Total Film (1998)

PEOPLE: CHRISTIAN BALE

First he was. Then he wasn’t. Now he just might. Christian Bale was penciled in to play ‘American Psycho”s Patrick Bateman, a schizoid yuppie serial killer who tortures his prey with power drills, pliers and starving rodents. Then Ladyboy Leo was mooted for Brett Easton Ellis’ sickening flip-side of the ’80s Dream. Possibly …

“The director Mary Harron asked me to do it last August and we’ve been preparing since then,” says Bale. “Then recently the financiers decided to chuck $21 million at Leonardo DiCaprio to do it.” Since then DiCaprio has reportedly declined, opting for Danny Boyle’s big-screen take on Alex Garland’s novel ‘The Beach’. But no word yet on who’ll be Bateman. “I don’t know what’s going to happen at the moment. Nobody’s made a definite decision. Somebody told me it was career suicide, but I know it’s one of the best parts I’ve ever been offered.”

Bale’s career was kick-started with a “best part”: at 14 the Bournemouth schoolboy took the lead in Spielberg’s ‘Empire of the Sun’, the loose adaptation of writer J.G Ballard’s Far Eastern adolescence during World War Two. He still receives Christmas and birthday cards from Spielberg and has “very good memories of making the film, although it does seem a lifetime ago.”

Less enjoyable was the worldwide publicity tour: “It changed everything. It turned me into a bit of recluse. I didn’t want to work after that for some time. I just wanted to get the hell away from it and not have things written about me. I didn’t realise that I was going to do interviews day after day.”

Then came the lull: Bale dropped out of sixth-form college and headed off to America as “there wasn’t very much going on here for a young actor and there was in the States.” He’s had an acclaimed small role here (‘The Secret Agent’), a good part there (‘Portrait of a Lady’ and ‘Little Women’) and a couple of musical turkeys (‘Newsies’ and ‘Swing Kids’). But little else of real note.

This is the year he hopes to change that. He’s starring in glam-rock paean ‘Velvet Goldmine’ with Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard. Then there’s the recently released ‘Metroland’, a drama that allows Bale to show his versatility by playing character Chris across three time periods: 1963, 1968 and 1977.

“It was the fastest film I’ve ever made. It only took 27 days, we did three big scenes every day and I was in every one. What I like about ‘Metroland’ is that it shows how, when you’re younger, it seems there’s only one option. But the older you get, as Chris discovers, then the more you see the alternatives and the more you question who you are. You often see the teenager in films as being the troubled, mixed-up one and later they know who they are. In ‘Metroland’ it’s the opposite.”

Bale’s abiding memory of the shoot was the sub-zero temperatures, since ‘Metroland”s production schedule also coincided with the second coldest Parisian winter this century. “For the scene by Notre Dame my jaw froze up. I couldn’t speak properly. Between takes I was wrapped up like Jimmy Savile at the end of the marathon. I looked like a baked potato.”

By Tom Dawson.