NEWSIES: STRIKING BOYS CAUGHT SINGING AND DANCING
Christian Bale lumbers into a conference room on a rainy Saturday morning. He plops down in a chair, yawns, and wipes sleep from his eyes. Dressed in black jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers, he apologises for being late. “I’m just getting over the flu and I’m still jet-lagged,” he explains, “so I’m moving a little slowly.”
But the six-foot-two British-born actor, best known for his film debut as a young school boy in Steven Spielberg’s epic Empire of the Sun and more recently for Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, need not apologise. For the past few weeks, he’s been flying round and round from L.A. to London to Prague and back again.
“I’ve been doing reshoots for Newsies here, doing preproduction work on a new film, Swing Kids, in Prague, and visiting my mom, sister, and girlfriend in England. And I don’t even like to fly!” he says with a slight shudder. “Before I came here, I flew on a plane that sounded like it had a window open the whole time.”
When Bale first heard about Newsies, a live-action musical recounting the tale of the New York newsboys’ strike of 1899, he claims he had no interest in auditioning for the project. “I’d never sung of danced, and I didn’t think I could do a musical,” he says. “I read for the film in England, and then Disney flew me to Los Angeles for a screen test. But before I signed a contract, I met the director (Kenny Ortega) and told him I wasn’t comfortable with the dancing and singing and I didn’t want to be a bloody Artful Dodger in a remake of Oliver!, jumping down the street with a big smile on my face. But he told me it wouldn’t be like that, and he lied to me about all of these different actors who had done musicals, like Al Pacino.”
After he was cast as Jack Kelly, the head newsie, Bale joined the rest of the film’s actors and dancers in two months of “Newsies school.” He studied dancing, speaking with a New York accent (circa 1899), gymnastics, and karate. “We had a kung-fu master,” he recalls with a laugh. “Thirty of us would be in a room doing something like t’ai ching to this humming music. It’s very relaxing, but when you see yourself in the mirror, it’s really funny.”
“Filming Newsies was a blast,” he says. “By the time the cameras started rolling, we were so prepared we were ready for anything. The blend of technically great dancers and actors with great characterizations made it all work perfectly.” And what about his Oliver! Fear? “Sure, we’re singing and dancing in the streets,” he says, “but we don’t always have smiles on our faces.”
Immediately upon finishing Newsies, Bale flew to Prague to begin Swing Kids, which costars Robert Sean Leonard and Frank Whaley. “It’s set in 1930’s Hamburg, Germany,” the eighteen-year-old explains. “There was quite a big culture then among teenagers who liked to dress in zoot suits and go to swing clubs. The story is about three friends from different backgrounds who love swing music. I play the bad seed.”
In between movies, Bale tries to squeeze in time with his family and girlfriend. “I’ve been going with the same girl for three years,” he says shyly. “But she’s going to a university in England and I’m relocating to Los Angeles, where my father lives. If I had nothing to do with the film industry, I’d stay in England, but Bournemouth (the city where he’s lived for the past five years) isn’t exactly the film capital of the world.”
If he never made another movie, however, Bale says he wouldn’t mind a non-celebrity life. “I love making movies,” he concludes, “but I also like my privacy. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d just live by the sea and be perfectly happy.”
By Kevin Koffler.