Director Alex Proyas believes he cast the right actors for Gods of Egypt

Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt. Controversy blew up over the casting of the movie when the poster and trailer for the movie were released last year. Courtney Eaton in Gods of Egypt.

Nikolaji Coster-Waldau as the god Horus.

Brenton Thwaites played a human thief in Gods of Egypt.


He may have apologised for the lack of diversity in the cast of the action-fantasy movie Gods of Egypt butAustralian director Alex Proyas remains convinced he chose the right actors.

On the eve of the Australian-shot movie opening wide in the US and this country, the filmmaker behind The Crow,Dark City, I, Robot and Knowing has a pragmatic view of the controversy that blew up when the poster and trailer for the movie were released late last year, drawing flak on social media for the predominantly white cast playing ancient Egyptian mortals and gods.

“It’s a fact of life,” Proyas says. “It’s the world we live in right now. The movie is not the best platform for this debate so I’ll leave to others to discuss inclusiveness in Hollywood movies.

“I keep coming back to the fact the movie is a fantasy, it’s an adventure, it’s not based on any historical ideas.

“I tried to cast the movie as inclusively as possible in terms of all races really – white, black and Asian – so to me it seems to be an appropriate way to cast a movie like this.”

Gods of Egypt centres on a young human thief (Brenton Thwaites from Home and Away and Maleficent), who enlists the help of the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones) to bring his beloved (Courtney Eaton from Mad Max: Fury Road) back from the dead and battle the god Set (300’s Gerard Butler) who has taken over the Egyptian empire.

As well as a Dane and a Scot in starring roles, the $US140 million movie also features American Chadwick Boseman, France’s Elodie Yung, England’s Rufus Sewell and Australians Geoffrey Rush, Abby Lee, Bryan Brown and Emma Booth.

The outcry in November followed similar social media storms over Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, which had Emma Stone as an Asian-American character, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which had Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Ramses. It came just before the nomination of 20 white actors for the Academy Awards for the second consecutive year re-ignited the #oscarssowhite campaign.

Quickly scotching the criticism, Proyas issued an apology, saying: “The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologise to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”

The studio behind the movie, Lionsgate, also apologised, saying: “We recognise that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity.”

In a detailed post on Facebook last month, Proyas said the factors behind the casting included the studio requiring “names” to finance a movie of the scale of Gods of Egypt, restrictions on importing actors and the limited pool of English-speaking Egyptian actors.

“I cast the best actors for the roles,” he wrote. “I stand by these decisions.

“The casting is an attempt to include ALL people – partly suggestive of the Egypt I know based on my own cultural heritage but clearly and most importantly a work of the ‘imagination’ … to exclude any one race in service of a hypothetical theory of historical accuracy, particularly in a film that is not attempting to be ‘history’, rather a fantasy film, would have been biased.”

Proyas’ heritage drew him to the movie, which is written by Americans Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter).

“I’ve been a long time fan of Egyptian mythology,” he says now. “I’ve always wanted to make a movie about the gods of Egypt from when I was a kid.

“I was born in Egypt and my granddad would tell me these stories from a very young age. He was quite a good visual artist and he used to do drawings of Horus. Being a visual guy from the beginning, I was drawn to this wonderful image of this human form with a bird’s head.

“I remember him telling me the myth of Set and Horus [their battles to see who would succeed Osiris as ruler] which is what this story is essentially about.”

It took five months of shooting in Sydney and another year working on the visual effects to finish Proyas’ biggest movie to date.

“It’s an epic in every conceivable way,” he says. “It’s inspired for me very much by movies I saw as a kid – films like The Man Who Would Be King and Lawrence of Arabia.

“A lot of these movies that were incredible action-adventure stories set in exotic lands. This is very much a fantasy, much more so than those films were.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark was an influence on the tone of a “fun rollercoaster ride” that draws heavily on computer-generated technology to create environments and characters.

Proyas describes the movie as “a buddy story” that brought technical challenges because Thwaites’ thief, Bek, is normal human height while Horus is nine feet (2.74 metres) tall.

“They’re constantly interacting, often in a humorous way, in action sequences,” he says. “So they’re grabbing each other and pushing each other and jumping on each other’s backs and running like crazy and that’s a real technical feat to achieve.”

The movie was shot at Fox Studios, with a set built in Centennial Park for a scene featuring Horus and Bek being chased by two 30-metre-long fire-breathing snakes.

“It felt like I made the movie once as a live-action movie then I made it over again just to create this incredible epic landscape of this fantasy world,” Proyas says.

Gods of Egypt is in cinemas now.

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