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Christian Bale explains his Moses role in new ‘Exodus’

PARIS — As we sat down to chat about Christian Bale’s performance as Moses in Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” — the new film (opening Friday) about the Biblical story of the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt — the Oscar-winning actor first recalled a favorite Chicago memory from his time making “The Dark Knight” here.

“Have you been to Gibsons lately?” Bale asked me, turning to Scott, who was sitting next to him in a suite at Paris’ famed Bristol Hotel. The actor then went on to vividly describe the well-known Chicago restaurant’s gigantic dessert portions, “where no normal human could ever finish one of their desserts.” Bale then explained to Scott how Gibsons’ waiters also “bring out a platter of the most enormous steaks for you to choose from. It’s great — the biggest, most indulgent food you’d ever want to eat.”

While Scott’s eyes did light up at the description of some tasty treats (after all, lunchtime was fast approaching), he nicely pivoted into a discussion of why he made “Exodus” and his fascination with stories from ancient times — he did, after all, direct “Gladiator,” which won five Oscars, including best picture.

“I’m always attracted, without sounding pretentious, to various, specific universes — whether it’s ‘Alien,’ or ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Kingdom [of Heaven],’ or ‘Black Hawk Down’ or ‘Gladiator.’ The places where stories take place fascinate me,” said Scott.

“In this case, the story came to me. I didn’t develop it. I read the script without honestly knowing that much about Moses, other than what I call religious instruction from my school days. I read it and got steeped in it, because there was so much I realized I didn’t know about this person. His entire evolution throughout his entire existence was an amazing story. Additionally, another interesting aspect was that I had never done Egypt before in a film. So to do Egypt was also a fascinating challenge.”

Related: Richard Roeper reviews ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

As for Bale, he nodded as I quoted a line from the “Exodus” production notes in which Scott said he interpreted the essence of Moses as being more of a “man of the people — more like a steelworker, than a pharaoh,” in terms of his approach to life. The steelworker reference reminded me of Bale’s recent outing in “Out of the Furnace.”

The actor chuckled at the connection.

“When you think of Moses — what a story!” said Bale. “Here was a guy who was central to the formation of a new civilization — a lawgiver for people learning to live together as a society, after centuries of being slaves in Egypt.”

While Bale expressed great respect for what the late Charlton Heston had done with his portrayal of Moses in “The Ten Commandants,” the actor said “I can’t do his thing, the way he had connected the dots — so to speak — working backwards in time to the time of Moses and ancient Egypt.

“I decided to go about it in a very different way and focus more on the aspect of Moses as a common man thrown into uncommon circumstances. I was more about him doubting himself — something that IS in the Bible, by the way. We were more about Moses wrestling with God, fighting and arguing with God. He doesn’t want the job. Expressing the terror of meeting God face-to-face, and then wondering if he’s doing the right thing.”

When the discussion turned to the casting of young English actor Isaak Andrews, 12, who plays Malak — the physical representation of God in “Exodus” — Bale first quipped, “That’s because Morgan Freeman wasn’t available.” (Freeman famously played God in “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty.”)

Bale had high praise for Andrews. “It’s always great when you find a young actor who’s got this natural ability,” he said. “It was a wonderful idea of Ridley’s casting God as a young boy. How on Earth do you represent God? And Moses was supposedly the only man who ever actually sat in God’s presence and saw him.

“How do you present that?”