BALE TALKS PSYCHO
Park City, Utah – Christian Bale has had his share of killer roles, but this time it’s literal. The very British actor is a convincing American Psycho–the superrich ’70s stockbroker and serial killer in the controversial adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ much reviled novel. Buff, beastly and sometimes butt-naked, this is a side of Bale his fans definitely have not seen. The actor blew into Park City for a few hours from New York, where he’s been working on the remake of Shaft, looking fashionably haggard but handsome-as-hell in a black shirt and black pants. He was joined for our interview by the movie’s director and cowriter, Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol).
The former child star (Empire of the Sun) and standout actor in films including Portrait of a Lady, Velvet Goldmine and Little Women, Bale says he took the Psycho role because, “I was surprised that it was so funny, considering what I’d heard about the book. Also, Mary gave me the opportunity to play something so opposite of anything I’ve done.”
About the whole Leo controversy, Harron says she always knew Christian was the right man for the job, “Even though his first audition wasn’t very good–it was just instinct or something. With Leo it would have been a very big big-budget film, and that would have been a big mistake. Money matters, and if you go up into the stratosphere of the budget, you really lose control.”
Losing control in another sense is, of course, what American Psycho – easily the most talked-about film at Sundance – is all about.
Patrick Bateman is a stockbroker who uses his wealth like a cloak of invisibility “during a time,” says Bale, “when stockbrokers were like rock stars, and people actually wanted to talk to stockbrokers.”
Bale’s Bateman, who tells one oblivious, potential victim that he works in “murders and executions,” is one part James Bond and one part Ted Bundy – and you never know which part you’re going to get.
He “revs himself up” for the kill with banal reveries about the virtues of Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston and Phil Collins. The juxtaposition with the impending violence is funny, creepy and miles beyond ironic.
“The music monologues were sort of his Ecstasy,” says Bale, “The ever-changing moods of Bateman: Huey was glee, Whitney was soul – deep and meaningful, y’know – and Phil Collins was seductive.” (If that’s not enough to drive you psycho right there, Bale says Bret Easton Ellis is working on a Website that will focus on Batemen 10 years after).
Part of what makes his characterization so good is his spot-on American accent. “I’m not comfortable with just speaking with an English accent and then bang-on going into the scene with an American accent, so I keep it up all the time on the set, and that really does help a lot – so it’s not on your mind at all.”
“Also, it’s a sort of politeness for the other actors, basically. Because when you first start doing a different accent you use different muscles, so you tend to spit an awful lot. You get more saliva in your mouth. So, I want to sort that problem out before I spray the entire cast.”
And speaking of saliva, how does he feel about his worshipful legions of cyberfans who fairly drool over him?
“It has ceased to spook me. I’m not actually very affected by it. No more than with magazines and TV or whatever. It’s really flattering, but if you pay too much attention to it you end up being incredibly self-conscious–which is obviously the enemy of an actor. So, I know about it, I’m very happy about it, but I don’t actually look at it.”
Despite his astounding performance in the film, Bale seems blasé about the possibility that Psycho might be a breakthrough picture for him.
“That could well be true,” he admits, “but I have been involved with other films where that anticipation really didn’t pay off. I’m mainly thinking of Velvet Goldmine – there was a lot of excitement that just sort of went.”
But if there’s any justice, this psychopath could bring Bale if not stardom, at least consideration for a whole new range of offers.
By Jeff Reid.