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Archive for Friday, November 3, 2000

An unlikely actor portrays Moses

In the Beginning’ miniseries departs from usual casting for biblical figure

November 3, 2000

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— Billy Campbell as Moses?

Even Campbell doesn't see himself playing the tough, bearded biblical figure.

"Let's face it, I don't think I'm good casting for Moses," whispered Campbell. "Frankly, if I didn't have a hit show on TV, nobody would have called me."

Campbell stars as Moses in the four-hour miniseries, "In the Beginning," which airs 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Nov. 12-13, on NBC.

Charlton Heston he isn't, and Campbell, who plays the handsome, considerate, romantic Rick Sammler on "Once and Again," agreed it's an odd choice.

He was seated in a bowling alley in suburban Woodland Hills, the location for a scene for his TV series, now in its second season. He was keeping his voice low, not necessarily because of what he was saying but because of the filming that was going on behind him.

"In the Beginning" uses a huge cast and special effects to bring familiar Bible stories to life. The stars include Martin Landau, Jacqueline Bisset, Alan Bates, Diana Rigg and Christopher Lee.

Although he felt ill-suited to play Moses, Campbell said he took the role for (a) the interesting challenge, (b) the paycheck and (c) because it gave him a chance to visit Morocco, where much of the filming took place.

Campbell didn't think about Heston, who portrayed Moses in the 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments."

"If I had ever thought about it, I would never have got anything done," he said.

Campbell makes his appearance as Moses in the Nov. 13 segment. He's cleanshaven for just a few scenes. His beard grows longer, wilder and more gray as Moses ages.

Kevin Connor, the miniseries' British director, described Campbell as "a peaceful, calm man to deal with, happy to sit under a palm tree and read a book until we needed him."

He said the actor's 6-foot-4-inch stature was a plus for the depiction of the commanding Moses.

Campbell didn't approach the role from any religious perspective.

"What's that game they used to play in high school, when they line up the whole class and give the first person a sentence to whisper to the next person? Telephone. That's what the Bible is, a big old game of Telephone," Campbell said.

Campbell, 41, grew up in Charlottesville, Va. Although both his parents married and divorced several times, he doesn't think he has any special insight for his role on "Once and Again," which explores the dilemmas of modern-day divorce.

He is amused, and a little puzzled, by some of the things written about him on Web sites.

Is he a die-hard bachelor? "I don't know about that!"

Is he an heir to the Champion spark plug fortune? "Technically true, but it sounds a lot better than it was. It means that when I was 18, I got a lump of money which was less that I get per episode now. It was gone in two minutes. Yet I suppose, once an heir, always an heir."

Does he have an uncanny resemblance to actor Tyrone Power? "Huh. I never thought of it." Assured of the late star's stunning looks, he reluctantly accepts the comparison as "semitrue."

"It's weird that this stuff exists," he said.

Campbell studied commercial art (briefly) in Chicago before turning to acting. Initially he was credited more formally as William or Bill, but "finally realized I'm too old to be taking myself seriously. So I changed it to what it's always been and what everyone has always called me Billy."

His films include "The Rocketeer" and "Gettysburg."

In his spare time, he plays the rough-and-tumble game of rugby.

He's a huge fan of Patrick O'Brian's seafaring novels and would love a role in a film version. "If they needed a one-armed pirate, I would cut off a limb."

Meanwhile, he's occupied with "Once and Again," written by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, creators of "thirtysomething." The ABC series airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Campbell stars as an attractive divorced dad in love with an attractive divorced mom.

"It's about small moments, the moments between people, not so much about things going on in the world. It's kind of interior," said Campbell, who described the writing as "poignant."

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