At a recent look at clips from the coming movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Hollywood’s latest Old Testament extravaganza, Christian Bale was asked where he placed himself on a knowledge scale of the escape-from-Egypt saga when he was cast as Moses: from basic Sunday school to scriptural scholar. “Charlton Heston,” he said.
Bale has some large sandals to fill in following Heston’s iconic portrayal of the Hebrew hero in the beloved 1956 blockbuster, “The Ten Commandments.”
“You can’t out-Heston Heston,” Bale said from a screening room on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, which is releasing “Exodus”, directed by Ridley Scott, this Christmas.
Bale said his Moses is less overtly righteous, and more conflicted. A Moses for modern times — though truer, in some ways, to the source material that describes Moses as having difficulty accepting God’s commands.
In one scene, Bale’s Moses, raised in the Pharoah’s house as the brother to the Egyptian prince, smirks at an Egyptian priestess attempting to read the future in the entrails of a bird. In another, he mocks the faith of the Hebrew slaves and lectures them on the dangers of “fanaticism.”
Bale quickly surpassed Sunday school basics and to prepare for the role, delving into scripture and literary works. He read the first five books of the Bible, the Koran, as well as Louis Ginzberg’s classic, “Legends of the Jews”; and Jonathan Kirsch’s “Moses: A Life.”
“I had no idea about Moses,” Bale said, “He is mercurial, troubled.” But, he said, “most surprising” to him was “the nature of God, and that He equally was mercurial.”
Bale sought to portray a complex personality challenged by his mission from God to face off against the mighty Pharoah and free his people from slavery. “This should be something where you see a man struggling,” he said. “He kept trying to get out of the gig.”
“Exodus” is just the latest big-budget biblical spectacle from Hollywood, which has already worked its way through the first two books of the Bible with the release “Noah” earlier this year from Genesis, and now the Jewish flight in “Exodus.” The upcoming slate of spiritual fare includes Brad Pitt playing Pontious Pilate in a movie in development at Warner Bros., with other scripts featuring Bible figures like Jesus’ mother Mary making the rounds in Hollywood.
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