Jack Huston: Hollywood aristocrat with real noble blood

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PARK CITY, UT – JANUARY 21: Actor Jack Huston attends “The Yellow Birds” premiere on day 3 of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at Eccles Center Theatre on January 21, 2017 in Park City, Utah. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival/AFP
Nicholas Hunt / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

British actor Jack Huston’s grandfather, the legendary filmmaker John Huston, once had a movie about psychological trauma among soldiers banned because of its anti-war message.

The double Oscar-winner reacted furiously when “Let There Be Light” was confiscated by US military police, saying he’d expect “someone to take me outside and shoot me” if he ever made a pro-war film, according to his 34-year-old grandson.

“That sentiment stands today. I never really had any interest in making a war movie because I found a lot of instances where they glorified war,” the younger Huston tells AFP.

The actor nevertheless finds himself this year as one of the stars alongside Jennifer Aniston and Alden Ehrenreich in “The Yellow Birds,” a movie about the terrors of fighting in Iraq.

“This movie doesn’t glorify war. It’s very honest,” Huston tells AFP ahead of its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.

“It shows what it’s like as best as we possibly can for these kids who go over to a foreign land, fighting for something that a lot of the time they don’t really know about, what they bring back with them, and what it’s like for the families.”

French director Alexandre Moor’s movie is a rarity at Sundance, an independent festival whose entries are usually made on budgets which can barely cover explosions, let alone tanks and helicopters.

Preparation for the shoot in Morocco involved a military boot camp and cramming of numerous documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated 2010 Afghan war film “Restrepo.”

– ‘Heroes’ –
“The most important thing about any war that’s fought is how those guys who go over there and fight for us, how those troops are heroes,” he says.

“What they do is just brutal, and awful, and I found a whole new respect for that.”

“The Yellow Birds” is Huston’s 24th movie since studying at Hurtwood House, a prestigious drama institute set in an Edwardian mansion in the rolling countryside of southern England.

The phrase “Hollywood royalty” is overused but in Hudson’s case it is both figuratively and literally correct.

He is the scion of a filmmaking dynasty of Hustons that — as well as John (“The Maltese Falcon,” “The Man Who Would Be King”) — includes Oscar-nominated aunt Anjelica (“The Addams Family,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) and uncle Danny (“The Aviator,” “The Constant Gardener”).

It is his mother’s side of the family that fills the pages of nobility register Burke’s Peerage.

Lady Margot Lavinia is the daughter of Hugh Cholmondeley, 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley and the Lord Great Chamberlain of England until his death in 1990.

This makes Huston the nephew of the 7th Marquess, who was born Viscount Malpas but is better known as filmmaker and actor David Rocksavage.

For those for whom British nobility means little, Huston also happens to be a descendant of Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the international banking dynasty, and Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister.

Huston, it ought to be admitted, has been in some poor movies, but he is usually part of the “things to admire” paragraph reviewers feel honor-bound to include before sharpening the knives.

– ‘Magical time’ –
His titular role as the Jewish prince turned slave in Timur Bekmambetov’s plodding remake of “Ben-Hur” (2016), a film dubbed “Chariots of Misfire,” is the latest example.

Early reviews for “The Yellow Birds” have been mixed, with Variety’s Owen Gleiberman describing it as “a flat and listless piece of moviemaking.”

He makes a point of singling out Huston for praise, however, noting that “the movie snaps to life whenever he’s on screen.”

Minor and starring roles in critically acclaimed movies such as “American Hustle,” “Hail, Caesar!” and “Kill Your Darlings” have helped balance the ledger.

But Huston will always be remembered by his legion of “Boardwalk Empire” fans as badly-disfigured war hero turned cold-hearted hitman Richard Harrow.

“It was probably the best character that I’d ever read,” he once told the Daily Beast, which credited the actor with stealing every scene in the long-running HBO series.

“I never really look at the size of the movie, it’s the character itself, and this one, I have to say, was a special one,” he says of his role as a no-nonsense Texan sergeant in “The Yellow Birds.”.

“You can have the hardest, worst time on an apparently luxurious big budget movie and have an absolutely magical time making a small budget indie. This was brutal but I learnt a lot about myself and I’m as happy with this movie as anything I’ve done before.”

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