In addition to showing off over half an hour of footage from the Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings during a special press event in Los Angeles [read our recap here], 20th Century Fox hosted a Q&A with one of the stars of the film, Oscar winner Christian Bale. Bale stars as Moses in the dramatic thriller directed by Ridley Scott, co-starring Joel Edgerton as Ramses, and coming to theaters on December 12, 2014. During the Q&A Bale talked about his research process and what it was like working with director Ridley Scott.
Were you a voracious reader and researcher when it came to this role?
Christian Bale: “Yeah. Well, there’s just so much interesting material. The Torah, the Pentateuch which takes a bit of getting through. That took a bit of time, and then sources that people recommended to me. One of them that I enjoyed a great deal was called Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirsch. There’s Legends of the Jews and it just keeps going. The Koran as well.”
What did you find elucidating in all that reading?
Christian Bale: “The big one for me, other than realizing that I really had no idea about Moses at all and just how complex of a character he was – he really was a very troubled and tumultuous man, very mercurial – but the biggest surprise for me was the nature of God, that he equally was very mercurial. Although Moses was able to talk directly with God, there’s an episode where God actually tries to kill Moses, where he threatens to wipe up everybody but Moses and start again, somewhat like Noah, and Moses has to convince him otherwise. The really fascinating thing to me is that there’s absolutely no mention of the afterlife at all. Since Moses was from Egypt where there’s an obsession with death, I was very surprised by that as well. And also really, other than Azazel, this kind of literal scapegoat, there’s really no mention of the Devil. God is described as the god of good and evil. All of this was absolutely fascinating to me.”
This was your first time working with Ridley Scott. What was your relationship before this movie?
Christian Bale: “I mean, admiration on my end for him as a filmmaker. I’d worked with a number of actors who had worked with Ridley and who had said to me, ‘You guys would get along. You should work together.’ So Ridley and I met and just talked a little bit and said, ‘Let’s find something.’ I think that was four years or five years ago. Then he turned up and said, ‘I’ve got something. It’s Moses.’ I went… I said, ‘All right. Like swords and sandals?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, straight up Moses.'”
What were your early conversations like? What did he talk about?
Christian Bale: “The biggest issue was about how much he could include, because it’s so dense. You really could make an eight hour long film, so 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 of revolution. So deciding just to focus up to and through the exodus, I’m not sure you could see there but we went through the crossing of the Red Sea. But then it was very tricky to decide how much further can we go here? Because every little bit that you thought, ‘Well, you can’t not include that,’ would’ve added another half an hour to the film. So there was always regret. You can’t help that, of what you unfortunately just cannot include in, not sure how long the film is, but two hours or whatever.”
There was a TV movie called Moses played by Ben Kingsley. Did you discuss it with him?
Christian Bale: “Yes, I said, ‘Oh, you’ve played Moses. I’m sorry I haven’t seen it.’ He just laughed, because I avoided… Ben Kingsley’s one of my favorite actors [and]part of the reason I didn’t watch it is because there’s time when it’s a wonderful thing to steal from other people. People say, ‘I was inspired by.’ I say, ‘You’re stealing from them.’ But then there’s other ones where you go, ‘Wow, I’ll probably end up taking so much that that’s not a good idea. I have my own ideas. I’ll stick to that.’
The very first film that I rented immediately after meeting with Ridley and whilst I was still trying to get my head wrapped around it and thinking is this something that could be possible, I went and rented The Life of Brian. Which is a real favorite film of mine and a beautifully made film, wonderful film. The point being, not only did I enjoy that film a great deal, but anything where you are approaching it from a very earnest point of view can unintentionally become The Life of Brian very quickly. So it was sort of a guiding light throughout for me. I must confess, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ was kind of always humming through my head. Immediately after that, I rented Mel Brooks’ History of the World. He comes down, he says, ‘We’ve got 15 commandments.’ He drops one, says, ‘Oh, the 10 commandments.’ You still have to get that out of your system and you have to understand what is it that we could unintentionally make funny. And you have to have humor. With something that is 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 just becomes too exhausting.”
Did you rewatch The Ten Commandments?
Christian Bale: “Yes, I did. I did rewatch Ten Commandments. The main difference, you know, you can’t out-Heston Charlton Heston, right? There’s no point in trying to do that, but in my reading from looking at the five books was that this was an incredible weight that he was lifting on his shoulders. This should be something where you see a man who really is straining. That is of his nature. He fought very much against being chosen by God. He kept on saying, ‘It’s not me, it’s not me.’ He kept trying to get out of the gig when he was on the mountain. It was something, you can imagine, this is not an easy job. I felt with the Ten Commandments, it was a very uplifting, doves and [angel chant]. The Moses that was sort of flying almost, like he was going to levitate through the scenes and everything. I felt like our should be someone that is just desperately trying to keep moving forward, because of the just enormous pressure that this is on him.”
Was it nice to look at yourself and feel attractive after American Hustle?
Christian Bale: “I was making American Hustle when Ridley was sending me Steve’s script. And then when I first got back from Boston I went in to see Ridley. My head was absolutely shaved right down to the scalp and I still had all of that girth. He really tried to not show a look of absolute horror at who he had cast. But the nicest thing he could say was, ‘Oh, your hair’s very short.’ I was thankful that I was in these loose fitting tent-like clothes throughout because I was desperately trying to lose weight throughout. I just didn’t feel that would be fitting.”
Did you enjoy the guyliner?
Christian Bale: “In the Egyptian part. These are people who lived as gods and therefore there is a reputation to uphold and a beauty that they must convey. Look, I’ve done a glam rock film before so I was quite good at putting my own eyeliner on.”
Who were you excited to work with in the cast?
Christian Bale: “I think it’s a fantastic cast throughout. I very much enjoyed working with Joel [Edgerton] who we were sort of the constant throughout. Obviously with Ben. There’s 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 that’s a very nice thing because there’s nothing predictable at all.”
Is the scale daunting?
Christian Bale: “Yeah, because I’m a real pratt 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, really, 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.”
Was there a day with 400 frogs?
Christian 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 who were kicking each other and trying to bite me, and camels who, as we were crossing the Red Sea, they liked to relieve themselves a lot. You just get used to the less than glamorous situations and things bobbing up against you that you don’t say what I think it is.”
What did you enjoy about the locations?
Christian Bale: “We shot down in southern Spain in Almeria, desert location for some of it which was used for most of the spaghetti Western films, which was news to me. I assumed the spaghetti Westerns were shot in Italy. That was beautiful in its absolute severity but then we went to one of the Canary Islands, one of the less inhabited ones called Fuerteventura and there’s a beach there which is just phenomenal, which is the beach that Ridley uses for the crossing of the Red Sea. The scene was pretty historic with hundreds and hundreds of extras, all the animals and everything. That was a truly stunning place.”
Is the armor made of rubber?
Christian Bale: “Oh, well, it’s much more comfortable to wear a car tire than metal.”
Was it tough to go away for press for Out of the Furnace and American Hustle during the shoot?
Christian Bale: “It’s kind of a really nice relief, and Ridley produced one of those films anyway so he was all good with it.”
You played Jesus in a TV film and said it gave you nightmares. Did this?
Christian Bale: “No, not at all because usually I just enjoy how silly what I do is. It’s silly but you want to see how far you can push it in a creative way. But with this one, I found that the character was so consuming and exhausting that I was actually far more just myself than anything I’ve ever done before because I couldn’t sustain the intensity of that sort of a character and still last 74 days, which is very quick for a film like this. But it just was too much so I said I have to do a different thing on this one.”
What’s your favorite Ridley Scott movie?
Christian Bale: “The one that keeps coming into my head is Alien, but that was also 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.”
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