BUZZ BUILDS FOR CHRISTIAN BALE
Studied approach to literary roles keeps fans burning up the Internet.
LOS ANGELES – The hottest young actor you’ve never heard of is Christian Bale. Who’s that, you say? Log onto the Internet and find out. Cyberspace is buzzing about the 22-year-old Brit, last seen playing Laurie to Winona Ryder’s Jo in 1994’s Little Women and now appearing in The Secret Agent, drawn from the Joseph Conrad novel. He also has a role in Jane Campion’s much-anticipated The Portrait of a Lady, opening Dec. 27 in selected cities.
For sheer volume of on-line discussion, Bale is in the ranks of megastars Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt. He is the sixth most-discussed actor on America Online’s bulletin boards “Talk About Actors” – behind Reeves (No. 1) and Pitt (No. 4), but well ahead of heavy-weights Mel Gibson (No. 10) and Harrison Ford (No. 13). His fan club’s home page on the World Wide Web recently registered 113,000 hits in a single week.
So why isn’t Bale a familiar name? In hindsight, he could have been.
Born in Wales and raised in England, Bale made a propistious film debut in 1987, starring in Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Empire of the Sun. As a pampered British schoolboy in Shanghai whose previously untapped survival instinct pull him through a prisoner-of-war experience, the 13-year-old newcomer drew accolades and earned a National Board of Film Review award.
But the young actor family chose not to exploit that early success. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I have to do it all now,’ ” recalls Bale, who shunned celebrity to head off premature burnout, a common child-star pitfall. “And my parents weren’t dying for me to be famous.”
He never hired a publicist – practically unheard in Hollywood – but continued to work in modestly budgeted, often literature-based films such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Treasure Island, Newsies, Swing Kids, A Murder of Quality, and Prince of Jutland.
Without a blockbuster in the bunch, he attracted little media attention. And that, Bale says, was “absolutely fine with me. If I can be in a film that I really like, that’s enough.”
Internet discussion about Bale has been building since 1993, when admirers formed the Christian Bale Fan Club and established a home page. After his turn in Little Women, Bale-related cybertalk increased dramatically. Today there are 10 Web sites dedicated to Bale.
What makes Bale such a hot topic? […] The brainy magnetism he projects onscreen, along with his tendency to avoid publicity, adds to his mystique.
“He is not only a wonderful actor with great screen presence,” says Little Women director Gillian Armstrong, “but he has a good soul – and that comes through.”
In The Secret Agent, Bale plays mentally retarded, hypersensitive Stevie, brother-in-law of the title character Bob Hoskins and the “the heart of the story,” says director Christopher Hampton.
“Christian’s very truthful as Stevie, very discreet,” Hampton adds. “His roles in The Secret Agent and The Portrait of a Lady couldn’t be more different. It’s amazing how he inhabits them both.”
In Campion’s Portrait, Bale’s Ned Rosier is a snobbish social climber with a yen for aristocratic daughter of John Malkovich (his Empire of the Sun co-star).
“He’s a twit – he’s ridiculous,” says Bale of Rosier. “But suddenly, he’s got this passion, and he sort of enjoys it.”
Currently, Bale is in Paris filming Metroland, based on Julian Barnes’ 60s coming-of-age novel.
Bale sees the disparity between his media presence and his popularity as problematic “only when I lose a part because of it.” Even so, he stresses, “I’m still getting good roles. I’m not doing anything I don’t want to be doing.”
By Morin McCormic.