Christian Bale was parting the Red Sea as Moses in the Canary Islands, while at work filming Ridley’s Scott film Exodus. In a recent interview in Los Angeles, Bale said that audiences can expect a far cry from what Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille delivered 60 years ago. As he explained, this is an intriguing piece, “because it's very few people that I've met that have actually read the Torah, the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, all the way through,” Bale said. In a movie where violence is a protagonist, Bale said that Moses was not a man of any half measures whatsoever.
Q: How was your shoot in Spain in Almeria?
A: It’s having a hard time. Almeria has definitely seen better days. The people were very friendly and cooperative but it was sad to see how much they needed the work. There’s such unemployment there, that it was sad to hear that the casting people were having to turn hundreds and hundreds of people away. We don’t need more extras, we have thousands already, thank you. That’s sad to hear that that is the situation in a place.
Q: Do you like Spain?
A: I filmed in Spain, Empire of the Sun, The Machinist and now with Moses, and I always have wonderful times there. I’ve got good friends and I just admire wonderful actors who are Spanish, DPs and crew who are wonderful. And it’s sad to see it being in that state right now. It’s no secret to anybody that Spain is having a very, very, very tough time. It’s wonderful to see that in sport, Spain is doing phenomenally. I mean like I said, if I want to be anybody else in this world, I want to be Marc Marquez right now. I mean, I can’t even believe or imagine what it must be like to be that man.
Q: Do you speak Spanish?
A: I do understand more than I speak. That’s the truth.
Q: So when you discovered this character (Moses) did Ridley Scott ask you to watch some movie or read some books, something like that?
A: He didn’t ask me to do anything. He came and we had met before, and then Rid came to my house and we sat down and talked about it and he said he wanted to do the story of Exodus and Moses and I went, I just sort of, long hair and sandals, and he went yeah, and I went, not like some abstract futuristic, he’s not in space or anything. (laughter) So just the story? He went yeah. Okay, fuck me. Me as Moses? Alright, let me think about it for a minute, and he never asked me to look at anything but I inevitably went crap, that’s a big task, and of course we are going to be taking our license with it because every bible takes their license and I read The Bible, I read parts of the Koran that were pertinent to Moses, they are interpretations. Everything is if you are not reading in the original language. But the first research I did, the evening of the day that Ridley asked me to do this, I watched Life of Brian and I watched History of the World, Mel Brooks. Because I went, I love Life of Brian, fantastic film, and I had never seen History of the World. And when Moses is walking down, “I bring you the fifteen commandments,” (laughter) “I bring you ten commandments.” Because like this in their earnestness, can very easily become unintentional Life of Brian’s, so I love that film, but I have to watch it to see, how do we avoid being Life of Brian, because that’s not what we are going for, as much as I love to do that, it’s not what we are going for right now. And that led to kind of an interest which was just meant, I read the Torah, I read parts of the Koran, that pertain to Moses, he’s an incredibly important prophet and all of the religions and I read Legends of the Jews, I read a wonderful book called Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirshen and numerous other things as well. And we got the horse riding and the fighting, the very practical basic physical exertions as well.
Q: How did you train for this physical role, especially compared to American Hustle, where you looked very different.
A: I kind have done that double whammy. Right before I did American Hustle, I was racing on my motorcycle and I had an accident and I had to have brain scans and stuff because I smashed my head up badly, and my wrist is metal, completely, and I can’t really move my wrist properly, that’s it, I have got a metal clavicle, I have got 25 screws up my arm, I am not the most agile with this hand, and if you look in the film you can see that this hand is more withered. This arm is more withered than the other, because I have not been able to do anything with it, I lost all my nerves, I couldn’t move it. So when I first met with Rid, I had the accident afterwards, and I was like this, I was swinging my arm around and I couldn’t do anything, move my fingers at all, nothing, so it was an interesting thing suddenly having to do a bow and arrow, when I was like, this was shaking like crazy, cause the nerves hadn’t grown back properly, and I was trying to do it, but everything came good by the time we actually started filming. I had nerves that have grown back and the body is just phenomenal. And then horse riding I love, I don’t do it in my life but I have always enjoyed doing it for films and archery, etc, I really enjoy that, those physical tasks and things that you get to acquire as a skill with film.
Q: Ridley Scott said that for him, you were the definition of Moses.
A: I don’t know that that’s a compliment, (laughter) because I think the man was lightly schizophrenic, (laughter) and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. Now we don’t broach all of that in the film, but to me, I wanted to look at before and after, but this is a segment, he will become everything he becomes later, now I respect completely that he is the major prophet in Judaism, and a major prophet in Islam and Christianity, and the story is one which is just beyond resonant in human history. But the man was an absolute contradiction, I mean he did phenomenal things and it’s a story of revolution and he did free these slaves who were being kept in a fascist state as slave labor and it was sort of genocide by slave labor, just throw them at these monuments and if they die who cares, much like American labor with Chinese on the railroads, and German nazi’s with Jew’s in WWII. There was extermination but there was also futile work, which people were put to in order to kill them, to digging ditches non-stop which had no purpose. And so he’s a man who did free those people and therefore he’s freedom fighter, to Egypt he’s a terrorist, and then you get the question of okay, once they have achieved their freedom they are on the Exodus and what happens then? And whoa, I was stunned. I had not read the Torah before and I was stunned about the sin of the Golden Calf and his response to it, and I was stunned about this number 31, his response to POW’s and his execution of them as well. He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man, who fought greatly against God, against his calling, when he first meets him, he says, no, that’s not me, you have got the wrong man, and God gets quite angry at him, and he really does and he’s saying, it’s not me. He couldn’t even speak well, because there’s the law that he did have a speech impediment. And I did talk with Ridley about that, but he just felt, and I think quite rightly, he said, look, you having a speech impediment entirely through the movie, no, it’s not going to work. So we have a scar that we say he got through war, since we are making him a general in our movie. But his story has resonated and continues to resonate throughout history and is a fascinating one and he’s definitely a man of his times, I would not want to run into him now at all, (laughter) but he was a very intriguing character to get to play.
Q: As an actor, how do you take pleasure from playing a biblical character?
A: I mean, it’s nothing particularly, because I think you have to move beyond the expectations that inevitably people are going to have, in the same way that you get a Shakespearian play, you get the first two rows of the audience, they are sitting there saying the lines, so they know any time anybody messes up and it’s the same thing, but more so from the Bible, because this requires belief and the code of ethics on how to live your life, and so they are looking for, well what have you included and what have you have not included and inevitably, there will be very important parts of the Bible, that Ridley has chosen not to include which would be important to some audience members. And so you know, I am having to take license with this, and so in doing that, you have to say, well what am I doing, I am there and am going to make this as human as possible and that was always the intention with this film, was to have this be a very human story between Ramses and Moses and what their relationship was. Ridley always said to me from the get go, I don’t want to make this an overtly biblical story, I want to look at that story and then translate it into film or this rivalry between two brothers, that’s what I am interested in making.
(c) America Reads Spanish
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