LOS ANGELES – It takes a brave and gifted actor like Christian Bale to take on a larger-than-life role, Moses, especially since the biblical character was powerfully played by the late Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s colossal “The Ten Commandments.”
And leave it to Christian to talk about playing the prophet, an important figure in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other faiths, with a mixture of seriousness and levity in this interview.
It also takes a director like Ridley Scott to attempt a retelling of the epic tale of Moses, who rises up against Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and leads hundreds of thousands of slaves on a journey of escape from Egypt and its deadly plagues in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
No less than four writers—Steven Zaillian, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Jeffrey Caine—are credited in writing “Exodus” which also stars Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro and an array of international actors.
Christian was recently in the news for turning down what could have been another important role in his career, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, in director Danny Boyle’s “Jobs.” Reports say that Christian simply concluded he was not right for the part (we think the talented actor is and we hope he reconsiders his decision).
The actor and his wife, Sandra “Sibi” Blazic, welcomed a son last August. Christian revealed in our chat that their daughter, Emmeline, appears as an extra in “Exodus.” He told us, “She was just standing around on the set one day and Ridley said, ‘Do you want to stick her in an Egyptian outfit?’ She ended up standing next to John Turturro briefly.”
Below are excerpts:
About six or seven years ago, Ridley Scott invited you to tea and asked you about playing Moses.
My first question was like, “As in Moses Moses?” I asked, “Like a different thing or like swords and sandals, the whole thing?” He went, “Swords and sandals.” The first thing I said was, “If I do this, I don’t want any glue-on beards and hair.” He went, “Done.” Then we talked about it over a few months. He sent me variations (of the look).
Steve Zaillian was writing the script. I gradually came to think that, when you are asked to play someone like Moses, it’s a little preposterous, isn’t it? That you can do that. But gradually, I saw that Ridley wanted to take a much more human approach to this character. I thought, yeah, great, I want to do it.
What was your reaction when you first saw yourself dressed as Moses? Did you take any selfies?
Absolutely. I sent them to my wife. The first time you stick on the whole Moses garb, you have to share that with somebody. We went through a lot of different experiments (with the hair). I shaved my head and had one of those braids sticking out of the side.
We had all sorts of Egyptian wigs and things. Every time we put them on, each of us would just be crying with laughter. It just didn’t work and I couldn’t carry it off. Obviously, Moses is such an iconic figure. But I was coming off another film where I had a completely shaved head. So it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to grow long hair.
I said, “Look, are we really going to get hung up on hair with something that is one of the most defining stories in mankind’s history? Is hair going to be one of the most important things?”
We said no, forget that. It shouldn’t be—the emotions, passions of the man, the all-too human nature of Moses is what should be important. So eventually we came back to, “Let’s use Christian’s hair”—which I loved.
And the eyeliner?
Those guys were sort of the glam rockers of their era. Certainly, you look at Ramses. He’s like Liberace with Mr. T and a fair amount of RuPaul thrown in there for good measure. They were meant to be brought up as gods. Certainly, with Ramses and the pharaohs … they believed themselves to be beautiful specimens. They added the eyeliners and made themselves up.
In playing such an important character, did you feel an extra responsibility?
First, you get over about being asked by Ridley to play Moses. Then you start to realize, can I truly handle a figure as important as this, who means so much to so many people?
Then you have other people, who are absolutely indifferent and who consider Moses to be irrelevant.
And you are going to encounter people who live and die by their religion and who, in a more light-hearted manner, I compare to the first couple of rows in a Shakespeare play. They are reciting lines as you are doing the play. People who know the story backwards will always ask, “Why didn’t you include this piece, that piece?” I feel that we have given the origin story of Moses in this one, this sort of birth of the prophet-to-be.
But you also have people who are going to say, “Why? Why are you making this film? It’s totally irrelevant. What has it got to do with these times?” I think they will be surprised just how relevant it still is, regardless of whether it was a historical fact—that’s interesting.
But to me, what’s far more interesting is the symbolism of what Moses represents, regardless of whether he really existed…
What’s your own calling in life? Has it changed through the years?
Yeah, absolutely. In your younger years, your calling is, you are going to do whatever you are going to do to the max, to the extreme. You are going to risk everything. You are going to take it to the limit. You are going to survive. That never stops being a thrill but right now, my thrill is my family. I have this reason for being here with them. That’s my calling right now and it will always be, forever.
How does that calling fit in with your work?
We all go together. I incorporate it. These are good experiences. We get to travel, go to interesting places. They get to see me dress up and be silly. That’s all a good life.
(E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.)