‘Exodus’ star Christian Bale on playing Moses: ‘You can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston’

Fox offered a peek at its “Exodus: Gods and Kings” for the media at the Zanuck Theater, where Christian Bale told the audience it’s very different from previous versions of the tale. “You can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston,” he deadpanned, adding that the Moses here is “a troubled and tumultuous man.”

The preview consisted of eight scenes from the film, adding up to 37 minutes. Producer Jenno Topping provided context between the scenes, and while she emphasized the complexity of Moses, the biggest take-away was the complexity of the production.

Judging by the footage, the Ridley Scott-helmed epic falls into the “they don’t make em like that anymore” category, with big battle scenes and aerial panoramas of ancient cities, rustic settlements and military camps, all rendered in 3D CGI glory. And the footage really shifted into high gear with the depiction of four of the 10 plagues. (Spoiler alert: The locusts steal the show.)

Topping (who was introduced by Jim Gianopulos) saluted director Ridley Scott for shooting the film in only 74 days, with six 3D cameras always rolling. From a production point of view, “This movie was kind of a nightmare, it was hugely ambitious.” She said the film includes 1,500 visual effects, and reminded 200-plus media members that the visual effects and music were temps.

Awards chances? Impossible to tell, based on snippets. But all the artisan contributions look mighty impressive.

After the footage, Dave Karger of Fandango conducted a Q&A with Bale, who said his knowledge of Moses was minimal, so he read up extensively, studying everything from “Moses: A Life,” by Jonathan Kirsch, to the Koran. He described Moses as “A troubled and tumultuous man, very mercurial,” but said God is also mercurial, with “a God of good and evil,” with no mention of the devil or even the afterlife.

After agreeing to do “Exodus,” the first films he watched were “The Life of Brian” and “Mel Brooks History of the World, Part I,” to get a humorous perspective before tackling “something as earnest and heavyweight as this.”

Asked about the pressure of having such a big-scale production, with a large cast, on his shoulders, Bale said “I’m a real prat.” Rather than basking in his role as the center of attention, it was more like “Look at all the people, what are they waiting for? Oh, me… Ridley, you should have cast somebody else.” That’s in keeping with attitude of Moses, who resisted the “incredible pressure put on him” of saving all these people, and told God to pick someone else for the leader role: “He kept trying to get out of the gig.”

The biggest problem, he said: Figuring out what to include, since there was enough material to fill an eight-hour film. “Steve Zaillian, who wrote the film, felt it was really a story of revolution,” he added.

Bale said “because the character was so consuming, exhausting….I couldn’t sustain the intensity of the character,” so he felt more like himself during the production than in most other shoots.

The actor had talked with Scott four or five years ago about finding a project together. Bale liked the script that Scott sent, and they agreed to the film. Bale finally met with Scott just after wrapping “American Hustle,” and he still had the shaved head and the weight gain. The director “really tried not to show a look of absolute horror.”

The film opens in a few territories Dec. 4, then its global rollout includes Israel, Dec. 11; the U.S., Dec. 12; U.K., Dec. 25; Egypt, Dec. 26; and Japan, Jan.30.

Also in the cast are Joel Edgerton as Pharaoh Ramses, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. The script is by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Zaillian. Aside from Topping, producers are Peter Chernin, Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam.

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