LOS ANGELES – Ridley Scott did not originally want to make "Exodus: Gods and Kings."
"It's biblical, and I was afraid of all those associations," the 77-year-old filmmaker said.
The script convinced him, with its story of brothers divided by ethnic allegiances. Scott said he was drawn to the timely, and sadly timeless, theme of war over religion.
"I don't think you can separate from what's happening today with what was happening then," he said. "It's still fundamentally the same evolution: the same things going wrong, the same lack of understanding, the same refusal to abide peacefully together and to be separated by — sometimes by the same religion, which is happening now."
Christian Bale is Moses and Joel Edgerton is Ramses in the biblical epic, opening Friday. Raised as brothers, the men find themselves on opposite sides as Moses fights to liberate the Israelites long enslaved by the Egyptian pharaoh.
Controversy erupted over Scott's casting of white actors to play ancient Egyptians. The filmmaker mostly blows off the criticism, blaming Hollywood's financing model. It takes big-name actors to make big-budget movies, he said.
"It's always art against economics," he said. "As soon as you're at the higher levels of budgeting, you've got to get the film made and the only way to support the film is to have actors who can support the budget."
The stars of "Exodus" said they were eager to work with the veteran director, who's known for using multiple cameras and little rehearsal time.
That approach suited Bale, who said he was less self-conscious with so many cameras than he would have been with just one.
"When there's multiples, they all disappear," Bale said. "There's so many different angles, and that's wonderful, because you don't get bored with the scene and you don't get tired of it."
Scott skips rehearsals and films from various angles to keep the actors fresh.
"If they're sitting around for hours, they lose it," he said.
Edgerton said he was impressed by the director's fast pace and relaxed demeanor: "It seems like he gets kind of antsy and nervous when it's just a two-header without a hundred horses in the background."
The actor also appreciated that Scott sketched out his approach to various scenes. A quick doodle on a napkin could make things clear, he said.
Scott's background is in fine art. He trained as a painter and worked in graphic design before making commercials, then transitioning to feature film. He made his first movie at age 40, but recently rediscovered the joy of painting.
"I suddenly went out and impetuously bought a canvas — which was way too big, 6-by-4 feet, a big easel — and paints and got in serious trouble and deep frustration trying to get the paint on the bloody canvas," he said. "But it worked out, and that's now hanging in my house in LA: A 6-foot painting of a Jack Russell."