Wizard Universe interviewed the Dark Knight detective himself, Christian Bale, HANDS DOWN the best Batman that has ever graced the big and small screen!
[‘DARK KNIGHT’ EXCLUSIVE] CHRISTIAN BALE: BEHIND THE COWL
The Welsh actor is the son of a circus performer and is trained in ballet and guitar
By Bob Thompson
Posted December 5, 2007 9:10 AM
For such a complex actor, Christian Bale is a fairly uncomplicated guy. He doesn’t have an entourage or an attitude and when he describes what he does for a living, he has a sense of humor about his self-involved ways.
Even as he is knee deep filming the second in the rebooted Batman series, “The Dark Knight,” Bale recalls way back when at the original audition and he does so with a sly, self-deprecating grin.
It was not an easy time, he remembers, trying to convince director Christopher Nolan, that he was the guy for the Caped Crusader job. As shocking as it may seem now that he has proven himself beyond a shadow of a “Batman Begins” doubt, there was a time when Bale was considered risky business.
How could that American Psycho pull off the lead role in the reinvention of the comic book series everybody knew and wanted to re-love?
The potential for a poor fit wasn’t necessarily because he was a Welsh actor. And it wasn’t because he had a notable but very independent unique streak. Mostly it was because he seemed more intrigued with the bizarre and the unfamiliar than the mainstream. And worse yet, so did his fan base.
The frontrunners at that oh-so-critical, near-elimination phase were Irish actor Colin Farrell and up-and-comer Jake Gyllenhaal, both of whom had a heartthrob history and potential bankability.
But the tenacious Bale remembers fighting diligently to make the finals, so he wasn’t about to retreat from the challenge just because a few studio suits couldn’t see beyond their bottom lines.
As it turned out, Nolan’s hunch about Bale was right on the money just as the director’s time-shifting style and more grown up approach rejuvenated what had become a cartoonish joke with Joel Schumacher’s damaging 1997 release of the universally reviled “Batman & Robin.”
Still, suiting up Bale as Batman counted back then as a more dangerous proposition than the previous ones, including Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer or even George Clooney, who had the unenviable task of always apologizing on behalf of Schumacher for the franchise-disabling results.
In the midst of the campaigning, Bale says he had a few things going for him. For one, there was his friendly but fierce tenacity. For another, there was his obsessive-compulsive disorder, as he calls it. The same flaw which had previously allowed him to immerse himself in some extreme and demanding roles.
“So by the time I actually came to be considered seriously for Batman,” recalls Bale with a slight smirk, “I’d become so focused about it, I viewed the role as mine, even before they gave it to me.”
That hopeless devotion proved to be another undeniable positive from Nolan’s point of view, and Nolan was, indeed, no stranger to pushing the envelope of re-invention as defined by his acclaimed and admired piece of cinema, “Memento.”
Looking back on the Bale selection after collaborating with him on “Batman Begins,” “The Prestige” and now “The Dark Knight,” the director marvels at Bale’s capacity to involve himself in whatever he is assigned, whether it’s suiting up for a dangerous action sequence or quieting down for an intimate shift of quiet restraint.
“He locks those eyes on you, and that’s it,” reports Nolan. “His attention to detail is incredible, and so is his nuance. He’s mature way beyond his years.”
In show biz terms, that makes sense. Bale was born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, the youngest of four kids, hovering around a hustling entrepreneur, pilot and talent manager father David Bale and a so-called performance clown mother Jenny James.
Not surprisingly, Bale spent much of early childhood on the road in the U.K. and the United States. Eventually, the Bales settled in Bournemouth, where the youngest Bale attended Bournemouth School. And while he played rugby, the child was decidedly different from his other chums. He also trained in ballet and guitar. His father, who later married famed feminist Gloria Steinem in 2000, encouraged his youngest son to pursue acting, becoming his manager in the process. TV commercials followed, then the young Bale made his stage debut at the age of eight in Rowan Atkinson’s West End play, “The Nerd.”
A few films and a miniseries followed but his coming-out party arrived when he was hired as the lead at 13 in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun.” The praise and attention almost proved too much for the sensitive young teenager to bear, but Kenneth Branagh persuaded the father, and more importantly his actor son, to appear in Branagh’s acclaimed film version of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV.”
A smattering of other studio movies followed—“Newsies,” “Swing Kids,” “Little Women”—but Bale maintains he was still searching for a reason to continue his craft in what he says now was a period “making me slide into a kind of mediocrity I didn’t enjoy.”
In 1999, Bale contends, he found a new enthusiasm for his craft after shooting an updated version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer.
That positive experience gave him the courage and confidence and the creative energy to tackle the notorious role of the yuppie serial killer in the often-misunderstood satire “American Psycho” in 2000.
That same year he married Sandra Blazic, a former model, and personal assistant to Winona Ryder, Bale’s “Little Women” co-star. In 2005, the couple had a daughter, Emmaline. And while the actor says his family situation changed his personal outlook, he still has a professional attitude that makes him take chances.
Not that those chances led to smart choices all of the time, especially in 2001 and 2002. He was in the John Madden adaptation of the best-selling novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” with Nicolas Cage, which was a mistake in almost every way, especially for Bale who was relegated to an afterthought.
“Laurel Canyon” in 2002 was his small but ignored feature which belonged to Frances McDormand. “Reign of Fire” served as Bale’s debut in the action genre but nothing could save it from dudsville. “Equilibrium” was Bale’s third film in 2002 but it was neither charmed nor widely circulated, although it did prepare the actor for his martial arts future in “Batman Begins” as he had to learn hand-to-hand combat attack skills for the film.
Back to his future as a risk taker, Bale played Trevor Reznik in 2004’s “The Machinist,” dropping a shocking 60 pounds to define his character. The dedication to the role at the expense of his own health—as seen in his 120-pound frame for “The Machinist”—seems to be a theme in Bale’s single-minded compulsion for what he does.
“I do like the times when I get totally consumed by things,” he says. “Those are the times I feel a purpose which is when I am the happiest in life.”
More accurately defining the actor’s need to succeed at challenging himself was his varied slate in 2006.
In “Rescue Dawn,” German filmmaker Werner Herzog had him playing a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War struggling to survive in the jungles after being shot down. Filmed in the jungles of Thailand, Bale, in the name of realistic Herzog moviemaking, ate maggots, rode on helicopter slats, was bitten by a snake and tortured by ants—none of which he regrets.
“C’mon,” he says, “how many times do you get to hang out of a helicopter zooming low over the top of the jungles in Thailand?”
Terrence Malick’s improvised U.S. $30 million independent production of “The New World” proved to be less frantic but just as mind-boggling and often distracting but one which Bale quickly embraced. “Some actors might not like it much,” he says of Malick’s haphazard approach. “But I learned to love it.
“Many times he would say to us, ‘Here’s the scene. Here’s the dialogue’ and, at the last minute, he would say, ‘If you don’t like saying it, don’t say it,’ ” says Bale.
On “The Prestige,” more predictable because of the special effects, the actor reunited with Nolan in the turn-of-the-century drama about magicians which also featured Hugh Jackman and was notable for its strict adherence to shape and form.
As a modest Bale says, he was initially hesitant to contact Nolan about “The Prestige” “because I really didn’t know if Chris would only see me as Batman.”
As it turned out, Nolan says that he was thrilled his Caped Crusader was willing and able to take on the role of Borden in “The Prestige,” chuckling at the thought of not wanting Bale in one of his films.
“I was the one who thought it would be a long road for Christian to do three films in a row with me, but he really seemed up for it,” says Nolan, who went straight into “The Prestige” after “Batman Begins” before starting “The Dark Knight.”
What we do know for sure is that Nolan reports that Bale and Heath Ledger—cast as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”—share some of the same qualities. “They both have a youthful energy and a fearlessness,” says Nolan.
In fact, his “Prestige” co-star Jackman was thrilled and surprised by the professional and the personal sides of Bale.
For instance, Jackman knew he had to bring his A-game with the understanding that he’d be acting opposite the intense Bale, since “The Prestige” showcased the two competing magicians in many scenes together.
In the end, the down-to-earth Jackman was overcome by his colleague’s multitasking on both sides of the camera.
“I find him inspiring,” says Jackman of Bale. “He’s incredibly truthful in everything he does. And it became obvious he wanted to make the movie more than just a two-hander between the two leading men at odds with each other.”
What was the surprise? Jackman was relieved that Bale saved his intensity for his work in front of the camera only. “He did his characters and I did my characters separately, but as people we got on incredibly well,” recalls the always optimistic actor who at first suspected the depth of Bale’s performances might be reflected by a moody persona.
As it turned out, the unlikely pair became best buddies. “We had play dates with our kids,” says Jackman, “and I really enjoyed his company for different reasons on and off the set.”
Certainly, Nolan was enthusiastic about having Bale “lead by example” as he took on the difficult assignment of continuing the momentum of “Batman Begins” with “The Dark Knight,” the first Batman movie without the winged one mentioned in the title.
Maintaining that ominous tone is a featured attraction that Bale and Nolan happily agree is required in the next edition as the dual personality lives in the shadows between do-gooder and dangerous vigilante.
Batman represents a hero by any standards, and one that is quintessentially an American icon, which is ironic given Bale’s background as a wandering Welshman.
Still, not only does Bale do a straightforward American Midwestern accent for his roles, he does Batman interviews the same way. He did so while promoting “Batman Begins” and promises to repeat for “The Dark Knight.” Just like flipping a switch—not unlike the switch from foppish playboy Bruce Wayne to the all-business Batman—Bale transforms from suave European to All-American boy next door.
“I just feel like Batman is such an American character,” he says, “there is no choice really. And in representing him, by doing the interviews as an American, I didn’t want to be sounding English, because that would just plain be peculiar.
“I would expect,” says Bale, switching in mid-sentence to a veddy English accent, “people to be saying, ‘What the hell is he on about? Why do we have an English Batman?’”
No worries. The personal envelope of the Dark Knight defines the character more than syntax. And even if he felt a little Elish or Welsh seep in, it would always disappear once the costume came on.
“The very first time I put on the wardrobe, it was actually for the ‘Batman Begins’ screen test, so it wasn’t specifically made for me,” recalls the actor. “But it didn’t matter. It became clear quickly that if I had that Batsuit on I would always feel that American beast within.”
And he will again with “The Dark Knight.” “I’m kind of enjoying that possibility because we’re probably on slightly safer ground now with the second one,” he says, although he won’t be specific about the movie’s details.
What he will say is that he’s cautious. And he’s not assuming just because the first one worked the second one will, as well.
“There’s the great danger of becoming too comfortable,” he says. “And obviously with the second Batman you have to outdo the first. But I have great faith in [Christopher Nolan], that what he pulls out of the hat will be even better.”
So the key to the next Batman just might be the inner turmoil of the very rich Bruce Wayne and the very unstable avenger Batman. Bale won’t confirm either way.
“But I think that because he continues to channel his rage so much into the Batman character, he is creating that as a creature, as kind of a monster, in a way that’s kind of demonic therapy for him,” says Bale getting into the analysis.
Could be that “The Dark Knight’s” “negative emotions” might get transformed into Bruce Wayne so that his everyday life becomes even more unbearable.
“So Bruce becomes a performer most of the time, whether it’s the wasteful playboy or the angry young man, he’s never really letting anybody inside,” says the actor. “The only person who really knows who he is, is Alfred [Michael Caine].”
Indeed, his servant and his butler and his assistant “turns out to be the closest thing he has to his father figure,” says Bale.
So perhaps there are some burgeoning personality disorders on the horizon.
“That might be true,” says Bale, smiling. “And I love playing the demonic Batman. But I gotta tell you, the vacuous ass-playboy is as much fun as the angry, young soulful man.”
Freelancer Bob Thompson also likes to adopt foreign accents. He does a real mean Kazakhstan dialect.
When it comes to getting into his roles, few actors this side of Robert De Niro go to greater lengths than Christian Bale. Just take a look at how he’s transformed his body in these roles.
AMERICAN PYSCHO (2000)
Although he labels working out as “incredibly boring,” Bale trained three hours a day for six weeks to transform into wealthy New York City investment banker Patrick Bateman, a psychotic killer obsessed with his looks.
THE MACHINIST (2004)
Bale dropped an incredible—and extremely unhealthy—63 pounds to play an emaciated insomniac. His diet consisted of salads, apples, gum and cigarettes. Bale reportedly wanted to drop to 100 pounds but filmmakers wouldn’t allow it.
HARSH TIMES (2005)
Bale hit the gym again to prep for the role of a deranged, ex-Army Ranger who suffers from post-traumatic stress and gets caught up in a life of petty crime when his dream job with the Los Angeles Police Department fails to materialize.
RESCUE DAWN (2006)
As a U.S. fighter pilot fighting to survive after being shot down and captured in Laos during the Vietnam War, Bale again had to drop weight to get into character, but not as much as co-star Steve Zahn, who shed 40 pounds.