Dazed & Confused (August 1998)

OUT ON BALE

“Hey everyone! I am a big fan of christian Bale’s work. I think he is a terrific actor for being so young, and I look forward to his future works, since I know he has a long career ahead of him. I know he’s used a different accent in every single of his movies, so I’m wondering if he will run out of accents soon!” – Jennifer, Illinois

Few actors inspire such devotion among teenage, female internet users as Christian Bale. An article in theUSpublication Entertainment Weekly claimed that ‘If the internet is the ultimate democracy then Christian Bale has been elected its number one star’. The web is littered with shrines to him where crush-afflicted ‘Baleheads’ have pasted photos and heartfelt messages of love. It’s a disconcertingly public display of adoration, and one with which Bale seems not entirely at ease. His popularity on the internet is not altogether surprising. Christian Bale is blessed with all the main qualities required for teen-idol status; good looks, a pleasant personality and a fondness for animals. Add to that the judiciously inoffensive film choices of his early career: His debut was the lead in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun; subsequent roles tended towards the floppy-haired, romantic lead variety in costume dramas; it’s a wonder that he didn’t hit mega-stardom years ago. But as Bale grew up in front of the camera, so his roles matured, becoming infinitely more interesting, but also taking him well out of the realms of teen-girl fodder.

Bale has two such films due to be released this year. The first is Metroland, an intelligent and well-acted adaptation of the Julian Barnes novel in which he co-stars with Emily Watson and Lee Ross (Secret and Lies). The second is Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ joyfully lurid romp through the sartorial hell of the late 70s glamrock era in which Bale appears alongside Ewan McGregor. Bale’s next project was to have been the challenge of his career so far. As the sadistic lead in Mary Harron’s film of the controversial Brett Easton Ellis novel, American Psycho, Bale would have removed himself about as far as is possible from the safe, comfortable and commercial options. However, that was before Leonardo Di Caprio expressed an interest in the role. Both Harron and Bale were unceremoniously dumped from the project in a move by producers, Lions Gate, that has been universally condemned by the industry. Perhaps wisely, Di Caprio has still not committed to the project. It would take an actor of unusual talent to carry the role of Patrick Bateman. And on the strength of recent evidence, Christian Bale would do the better job.

Dazed & Confused: You’ve been called ‘the biggest star on the internet.’

Christian Bale: I’m not sure about the biggest star… Well, in consistency, I think yes. Apparently I’ve sort of been in the top ten for the last four years. But, you know, he’s got a website hasn’t he (gestures to picture of Leonardo Di Caprio.) I’ve been looking at To Leo With Love, all day (laughs) and obviously he probably gets millions of bloody hits.

D&C: Do you visit the web sites and does it unnerve you at all?

CB: That’s why I don’t visit them. Stay there for any length of time and you start going off your head because you get paranoid about people thinking about you. There are things about people who have followed you and you’ve never known about it.

D&C: That extreme?

CB: Yeah, but it tends not to be creepy. For most of them, the net’s just conversation and they make friends on it. The great thing about it is that you can do anything, but with that you are going to get things that might make you a bit uncomfortable. I had two girls on the internet who said that they’d shagged me on a beach, both of them. Everyone was going ‘No, we don’t believe you. Have you got proof?’ And they went ‘Yes, we’ve got photographs’. And they posted these photographs. I never actually saw them but they were really graphic scenes of these three having sex. Apparently the guy looked just like me. But there were a few identifying marks that showed it wasn’t me. And then they were severely embarrassed.

D&C: Are you comfortable in the public domain?

CB: As long as it’s for reasons that I’m comfortable with in the first place. There’s obviously an advantage to having a higher profile than I do, in that you’ll get financiers of films who are more comfortable about casting you in their films. Then also there’s a disadvantage because the more people know about you, the less they’ll watch you and just focus on a character. Obviously I want to be offered every role I want, but I don’t mind if it takes a little time. I’d rather do it through film than paying a publicist huge amounts of money and having her splatter me over teen magazines.

D&C: You are still at a stage in your career where you could enjoy anonymity if you wanted to; you could go out and not be recognised if you chose not to be…

CB: Well even if I walk in somewhere and go ‘I’M CHRISTIAN BALE,’ everyone would go ‘who?’

D&C: Possibly, but your internet stalkers would probably wet themselves.

CB: I do quite enjoy that though. I like them not knowing that much. But it’s unfortunate. that it has to come to an end at some point if I want to make sure to get the parts I want.

D&C: Were you familiar with the Julian Barnes novel before you were approached to do the film?

CB: I’d heard of it but I hadn’t read it. Actually, I thought Julian Barnes came on the set one day. I was introduced to him, then me and Lee Ross sat in this bar chatting with him about the book and about the characters and all that, and this guy was chatting away, agreeing that he was Julian Barnes. And then a couple of days later, I got introduced to Julian Barnes on the set! Not the same guy! The second one was the real Julian Barnes who I never had a conversation with at all. The first one was some impostor who sat and chatted about his book for ages.

D&C: A lot of your films are literary adaptations. Velvet Goldmine being an exception.

CB: All The Little Animals…

D&C: Portrait Of A Lady…

CB: Metroland, Little Women, Secret Agent, Empire Of The Sun… Yeah.

D&C: Is there any book that you would like to see made into a film and what role would you like to play?

CB: I’d love to see Borstal Boy get done, the Brendan Behan book. That would be great but I think I’m too old to play anything in it now. And also… I don’t know how much I should talk about it now, but do you know the book American Psycho? You know all about the shenanigans?

D&C. Yeah. I met Mary Harron when she was just starting to work on it.

CB: It would be a great shame if it doesn’t come back to her. And if it comes back to her, it comes back to me. But obviously I think that’s a fantastic book, it’s a brilliant script and could potentially be a brilliant film. It may all turn around. It’s still possible. I’ve never met anyone who has so much faith in me as Mary Harron. It’s obviously unlike any character I’ve ever done, and it’s really nice to meet a director who doesn’t just look at your past work and do versions of what you’ve already done. It was wonderful having her recognise that yes, I can do that part and really fighting for me.

D&C: Controversial role…

CB: Yeah, but it was wonderful when she first offered it to me back in August. It got written up in Variety and I had people call up and say ‘This is career suicide’. And I just thought ‘Excellent! That’s great!’ (Laughs) Mary was quite turned on by that as well… by other people thinking that it was going to ruin our careers.

D&C: I think she’s intelligent enough to make the film into what it should actually be, a satire of the ’80s.

CB: And she’s subtle enough to make that film. It’s a very misunderstood book, it is, like you say, a satire upon ’80s yuppies. And if you approach it first from there, then that’s the right way. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Yes, there are hugely gory and repulsive bits in it, but that’s not the first thing you notice.

D&C: A lot of your films seem to have been period pieces. Is that just because you like dressing up?

CB: Oh yes, I like to put on a frock… Do you mean period as in costume drama or would you say that Velvet Goldmine was period?

D&C: Yes. I would.

CB: In that case, no, I’ve nothing against it at all. I’d done a lot of costume dramas and frankly… you obviously get some people like Jane Campion who can make it interesting and make it new, but there is something tedious about seeing people with fans and all that. I really can’t be arsed. So it was great to do first Metroland and then Velvet Goldmine where it was just talking, you know? It felt like you could just chat, which I’d never really been able to do because it can be anachronistic when you start doing that in a costume drama.

D&C: I was expecting you to have sideburns. I’m a bit disappointed.

CB: The mutton chops? What you wanted me to look like Slade or something?

D&C: Absolutely, were they real or stuck on?

CB: No. Well, I don’t know if you’re meant to let people in on these things, ’cause then they’re looking for it aren’t they? We did the whole of Metroland in 27 days and there was no time to grow it. We were doing some days when Lee and me would be 17 years old in the morning and 30 in the afternoon, so it had to be like, ‘Alright, get the hairpiece off the back, let the hair down, stick the mutton chops on, put these clothes on and now you’re 30.’

D&C: In both Metroland and Velvet Goldmine, you play characters over a decade span of their lives. Tell me about the challenges that produces.

CB: I think that it can often look slightly obscene when you have actors who are blatantly too old to be playing a part. You know, playing a school kid or whatever. So I think in Metroland, doing the 17-year-old was what I was most scared of. But it worked. There was actually one of the crew members who thought that we were different people. He may have been a bit of a moron, but… (Laughs) The first couple of days we were playing 17-year-olds and we were chatting to him… then when we arrived on set as the 30-year-olds, he came up and introduced himself. And I was like: ‘Yeah… alright…’ Then he goes: ‘Who cast this film? They did such a good job on this. Have you met the guys that are playing you when you’re younger? I tell you, their jawlines are exactly the same. Lee, you’ve got to meet them, they’re the spitting image of you but just like ten years younger!’

D&C: You have quite a lot of sex on screen…

CB: Oh yeah. Love it!

D&C: You’re comfortable with it then?

CB: Well, I’d never done it before. I was working with a real connoisseur of sex on screen, Emily Watson, who had done an awful lot in Breaking The waves. It’s funny because you find yourself doing things and playing roles that in everyday life you wouldn’t do. You’d think, What? I’m in a room with 30 people watching and I’m lying on top of this girl pretending to have sex. No I couldn’t do that! But you do it. And it’s fine.

D&C: What about sex with Ewan on the roof?

CB: It was a whole new world for me! Actually it was a freezing night in St Pancras. It’s been written about a fair amount, this Ewan thing. I read a biography of his and I opened up the first page and there was this big quote: ‘So, I was shagging Christian up the arse on a rooftop…’

D&C: Were you ever in any doubt that you wanted to be an actor?

CB: I’m in doubt all the time. Because when it’s going well it’s a tremendous high, and when it’s not it’s horrible. Acting can at times be a really daft profession. When I was younger I could quite happily go into auditions and they’d ask me to cry. I could do it at the drop of a hat and I’d go ‘Ha ha, look at that! I’m doing it! I’ve got tears and all that!’ Then you get older and you just feel like you’re whoring yourself by doing that. I don’t wanna do that because it brings up things that I can’t just snap off that quickly. It’s a horrible thing to do to yourself.

D&C: What else would you do?

CB: What, other than acting? I don’t have a clue. I was talking to my Dad about this the other night because I called him up and said ‘That’s it, I quit’.

D&C: What, recently?

CB: Yeah, it was like five days ago. I said to him ‘If American Psycho works out then I’ll do that, but otherwise I’m out of it’ And he said ‘Alright, I know that you’re very down and depressed at the moment, so don’t go making too many rash decisions but what else are you going to do?’ Basically, he just said to me, ‘So, you want to become a beach bum or something? Well if I don’t hear from you for 15 months then I’ll know that’s what you’re doing.’ He did that for a lot of his life. I mean he’s lived alone since he was 13. But what he pointed out to me was that at the time he’d found nothing he was good at. He was quite happy just wandering about. Whereas I do have a thing. At times I get depressed about things that happen with the acting, but I still always have it. I woke up the next morning and I was like ‘No, hold on, I can’t really quit. I do like this.’ So it’s a bit more difficult, when you’ve got something like acting, just to disappear and not do it.

By Wendy Ide.