By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Christian Bale follows in the sandals of Charlton Heston in playing Old Testament figure Moses in Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” The “Dark Knight” star, however, hopes that audiences won’t draw comparisons between the two performances from different eras.
“You can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston,” explained Bale at a recent sneak peek of the swords and sandals epic at the 20th Century Fox studio lot.
The epic film is due in theaters Friday, Dec. 12, and follows the Biblical story of the Jewish prophet.
It’s the first time Bale, who teamed with Christopher Nolan on the “Dark Knight” trilogy, has worked with Scott who, almost singlehandedly revived the historic epic, with his award-winning “Gladiator” movie.
At a lively 17-minute interview following some clips from the upcoming film about a man born to a Jewish slave, who became the adopted son of a pharaoh, before being called by God to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Bale talked about taking on the iconic role and working with the legendary British filmmaker.[private]
Q: Where were you on the Moses awareness scale before you joined this project?
Bale: I have no idea. Charlton Heston?
Q: You were a voracious reader about the subject.
Bale: There’s so much interest in the material. The Torah and other works, which takes a bit of getting used to. A number of other sources that people recommended to me. One of the ones I enjoyed was “Moses, a Life” by Jonathan Kirsch, and the Koran.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you found out about him?
Bale: The big one for me other than realizing I had no idea about Moses at all and how complex a character he was. He was a very troubled and tumultuous man, very mercurial. The biggest surprise for me was the very nature of God, that he was very mercurial, and although Moses was able to talk directly with God, there’s an episode where God tries to kill Moses, where he threatens to wipe out everybody but Moses and start again, sort of like Noah, and he convinces him otherwise. And the really fascinating thing to me is there is no mention of the afterlife, especially since Moses was from Egypt where there is an obsession with death. I was very surprised by that. Also, other than Azel, this literal scapegoat, there’s no mention of the devil. God is described as a god of good and evil. All of this was fascinating with me.
Q: What was your relationship with Ridley Scott before this movie?
Bale: Admiration on my end for him as a filmmaker. I’ve worked with a number of actors who had worked with Ridley and they said I should work with him. Rid and I met up and said let’s find something about four or five years ago. Swords and sandals. Yeah, straight up Moses.
Q: What were the early conversations you had? Did he talk about the scale of the film?
Bale: The big issue was how much he could include because it’s so dense, you could really make an eight-hour long film. There had to be a choice about how far we went with the story. It’s called “Exodus” for a reason. It’s not called Moses. Steve Zaillian, who wrote the screenplay, really felt that it was a story about revolution. So he decided to focus up to the Exodus and the Red Sea. We wondered how much further we could go. Every little bit (that we added) would add a half hour to the film. You can’t help not including stuff.
Q: There was a TV movie called Moses 20 years ago. The guy who played Moses was Ben Kingsley, who plays Nun, a Jewish leader in this film. So when you two were acting opposite each other in “Exodus,” did that come up?
Bale: Yeah, I told him I hadn’t seen it. He just laughed. I sort of avoided it. Part of reason I didn’t watch it was because—sometimes it’s legitimate to steal from other people—but then there are elements that you don’t want to take. I have my own idea and I’ll stick with that.
The first film I rented immediately after meeting with Ridley when I was trying to get my head wrapped around it was “The Life of Brian,” which is a favorite film of mine. Not only do I enjoy that film a great deal, but anything where you are approaching it from an earnest point of view can unintentionally become “Life of Brian,” so it was sort of the guiding light throughout for me, and I must confess “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was always humming through my head a lot. Immediately after that, I rented Mel Brooks’ “History of the World.” When (Moses) comes out he’s got 15 Commandments and then he drops one (tablet) and he says, “Uh, The Ten Commandments.” You have to get that out of your system and understand what it is we could unintentionally make funny. You have to have humor. With something as earnest as this and as heavyweight as this, you have to have an element of comedy in your everyday life during filming because otherwise it becomes too exhausting.
Q: Did you rewatch “The Ten Commandments?”
Bale: Yes, I did rewatch it. The main difference from my reading from looking at the five works was this was an incredible weight he was lifting on his shoulders. This is something where you should see a man who is really straining. It is of his nature. He fought against being chosen by God. He kept saying no, it’s not me. He kept trying to get out of the gig when he was on the mountain. This is not an easy job. With “The Ten Commandments,” it was too uplifting, like with doves and ahhh (he makes a high pitch singing sound). It was like he was going to levitate through the ceiling. I felt like ours should be like someone who is desperately trying to keep moving forward because of the pressure that was on him.
Q: Were there any people you felt particularly excited about working with in this cast?
Bale: I think it’s a fantastic cast throughout. I very much enjoyed working with Joel (Edgarton, who plays his foe Rhamses), who we were sort of the constant throughout. Obviously, with Ben (Kingsley), there are so many good actors. But I really enjoy also when you’re working with actors whose names you wouldn’t know. I always enjoy that as much as possible. As another actor, when you know very little about somebody, then it’s a very nice thing because there’s nothing predictable at all.
Q: Is it daunting to be at the forefront of a production that is so massive and has so many people working on it?
Bale: Yeah, because I’m a real prat and so you just sort of go, “Wow, look at that set. That’s a kilometer long. That’s amazing. Look at all the people. What are they waiting for? Me? Oh no. How am I ever going to get through this?” So you act it. You arrive and that’s the whole point. You act it as though you can handle all of this, when in truth, absolutely you’re going, “Really, Ridley, you should’ve picked somebody else. I cannot possibly do this.” But to me, that’s not an unhealthy thing. I think the day that I looked at something of that size and thought, “Yeah, that’s me. I should be in the middle of that,” I’d probably just hate myself.
Q: What kind of interaction did you have with the real-life beasts on set?
Bale: I imagine with the frogs it was a lot of stepping on them, I would think. I wasn’t actually there for the frogs at all. I was around a lot of horses that were kicking each other and trying to bite me, and camels that, as we were crossing the Red Sea, they liked to relieve themselves a lot. You just get used to less than glamorous situations and things bobbing up against you that you don’t want to say what I think it is.
Q: Your armor was made with car bumper rubber rather than metal. Was that more comfortable?
Bale: Oh, well, it’s much more comfortable to wear a car tire than metal.
Q: What’s your favorite Ridley Scott movie of all time?
Bale: The one that keeps coming into my head is “Alien,” but it was a lot of fun watching it with my friends and it was a lot to do with the evening as well. He’s done so many wonderful films, but that’s the one that I just keep going in my head right now.[/private]