and I am proud I am Czech,” he said.

The film will be about the early life of Jan Žižka. Jákl worked on the script for eight years, and the result is much different than when he started, but he thinks he now has the best version.

Casting has been going on for four years, since this is such a big production. “We have looked at 4,000 people, and in the end there will be 200 to 250 people,” he said.

Getting the international actors was a big challenge. “It was really difficult, really complicated,” he said.

Ben Foster was attracted to the project because of the script, which he said was both “universal and specific.”

“I was not familiar with this history, with the story of Jan Žižka. But it touched me very deeply as it speaks to a value system that fills my heart, where a man can inspire those who have not been trained to reclaim their dignity,” he said. “The script is strong, muscular and heartfelt.”

Foster said he felt an immediate connection with Jákl, who he described as a warrior and son of a warrior. Jákl practices martial arts, and his father competed in judo in the 1972 Summer Olympics.

“It is my honor and privilege to try to embody this hero,” he said.

Foster joked that for training, he was eating less Thai food. “We are training currently, and we have a hell of a stunt team, and [they are] coordinating the horses and the battles,” Foster said. “We will keep training and fighting to the end.”

Australian actress and singer Sophie Lowe will play the main female role of Kateřina. “The [casting] process for me was rather quick. I met Petr over Skype from Australia and I immediately felt strongly toward him and I loved the script. And then he said we need you in Prague next weekend, and that was about a week ago. So here I am,” she said.

She did not hesitate to take the role. “I was immediately very excited to play Katherine and explore her. I feel very lucky and blessed to be a part of this project,” she said.

She is impressed with her costumes. “I love them. I always dreamed of doing a period drama and my dreams are coming true. When I was younger I used to wear costumes like this just for fun and now I get to do it for my job, so I am very, very excited,” she said.

German actor Til Sweiger, who appeared in Inglourious Basterds, Muppets Most Wanted and Atomic Blonde, was also drawn to the project by the director. Like Foster, he was not familiar with the history.

But he had his sights on another character.

“I tried to convince [Jákl] to give me a different part,” he said. Jokingly, he added he wanted Ben Foster’s leading role.“Just kidding. I wanted a different part, an even smaller part. But [Jákl] insisted on this part and he is such a nice man and so convincing and so lovable that I had to work with him,” Sweiger said, adding he plays a politician named Rožmberk.

Sweiger was in Prague some 10 years ago to make the film The Red Baron. “I love the city; it’s beautiful, and I love the people. I am happy to be here,” he added.

William Moseley is also not in Prague for the first time. He was here to star in The Chronicles of Narnia in the early 2000s. “I am very happy to be back in Prague. I worked here for six months in Barrandov Studios, where we are filming this film. So it is very nostalgic. I was a boy then in medieval clothes, and now I am a man in medieval clothes,” he said.

“In all honesty the Czech people have been very kind to me and I feel very excited to be here, and I can’t wait to work with Petr’s crew,” he said.

He will play the brother of Ben Foster’s character, Jan Žižka. “I hope I can live up to expectations,” he said.

“I saw Ben in a film called Hell or High Water, and it was a beautiful film and his performance as absolutely amazing,” he added.

Jan Budař, who people may remember from Boredom in Brno, Lidice and other Czech films, said he had to fight hard to get a role. “I succeeded and now I get to work with all these wonderful people,” he said. His character is named Matthew, so he jokingly added that he wants to dedicate his role to actor Matthew McConaughey.

Veteran Czech actor Marek Vašut has known Jákl for a long time, since he also knew his father, who in addition to being an athlete was also a stuntman. “I am an active horse rider for more than 30 years and have done historical fencing. When I heard he will be shooting a film about Jan Žižka, so I called him and I told him, ‘You dare not cast me in this film?’ and he listened to me,” Vašut said.

Vašut loves history and the Middle Ages, and considers Žižka great hero. Vašut grew up watching Czechoslovak historical dramas such as a 1956 version of the Žižka tale. “The standard is really high. We will jump over the line,” he said.

The film Jan Žižka also has the working title of Medieval. The budget is estimated Kč 500 million.

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