(ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY) — Thou Shall Not Attempt to Outdo Charlton Heston. Okay, so that’s not an official Hollywood commandment, but the prospect of taking on the role of Moses in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12) did give Christian Bale pause. “Charlton Heston does Charlton Heston better than anyone,” says Bale. “But the biblical account of Moses is extraordinary, and there was lots of room for us to go to places that [Heston’s movie] The Ten Commandments never dreamed of going.” (Bale’s biggest stipulation before signing on? “No fake beards,” he says with a laugh.)

A pivotal figure in the Old Testament, Moses was a prophet who fought against Pharaoh Ramses to free 600,000 slaves, whom he then led through the desert to escape from Egypt and its 10 deadly plagues. (Along the way he parted the Red Sea and unveiled the Ten Commandments.) But the biblical journey was even more epic than the director remembered. “What I thought I knew about Moses I didn’t really,” Scott says. “Either I wasn’t paying attention in Sunday school or I had forgotten. I was knocked out by who he was and the basics of the story—it has to be one of the greatest adventures and spiritual experiences that could ever have been.”

For his 22nd film, Scott assembled an IMDb-busting cast, including Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, and Aaron Paul.

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