Enter Hollywood, that image-based world or popping flashes, blinding hype, and hordes of interchangeable young stars with visions of plum, “slackeresque” movie roles dancing in their heads. You’ll see formulas tested, the emotionally unremarkable lauded, and the blandly sexy deemed sirens, all ad nauseam. So where does that leave the shy, sensitive, less worldly types? We’re talking the future Jeremy Ironses and Gary Oldmans, the bona fide serious young actors who don’t fit the mold, and who are left competing for those rare meaty roles in those rare meaty films, hoping for careers of class and length rather than of temporary grandeur.
High profile is something that Christian Bale definitely is not. He is managed quietly by his father, an ex-pilot with scant Hollywood connections. He has no publicist, avoids interviews like the plague, and has never been the focus of a major American magazine article. And while these elements make him something of an anomaly in the movie business, his “in-the-biz-not-of-it” stance is also the key to his extraordinary popularity, which is based on his performances rather than his demographic.
His fans are an impassioned, vocal bunch who flood their idol with mail, particularly e-mail, sometimes at the rate of several hundred a day. He was more than a bit shocked when America Online informed him of his rank as the third most popular subject of conversation in its “Hollywood Online, Talk about Actors” forum, just behind Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, and way ahead of more visible figures like Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chris O’Donnell. He has large, active fan clubs in such unlikely places as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford Universities and Bale’s official, Toronto-based fan club raised thousands of dollars for charity last June in an online auction of items he wore or used while making the bizarrely popular film Newsies. Not bad for one still paying his dues.
A tall, lanky, big-boned 22-year-old with a broad, childlike face, sensual lips, and prematurely wise eyes, Christian is unconventionally handsome. Apart from the odd burst of hesitant laughter, he maintains an impassive, thoughtful expression, occasionally bending his mouth slightly to accomodate a mildly bemused smile. So why the excitement over someone so low- key? The answer lies in the strange trajectory of his now 12-year career, and in the fanaticism that seems naturally to accrue to actors whose unusual talent makes them popular and beloved long before they become conventionally famous.
In Spielberg’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun, based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical account of his experience as an adolescent prisoner of war, Christian began his film career with a spectacular, award-winning performance in the leading role. Remarkably, the 13-year-old Bale won the part despite his film inexperience and lack of formal training. The merits of his do-it- yourself method became especially evident in last year’s Little Women, in which he costarred with Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, and Claire Danes. With his natural charm and mysteriously accented emotions, he stole every scene he was in, and his performance is generally considered to be one of the keys to this small, thoughtful film’s surprising success. While his experiences between those two films included some box-office failures (chiefly Swing Kids, and Disney’s failed attempt to re-popularize musicals, Newsies), Christian’s realness and non-pretention shines through what would be considered to be his weaker roles. He has never given less than a solid and touching performance, and has never gotten a bad review.
In the wake of Little Women, and, more recently, Disney’s Pocahontas, in which he did the voice for the character Thomas, not to mention the phenomenal success of Newsies in video, things are happening very fast for the young Welshman. He’s just completed work on two high profile films, Christopher Hampton’s The Secret Agent, in which he costars with Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette, Robin Williams, and Gerard Depardieu, and Jane Campion’s much anticipated The Portrait of a Lady, wherein he appears with Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Shelley Duvall, Viggo Mortenson, and Barbara Hershey. With directors like James Cameron and Paul Shrader actively seeking him out, and several important projects in the works, Christian is suddenly a hot property, whether he likes it or not.
Perhaps because we have recently become friends, Christian rather reluctantly agreed to give us what constitutes the first – and if he has his way, last – in-depth interview of his career. Having just returned toLondonafter two months on location inItalyfor The Portrait of A Lady, we finally got hold of a very knackered if game Christian for a lengthy 2 AM chat.
JOEL WESTENDORF: So are you up to answering a few questions?
CHRISTIAN BALE: Yeah. (Chuckle)
DENNIS COOPER: Describe The Secret Agent.
CB: It’s set in the 1890’s in Soho in London in an earlier porn shop, which is very tame by our standards. In fact, we had to do two versions. One for the cinema, and one for television. One where they scan the racks and there’s loads of dildos. Then they scrape all the dildos off and do it again for TV.
DC: With Troll Dolls instead.
CB: (Laughs) Exactly. No, that’s even more indecent, isn’t it? So, Joseph Conrad’s novel was one of the first thrillers in the style that we know them today. I heard that it inspired people like Graham Greene and John Le Carre. It’s a lot of characters, all up to no good, basically. And they all end up dead. That’s the short of it.
JW: Give me an idea of your character, Stevie.
CB: He’s “innocence”, basically. He’s like 19 or something, with a mental age of 7 or 8. So, he’s in his own little world, and he’s fascinated with trying to solve the wrongs of what is going on in the world. And he has the advantage of his lack of perception, really, he can see things as either purely good or purely bad. Whereas all the others have become quite mixed up, especially with Bob Hoskin’s character, who just doesn’t seem to have a grasp of good or bad at all. So you’ve got this complete innocent trying to live in this world, and he just can’t.
JW: What are the other characters like?
CB: Well, there’s Winnie, who is Patricia Arquette. In the film she’s my sister, my mother – she’s everything. Nobody else takes care of me. My mother, played by Elizabeth Spriggs, has gone a bit batty and isn’t in any state to look after a handicapped kid. So Winnie is sort of his whole world. She’s the only one he can talk to. Verloc, who is the secret agent, is Bob Hoskins. Because Winnie is married to him, without thinking too much about it, Stevie believes that Verloc is a good man. It’s one of the lines in the film that I always say: “Good man, Mr. Verloc.”
JW: What’s Bob Hoskins like?
CB: It was funny with Bob. My character is so submissive when he’s around, and treats him with such awe and respect – not to say I don’t have that for Bob at all, I’ve got an awful lot of respect for him – that I couldn’t just sit there talking with Bob. When Patricia, Bob, and I met out in Los Angeles for the first time we had lunch and had a few drinks, and got a bit drunk and everything. And I really couldn’t see us doing that again once I had started playing my character. It would have felt a bit odd.
JW: How about Patricia Arquette?
CB: I sort of felt most comfortable with Patricia. She is the only one that Stevie really chats with. She sort of adopted the sister attitude with me, and beat the shit out of me as soon as they shouted cut, doing Kung Fu kicks on me and shit, you know, in period costume.
DC: You told us a funny story about something that happened on the set with a bomb?
CB: We were on Greenwich Hill inLondon, by the Observatory. I was doing a scene where a bomb went off in my face. It was a public place, and we cleared everybody out because they could get hurt. Now, I didn’t actually see him, but there was this guy who was hiding in the bushes taking a piss when the bomb went off. And he came running out of the bushes afterwards, I don’t know in what state of undress.
DC: How did you get on with Gerard Depardieu?
CB: The first time I met him I was asleep in my dressing room, and I woke up because there was such a loud belch, and I sat up and there he was in his shorts, sort of scratching himself. And he said to me, (adopting French accent) “It’s OK? I can come in?” And he came in and we had a chat for ten minutes, and he was off again. We didn’t talk much during the filming. Mostly leering at each other. He’d come up and go, (makes blubbery noise with his lips) “Christian!” And I’d go (same noise) “Gerard!” That was the extent of it, really.
DC: You’ve had no formal acting training, right?
CB: That is true! I did a couple of workshops when I was like 12, but I’ve been able to work so I just haven’t needed to. I thought about going to drama school for a bit. I just started to think, HMM, this seems to be happening a bit easy. I was in Kenneth Branagh’s film Henry V when I was 14, and Kenneth’s mentor is Hugh Cruttwell, the ex-head of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. So I spoke with him about it, and he said, “Wait until you’re older, because a lot of people, they go along, they don’t really have any of their own ideas, and so they come out being identical to each other.” When I did Newsies I spoke with Robert Duvall about it as well, and he said essentially the same thing. So that basically decided me.
DC: Your grandfather acted and did stuntwork.
CB: Yeah, both of my granddads. You’re talking about the one on my dad’s side. He was John Wayne’s double for a while.
DC: Did you know him as a kid?
CB: Not at all. I went to South Africaat the end of ‘92 to meet him. He had cancer, and he was basically hanging on to meet us. So only that once.
DC: Was his being an actor an inspiration to you?
CB: Well, he wasn’t exactly an actor. His brother was. All of them on my dad’s side are enormous. They’re like 6’4″, 6’6″, and built like brick shithouses. So my dad’s uncle Rex, who I met, though I don’t remember it because I was so young, was an actor. I think he tended to play heavies all the time because he was so big.
JW: When you did Empire of the Sun , were you aware of how big a deal it was to have a lead in a Spielberg movie?
CB: When you’re 13… It’s not as if I was running around banging on doors at that age. I didn’t really care much if I got the parts or not. Just sort of coincidences had happened and I was lucky. So I didn’t have an idea of the whole “big picture” of it. Now, when I’ve decided that I do like acting, and I’d like to continue doing it, you start to get slightly more self- conscious, and realize what on earth you’re doing. But when you’re just doing what’s in front of you, you don’t think of that, you know?
DC: It was such a dream role, and involved such a range of emotions. Did it spoil you?
CB: It did spoil me. I remember people saying that no matter how much work I did later, this was one of the best roles I’d ever have. And that you hardly ever get any roles like that one coming along. But I’ve really enjoyed doing whatever, small parts, it didn’t matter. You can’t keep on competing with yourself all the time. It’s going to get a bit boring. After Empire of the Sun I didn’t work for almost two years. I’d be getting a bit worried now if I did that.
DC: Now that we’re back in this period of your life, tell us about your date with Drew Barrymore.
CB: (Laughs) Well, I was 13, and I’d just done Empire of the Sun, and I was a young, impressionable lad. She was quite a well-developed girl, and I was standing playing the arcade at Amblin, and suddenly this voluptuous figure arrived beside me, and I thought, Bing! I was quite stunned, and she asked if I wanted to go see a film, so I did. We went to see some bloody awful horror film, and that was the end of it. She never called again.
DC: Did you know her from E.T.?
CB: Yes. But she was quite a different girl.
DC: Yeah, she went through some changes.
JW: I get the feeling that either you’ve been typecast, or you’ve found a particular type of character that you feel comfortable playing.
CB: Like what?
JW: The classically thoughtful, handsome lad, period type.
CB: Well, everything I’ve done has been period. I think the most recent thing, the most modern thing I’ve done was like 1940’s. But I don’t have a thing for period at all. I’d love to do something contemporary.
DC: There’s a continuum to your characters. Laurie in Little Women, Jack in Newsies, Thomas in Swing Kids, even Jim in Empire of the Sun, they all seem to have deep private emotions. It’s as if they have a hard time expressing their feelings. You get the sense of a kind of reservoir of confusion in them. But at the same time all of them are kind of rowdy and playful and goofy.
CB: It’s funny. I’ve never heard anybody say that before. I suppose it’s easier for you to look at it and say, “Well, he’s doing that and that and that,” than it is for me. Certainly I wasn’t ever planning on all of that. I don’t believe that any actor can become their character. It sounds like bollocks, really. You’ve gotta be comfortable for it to be good. Nobody can be that comfortable if you’re playing a completely alien character to what you know. So there’s always going to be something of you there.
JW: In Little Women, I couldn’t recognize you at all. Your face, yes, but it didn’t seem like you.
CB: It’s really only tiny things that make the difference. You can’t get away with enormous things, because it has to feel comfortable to yourself, regardless of how different a character is from you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do it. So it’s the tiny adjustments which have a big effect when you’re watching.
JW: It’s kind of creepy, in a way. Not to say your acting is creepy.
CB: But doing something like The Secret Agent, you would think it’s a massive leap to play a mentally retarded person. The thing I was mainly concerned about was not wanting to overdo it. And it really only becomes comfortable once you’ve thought about it a lot, and rehearsed by yourself. There shouldn’t be a huge jump between how you feel walking on the set and how you feel once you’ve switched into character. The whole point is to pretend that you’re not performing.
JW: I’d be curious to know if your approach has changed much from film to film.
CB: I think it changes with everything I do. Let alone from film to film, from day to day. I have to change my approach because something that I’ve been doing one day may have been working, but then the next day I’m in a whole different mood, the atmosphere on the set is completely different, and it just won’t work anymore. So you’ve got to find a different way of approaching it to be comfortable and to make it believable. If I picked it apart and analyzed it I’m sure there would be things that I do every single time to make myself feel comfortable, but I like not analyzing it.
JW: I can imagine that depending on how deep you get into a character, you might experience some sort of out-of-body sensation.
CB: I think the best way of describing it is like a trance, really. I mean, obviously we’re talking about the best situations. What I try and do is purposefully forget everything that’s going to happen in the scene. Obviously there are marks to hit, and the lines, and you’ve had rehearsals. But once you’ve done all of that, hopefully it’s in your brain enough that you can just forget it. For me, the best thing is to just hope that it’s all going to go wrong.
DC: Did it bother you that Newsies and Swing Kids weren’t that successful in the theatres?
CB: I was out of the country when Newsies came out. I would have liked it to be more successful, for the sake of the director, really. But it was just a very difficult thing that he was trying to do. You know, kickstarting or re-kickstarting musicals is bloody difficult. I mean, in my lifetime I’ve never been to see a musical, and to be honest, I’m not really interested in seeing one. Newsies actually started off as just a drama, and then Disney decided they wanted to try musicals. And they changed the script into a musical, but I’d read it before that. I really didn’t fancy the change, you know. I didn’t really want to sing or dance for it. I actually sort of thought for a while that I could get out of singing and dancing, that somehow I could be the lead in a musical and not have to sing or dance, but, uh, heh-heh, yeah, they caught up on me with that.
DC: What do you think about the fanaticism around Newsies? Do you know that a bunch of your fans have written the script for a sequel and that they want to make it?
CB: What, Newsies Take Tokyo? No, I didn’t know about that. I know there’s a guy who changed his name to Jack Kelly (the name of Bale’s character in the film). Maybe he’s going to star in it. I won’t be in it.
DC: You won’t?
CB: No. My musical days are over. I don’t want to be Julie Andrews any longer.
DC: But what do you think of the whole Newsies cult? Do you just think it’s strange?
CB: Well, Newsies is a good time film, isn’t it? I don’t have a computer so I haven’t looked at all the things on the Internet, but it’s true, of all the films I’ve done, it has the most constant interest. Most of the letters I get are about Newsies. I guess there are an awful lot of musical fans out there. They do exist.
DC: What do you think of your huge popularity on the Internet?
CB: Well, I’ve been really disorganized up until now about fan letters and things like that. Just recently a friend has started a fan club thing on the Internet. I’ve seen it on a friend’s computer. There were some messages for me, and we just had to look at some of them and we had quite a laugh. It’s very odd, all those people out there, on computer terminals discussing you.
DC: We saw a discussion about how in one scene in Newsies your suspender accidentally got caught on something, and how brilliantly you rescued the moment by pulling the suspender back in place.
CB: (Laughs) That was it! I was in New York staying at a friend’s place and both of us were fairly hungover at the time. And we just decided it would be a laugh to have a look at some of the messages. I don’t know what on earth they were talking about, but there were two people having a discussion about me and the tongue thing, and the spit thing. We didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!
DC: With Pocahontas, did you have any way to judge your performance?
CB: Not at all. I didn’t even have a sensation that it was me at all.
DC: Was Thomas based on you physically?
CB: No, they already had a character when I went in. He was about 13, and Irish. Originally I was doing an Irish accent, but either I’ve got a crappy Irish accent and they were just polite, or they decided why bother, and they made him cockney. So I did cockney for a bit, then they said, “We’re not sure that Americans will be able to understand a cockney accent.” So we lightened it until they said, “We just like your own voice, basically. Can you stop acting and doing all these little turns?” I’d thought I was going to have to ham it up for a cartoon. But I really didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t do much more than what I’m doing now. They did film me while I was doing it, and they base little mannerisms on yours, and they draw your mouth so the words fit.
JW: The more well known you get, the more people are probably gonna start comparing you to actors around your age like Chris O’Donnell and Leonardo Di Caprio.
CB: It’s inevitable, isn’t it? And meeting people for auditions and stuff, you tend to see all the same people again and again, and you’re always hearing about Leonardo Di Caprio at the moment, because, you know, he’s sort of the top-drawer bloke or whatever. It’s inevitable that I’m going to get put in the same brackets, and I don’t mind at all.
DC: What actors would you like to work with?
CB: There are an awful lot of people that I would go and see a film for. The only person I’ve ever sort of been a fan of and whose videos I used to collect and all was Steve McQueen, but he’s been dead for like 15 years, so not much chance of working with him.
DC: You were referred to as “a little Steve McQueen” by Steven Spielberg.
CB: I think Steven said that just to please me.
JW: Does the prospect of fame make you feel uncomfortable?
CB: I’m sort of a paradox, because I want to continue doing films. I want to be an actor, but I suppose it’s a personal preference, but I don’t tend to want to know anything about an actor. Because then you go to a film and you’ve got all these other things that you’re thinking of when you’re watching them instead of just being able to pretend that they’re a particular character. I’m not very good when on rare occasions I do get recognized. It’s fine when I’m on a film set. But if I’m just walking down the street and somebody recognizes me, I’ll feel a bit edgy.
DC: Do you feel any responsibility to your fans?
CB: Well, that’s the really horrible thing about it. You can’t help but feel that a little bit. And of course you have no obligation to remain the same for their sake. You have to feel free to change. But yeah, there is that feeling when somebody is very intelligent and he’s written to tell you what he likes about what you do, and you think, Well, I’m not gonna do that in this next thing, or I don’t want to do that anymore. Yeah, you do feel a little bit bad about it.
DC: We just saw Total Eclipse, in which Leonardo Di Caprio and David Thewlis get pretty hot and heavy with each other. Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in a movie?
CB: Well, I was just sitting and watching the film Priest with my sister and her husband. And there are quite explicit sex scenes in that. And a fair amount of snogging going on. At one point they turned to me and said, “What would you do?” (Laughs) And my reply was, “Well, I think I would.” I would have a reservation about tongues, I think. Otherwise, without having been put in the situation, I would, yeah. I really don’t think I would have a problem with it.
DC: Aside from nudity and sex, is there a character you just wouldn’t want to inhabit?
CB: No, as long as I like the film. I read something where Gary Oldman said he has to like a character to play it. But I don’t know. I think you just make it so the character can live with himself no matter how self-hating he seems.
DC: It’s a bigger challenge to play a monster.
CB: I suppose it is. And characters like that are more interesting to people. You don’t want to watch a lovely nice boy who’s never done anything wrong in his life, do you?
DC: How monstrous is the character you play in The Portrait of a Lady?
CB: He’s a drama queen, basically. He’s been a bit of a fop all his life, making sure he wears the right clothes and is very in fashion. He collects little antiques and bibelots and things. He suddenly finds himself in love, and he doesn’t care about those things anymore. And the girl’s father, who’s played by John Malkovich, bans him from seeing her. So in all my scenes I’m sort of huffing and puffing and pulling a strop.
DC: Was it interesting to reconnect with Malkovich? You hadn’t worked with him since Empire of the Sun, right?
CB: We really didn’t have any scenes together. One scene starts with me standing next to him, and as soon as the action starts I walk off in a huff. And that’s the extent of it, really. There’s a lot of flaring nostrils going on in that one.
DC: You did The Secret Agent and Portrait of A Lady back to back. How was that?
CB: I was filming Secret Agent whilst I started rehearsing for Portrait of A Lady, and I found myself changing from day to day. If I was rehearsing I would go in with one attitude and then have to change it completely for my next working day because of the two characters.
JW: Is there a mental residue left over from playing a character?
CB: There can be. For instance, I never sit with my legs crossed. But for my character in Portrait of A Lady I decided he would sit like that. While I was doing the film I found myself sitting cross-legged a lot of the time. I still do on occasion. I’ll be sitting somewhere smoking a cigarette the way I imagine he would be doing it. And I’ll suddenly recognize what I’m doing and say, “Actually, this isn’t like me at all, is it?”
JW: I understand that Jane Campion likes actors to get into their characters long before the actual filming. In fact, I heard that Valentina, who plays your love, was given a photograph of you to keep on her bedside table, sort of to get her in the mood.
CB: I don’t know if Jane told her to do that or if she just did it on her own. I know she had the picture.
JW: How does it feel to be “helped” into your character?
CB: It’s fine as long as it’s only a starting point. I don’t want to have to be told what to do for anything. But, yeah, with Valentina, we were asked to write little love letters to each other beforehand in character. It sounds incredibly stupid, but it’s part of the whole immersion into the film, and you just sort of have to kid yourself into the whole thing.
JW: Did the love-letter trick work?
CB: If anything, it was just in the actual writing of the letter. I wouldn’t even have had to give it to her necessarily. It was just the fact that I was writing as him, trying to think of his mind-set, and therefore writing my own dialogue. But it was nice getting the letter back from her and keeping it in a secret place and doing all of that.
JW: What was your reputation on the set?
CB: I really don’t have a clue. I was talking with Valentina, and we both said that on different days when the other one of us wasn’t working we’d thought we might sort of casually mention one another and see people’s reaction. It would have been quite interesting, but I never got a chance to do it.
DC: One of the few actors that we know you’re friends with is Winona Ryder.
CB: Yeah, she’s helped me out an awful lot. It was her idea to bring me in to audition for Little Women. And it was that film that’s gotten me the work I’ve done since. So I owe a lot to her. She’s a nice gal.
JW: Do you have any hobbies?
CB: That’s an interesting question, actually. I go around collecting money and raising awareness for various charities. (Laughs) No, I don’t know. I play arcade games. I do all sorts of nonsense things that aren’t going to benefit me at all later on. Oh, I started rock climbing. Actually, it’s more something I would like to call a hobby than actually is a hobby. I’ve done it so rarely. But I’ve got the shoes! Does that count?
JW: Sure. It’s the thought that counts.
CB: Oh, it’s the thought that counts? I’ve got hundreds of them! Yeah, just put that I waste my time in arcades. I don’t have a bloody hobby. Christ. Uh, I love to sleep. I get up to some wonderful things in my dreams. I’m sort of a Jack of… nothing.
JW: Jack of no trade?
CB: Jack of no trades… master of bugger all! Actually, those kids in To Die For, I’m like them, aren’t I? They were asked, “So what do you do?” And they go, “Uhhhh… I dunno.”
JW: Out of all of your films, which would you say was the most satisfying experience all around?
CB: I think I’ve got to exclude Empire of the Sun because I was a whole other person, basically. Like I said, what was so good about that is that I didn’t have any ideas about acting or filmmaking. And I was working with Spielberg, who is known for getting fantastic performances out of kids. But if I keep harping back to Empire of the Sun I’m never going to be able to move forward. I was 13 when I did that. Suddenly, you go through your teenage years, and the whole self-conscious thing starts coming into play. And I’ve done some bloody terrible performances since then.
JW: Like what?
CB: Well, I never like to say, actually, because it’s rude to the people I worked with.
JW: If it means anything. I think you were better in Newsies than you were in Treasure Island.
CB: Well, I actually did something in Newsies. I think I felt differently doing Little Women, The Secret Agent, and Portrait of A Lady. I found more confidence in what I was doing, which obviously has to do with my personal life, and with the people I’m working with. So I’m going to have to say the three of them together.
DC: If someone said you could have $10 million for any film you liked, how would you spend it?
CB: I wouldn’t want to direct it. I’d certainly want a part in it. There’s this book I love, The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham, and I’d always thought that it would make a good film, but actually Christopher Hampton is going to make it next year. Right now I just want to act. I’m not really interested in the production end of it. So maybe I’d just pocket the money. Then I could do whatever job I wanted for the rest of my life, couldn’t I? I’ll go do artsy-fartsy shows in a tent in someone’s backyard. (Laughs) Probably not, actually. Wait, maybe I’d make Borstal Boy, the Brendan Behan book. I like that book an awful lot.
DC: With you playing Brendan Behan?
CB: I’d love to, but he looked such a brawling sort of drunken lad. And he had that sort of face that looked like it had been punched a number of times. He was short and stocky. I’m tall and lanky.
DC: Maybe you can get extremely tall actors to work with you. Then you can stuff your cheeks with cotton –
CB: And then go and have some people beat the shit out of me beforehand.
JW: When I picture you in the future, I see you as a Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, or Jeremy Irons.
CB: That’s a big compliment. I like all of them.
JW: I can’t see you being a “big star”, in that old-school actor kind of way.
CB: You know, it always sounds a bit prissy when you… Basically, most interviews with actors are incredibly prissy, aren’t they? It’s incredibly tedious hearing actors talk about their techniques and all that. I like to hear gossip as much as anybody else. I’ll pick up the tabloids and have a laugh at somebody else’s expense on occasion. And I understand about publicity for a film. You’ve gotta get people in to see it, so you’ve gotta do it. But I think it’s nice to stay as invisible as possible. Being an actor is the complete opposite of being a rock star or something where everybody wants to know you. With rock stars, it’s you writing and performing. It’s just you, isn’t it? But an actor shouldn’t be bigger than the film he’s in. I wouldn’t want to be above that, really. I’d lose a lot of interest and a lot of the enjoyment of making films if that was ever to happen.
JW: I envision you sticking to these smarter films.
CB: But sometime’s it’s great to see an action flick, isn’t it? You don’t always want to see little character films. If they were all like that we’d be bored to tears. We’d be dying to see someone blown to bits. But with the action things, it’s only as effectual as reading a comic book when you see someone get shot. You’re not thinking that’s real because you’re not caring for the characters in the first place.
DC: We want to finish off with a couple of rather silly questions. You know how New York delis sometimes name sandwiches after actors? What would your sandwich consist of?
CB: It would be a whole roast chicken. And forget the bread.
DC: And now a quick round of word association.
CB: Oh, God, I hate these things.
DC: I’m going to say a word, and I want you to say the first word that comes to mind.
CB: OK, let’s give it a go.
DC: OK, Shelley Duvall.
CB: Uh… ditsy.
CB: Italian women with long, dark hair.
CB: Black, lovely.
DC: Mojo. (Christian’s Jack Russell Terrier)
CB: Potato. Mojo potato and shagging everything in sight. A little randy bugger peeing on anything that’s black and plastic and technical.
CB: (Long pause) Absolutely nothing comes to mind. Actually, public bar came to my head, really. A pub. Maybe I want a drink whenever I hear publicity mentioned.
DC: Los Angeles.
CB: The desert, the beach, and all that. Which is what I like about it, really.
DC: Charlton Heston.
CB: People wailing. I mean, I just watched Priest. And I just bought a leatherbound Bible as well.
CB: My first crush was on the dark-haired one.
CB: Was that her name? It’s a nasty little story. I sound like a real sick little twisted kid. I remember thinking one time, What if ABBA had a car crash outside my front door? And it was her, and she had a really bad head injury. And I sort of nursed her back to health while she had a big bandage around her head.
DC: How old were you?
CB: About six.
DC: OK, Claire Danes.
CB: Angel. I think from the Soul Asylum video she did. But she is also quite angelic to look at.
CB: All I can think of is bloody Becomes Her.
DC: You’re deep, man.
CB: Baywatch. I apologize for this.
DC: No, it’s very revealing. And lastly, Heaven.
CB: (Long pause) Well, I’m thinking of a club in London called Heaven.
DC: I knew you were going to say that.
CB: You knew I was going to opt out of any philosophical comment.
DC: OK, you’re finished. That wasn’t so bad. I mean, that’s printable isn’t it?
CB: Yeah, I think so. You’re allowed to reveal that.
By Dennis Cooper and Joel Westendorf.