YOUNG GUN – HOW CHRISTIAN BALE WENT FROM CHILD STAR TO CULT CLASSIC
Showbiz is littered with ex-child stars making careers out of tarnishing their former images. Christian Bale, who achieved instant fame at 13 as the star of Steven Spielberg’s 1987 blockbuster Empire of the Sun, is an unusual exception. His post adolescent career has had its share of perverse twists, ranging from the starring role in Disney’s disastrous 1992 musical Newsies to an acclaimed performance in last year’s Little Women. He is consistently one of the most popular topics on America Online’s Hollywood Chatline, way ahead of better-knowns like Tom Cruise and Christian Slater. His fans, who call themselves Baleheads, are a phenomenon unto themselves. They flood Bale with mail, hold mini-conventions, and lobby studios on his behalf. Even Newsies has become a fluke hit on video thanks to his fans’ obsessive interest in the minutiae of his oeuvre.
None of this is encouraged or even partially followed by Bale himself. Neither slacker nor sex symbol, Shakespearean nor sellout, Bale is about as indie as a movie star can be without slaving away in Gregg Araki flicks. “I’m sort of a paradox,” he says. “I want to be an actor, but I think it’s nice to stay invisible. It’s the opposite of being a rock star. With rock stars it’s just you writing and performing. But an actor should never be bigger than the film he’s in.”
This spring, Bale costars with Robin Williams and Patricia Arquette in Christopher Hampton’s The Secret Agent, and later this year two more high-profile Bale vehicles will be released – Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady and the much-delayed Prince of Jutland with Gabriel Byrne. These days, Bale finds himself nervously weighing the kind of big, meatless roles that turn cult figures into bland megabuckers. So will he go so far as to consider a part in the Newsies sequel, an ad hoc project being developed by a group of fanatical Baleheads? “No, my musical days are over,” he says. “I don’t want to be Julie Andrews any longer”.
By Dennis Cooper.