GOOD CHRISTIAN TALKS ABOUT PLAYING A YUPPIE FROM HELL
Christian Bale, the 26-year-old British actor who first attracted attention playing a cosseted schoolboy in Steven Spielberg’s underrated epic, Empire of the Sun, refuses to get stuck in a rut. After turns in Little Women, The Secret Agent, and The Portrait of a Lady threatened to cement his onscreen persona in courtly-Victorian-gent overshoes, Bale decided to shake things up. He played a closeted gay journalist in Todd Haynes’s extravagantly outré Velvet Goldmine, an emotionally ravaged man-child in All the Little Animals, and a sadistic yuppie serial killer in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s almost universally reviled novel, American Psycho. It was a role many had predicted would be career suicide. Instead, Bale drew raves for his portrayal of the status-obsessed, spiritually blank Patrick Bateman – a part he almost lost to Leonardo Di Caprio. Bale explains to Barnes & Noble.com’s Moira McCormick why he fought so hard to keep it.
American Psycho had people up in arms – feminist groups, victims’ rights groups, et cetera – before it even came out. How did you feel about that?
When it comes to films, people often don’t differentiate between the message of a bad central character and the message of the film itself. They are two separate things. People just assume “The character is the film.” It’s a very shortsighted way of looking at a film, especially with something like American Psycho.
Were you worried the growing concern with violence in entertainment would have an effect on the reception of American Psycho?
It does require a certain level of experience and intelligence to appreciate the film properly – [director] Mary Harron and I just sort of expected that from the viewers. My hope is that people will be repulsed by the character’s complete lack of ethics and obsession with consumerism – that’s what I was saying about the difference between the character’s message and the film’s message.
The film’s actually very satirical and funny, which is what Ellis claimed the book was all along. Mary downplayed the carnage and sharpened the social satire. It makes you wonder why Ellis needed all that excruciatingly detailed violence in the first place.
Because he wanted to show that Bateman’s obsession with details is the source of his insanity. That’s what I see about Bateman – his fixation on minutiae, and absolutely needing to get an answer for every little tiny thing, even though all the things he’s interested in are completely shallow.
You were Mary Harron’s first choice for the role, and you had to fight to keep it when the studio abruptly offered it to Leonardo Di Caprio. What was it about playing Bateman that was so important to you?
I’d been involved with this from the beginning, before there was financing, before there was anything. It was a genuine filmmaking experience for me, rather than just being an actor for hire. I just felt that, if I quit that easily, I was never going to really get any fulfilment out of making movies. I really wanted to do this. It was a director’s vision, and no, it’s not a famous director and no, I’m not a famous actor. But I had to fight against people taking an artistically valid script and messing around with somebody’s vision of it.
How do you feel about the way American Psycho has been received?
A lot of people seem to think that in terms of box office, it didn’t do very well. But it actually did – this is a movie that cost seven million Canadian dollars, I think, and it got like nine million on its first weekend in the States. If you compare it to Erin Brockovich, or whatever, you say, “ooh, that didn’t do so well.” But in terms of how much it cost to what it’s making back, it did fantastically. And it’s continued doing that around the world. As for the reviews, I actually enjoyed all of them, because even if they were scathing, they tended to have a comment to make, you know? And I believe it was Roger Ebert who went from calling the film pornography to giving it a recommendation. That is an interesting movie, if it can change someone’s opinion that radically.
You were just in John Singleton’s Shaft, as the villain once again – another wealthy villain, in fact.
It wasn’t what I had planned – to do Shaft coming straight off American Psycho. It wasn’t really what I should have done, you know? But I did, and I’m glad that I did. But I definitely need to get away from portraying rich bad guys, which is why my current role is perfect.
You’re filming Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in Greece at the moment. Your character, Mandras, the rival of leading man Nicolas Cage certainly has his dark side, though. Did your part in American Psycho play into your getting cast as Mandras?
Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) hadn’t actually seen American Psycho or Shaft. I just met with him and read for him.
You’re renowned for your facility with accents – are you doing a Greek dialect in this one?
Oh yeah. You know, we’ve got Nicolas Cage [an American] doing an Italian accent, Penelope Cruz [a Spaniard] doing a Greek accent, me [a Briton] doing a Greek accent – you get all of us in one scene, and it’s hectic for the dialect coach. She’s got her bloody work cut out for her.
By Moira McCormick.