Speaking at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where he came to promote the new Batman instalment, Christian Bale, who has portrayed the comic book character Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), reveals that he has never watched any other comic book movies, not even Spider-Man, Iron Man or Superman.
“I haven’t seen any of them except for these ones,” he concedes. “Primarily because I go to see movies that my daughter tells me she would like and I think are appropriate for her. I’m not attempting to ignore them. I’d like to see the others probably, but it’s not the time in my life.”
But even before his 7-year-old daughter was born, Bale was not interested in comic book movies. In fact, he hadn’t watched any of the previous Batman movies, before he was cast by director Christopher Nolan to play the iconic character. Nonetheless, when he landed the coveted role he was awe-struck.
“I was not approached to play it,” he recalls, smiling. “I met with Chris Nolan and I had read Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. I had a very strong idea of a Batman that I would like to see, that I hadn’t seen before and that surprised me.”
Bale envisioned a darker, more serious and complex Batman than the ones seen in previous movies. “I thought someone dressed like that is either an idiot or you’ve got to understand that he takes it very seriously. And the point is that Bruce Wayne is not a healthy superhero, who has managed to turn his pain into something good. But he’s in great danger of the pain overcoming that good. But he takes this very seriously and the reason he dresses this way is to feel monstrous.”
Nolan was impressed by Bale’s ideas and subsequently invited him for an audition. “I did a monstrous reading for Chris and Warner Bros. I did something that was very extreme and they seemed to love it,” Bale marvels.
For a number of days after the audition, Bale thought that he had made the biggest idiot out of himself ever. “But it was the only way that I could see that I could play this,” he exclaims. “I just wouldn’t believe it myself if I just stood in there and spoke like an ordinary bloke.The character ceases to be human when he steps inside of that suit, if he is going to be taking himself seriously.”
This was not the first time that Bale had delved deep into his role. Known for his utter dedication and assiduous preparation for his roles, he often pushes his physical and mental limits to extremes. While shooting American Psycho, he secluded himself from the rest of the cast and crew in order to retain the darker side of a maniacal killer. He also subjected himself to a crash diet of coffee and apples, reducing his weight by 2 stone in order to attain his emaciated look in The Machinist. Then he regained all his muscle mass, doubling his weight in less than 6 months, while readying himself to play the superhero in Batman Begins.
For his Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter, he was able to transform his physical appearance, losing 2 stone and wearing makeup and prosthetics that made him look almost indistinguishable from his real-life character, Dicky Ecklund.
Once he finds his character and immerses himself into its world, Bale avoids discussing it with his directors. “Often people talk way too much,” he protests, waving his hand dismissively. “Usually I say ‘hey, I don’t want to talk about it whatsoever, let’s just do it,’ because you understand what you mean more by action than by words.”
The British actor, who has never attended drama school or had formal training in acting, says that his devotion to his job stems from his obsession with it. “Obsession is essential in life. You can’t do anything without it. Those moments where you’re absolutely devoted to something, where you can’t think about anything but what you’re doing is what I live for. Those ecstatic moments get me through and continue to inspire me.”
But the Welsh-born actor has also a dark side. Ever since his first starring role at the age of 13 in Steven Spielberg‘s epic, Empire of the Sun (1987), Bale has gained a notoriety for being difficult and impetuous on and off set. Other than refusing to speak in press conferences, he was once arrested for allegedly attacking his mother and sister -but charges were later dropped- and was publicly panned for verbally abusing the director of photography on the set of Terminator Salvation, for which he issued an appology.
Frankly, having met Bale several times in the past couple of years, I could hardly sense his putative vicious demons. In fact, he speaks in such faint voice, I had to keep leaning forward in order to hear what he was saying. Even when he is pressed with irksome questions, he doesn’t exhibit discomfiture and answered amiably, albeit firmly.
Bale is fully aware of his bad boy reputation, but he believes that its detrimental effect on his career has diminished since he donned Batman’s uniform. “Directors and writers were asking me to do movies, but so often I would get the call saying ‘Hey, I’m sorry Christian, but the money people just won’t let me cast you.’ I don’t get those calls any longer. Since playing Batman I get to make movies that nobody would have cast me in previously,” he laughs satisfactorily.
In the conclusion of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, the reclusive billionaire, Bruce Wayne brings Batman back to life, after an absence of 8 years, in order to fight off a masked, ruthless terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy), who is bent on destroying Gotham City.
In this instalment of the franchise, Batman is still carrying the blame of murdering the crime-fighting crusader Harvey Dent, who died – unbeknown to public – as the vengeful Two-Face.
“Gotham is now suffering the consequence of that lie,” Bale enthuses. “He is filled with remorse; he’s more of a reclusive that we’ve ever seen him before; he’s given up! He’s in very poor health, physically and mentally.”
All attempts, including the persuasive words of his loyal bulter, Alfred (Sir Michael Caine), to draw him out of seclusion fail, until he encounters a skilled thief named Selina Kyle -better known as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). “Selina Kyle, who doesn’t give a crap that he’s Bruce Wayne, is completely irreverent and somewhat rude to him, and that inspires him to get back into the game, and decide that Batman has to return one last time,” Bale explains.
Having played Bruce Wayne three times, Bale says that his character is a sad, lonely individual with multiple personality disorder. “Part of him is that child that saw his parents murdered in front of him and he’s just stayed at that point. He’s got the public persona of the playboy and then he’s got the sincere character of Batman, who is the personification of his rage and his sense of injustice. He’s almost a villain; he takes it right to that edge where he can start to do great wrong, but has this altruism that holds him back from doing that. We could continue endlessly with this, but this is the right time to say goodbye.”
Saying goodbye to the cast and crew was a low key affair for Bale when he finished shooting. “I don’t like having big goodbyes. I just said ‘Hey, give me a few minutes,’ and I just sat in the office, in the cowl, for a good 20 minutes, reflecting on what it had meant to me throughout the years. And then I took off knowing that was the last time. I won’t be doing it again, and it was very meaningful,” he says with an emotional tone.
Beside keeping Batman’s cowl from each of the movie, the 38-year-old actor says that he has taken away a lot from starring in them. “I’ve made great friendships and I shall miss working with Chris and working with the cast and crew, with whom I worked since 2000.”
Bale’s attention has now veered to making small movies. He just wrapped a Ridley Scott-produced movie, Out of the Furnace, in which he plays the lead, and is currently working on two movies, directed by Terrence Malick.
“I like the hardship of making movies. I enjoy that because it leaves me feeling very satisfied from it. But when I am not making a movie, I have nothing to do with movies. I don’t dwell on it and I don’t watch them,” he concludes.