E! Online Q&A (April 14, 2000)
THE SEXY PSYCHO ON BLOODBATHS, ORGIES AND LIFE AS A NARCISSISTIC YUPPIE
In case you missed Christian Bale being crucified as Jesus on the small screen last fall, you can now see him going to the other extreme, wreaking bloody havoc as a Yuppie serial killer in the controversial big-screen version of American Psycho.
The 26-year-old Brit is chillingly believable as the murderous Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The book created a sensation and a storm of protest for its explicit portrayal of violence against women. Costarring Jared Leto, Chloë Sevigny and Willem Dafoe, the film had to fight an NC-17 rating for its much talked about orgy scene between Bateman and two prostitutes.
Bale, who made his feature debut at 13 in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, has heated up the screen with Nicole Kidman in Portrait of a Lady and Winona Ryder in Little Women, but it was his gay love scene with Ewan McGregor in Velvet Goldmine that added an edge to his leading-man image – apparently at no expense to his huge following of female fans.
Reluctant to shed much light on his hush-hush recent marriage, Bale does open up on axe murders, sex on the set and lots more.
We’ve seen you hanging on a cross. We’ve seen you in bed with a man. Now, we see you killing in cold blood. Is there anything you won’t do on camera?
If I like the scene, I’ll do it – that’s part of the attraction for me. You sort of lose yourself and create this whole other character. You do things that you would never ever dream of doing in your own life. In reality, I’m far from an exhibitionist. With strangers, I’m shy. I’m quiet until I know people.
Your character, Patrick Bateman, has created a storm of controversy. What’s your take on him?
I expect people will have a knee-jerk reaction to Bateman because he’s so repulsive, but I found him fascinatingly entertaining. Before I read the script, I had this complete misconception about American Psycho as this deep, dark analysis of a serial killer. It’s actually a biting, satirical look at Yuppies on Wall Street – at their worst. I didn’t do any research into serial killing, because the mayhem Bateman creates is so over the top it’s not realistic. But to write the whole thing off as a black comedy would be completely wrong, because it is a very disturbing movie.
How do you prepare to snuff people with everything from axes, guns and knives to your teeth?
What helped me was that, even when I was losing control as Bateman, I had to be in control to stay in the right position for the camera and lighting. The abundance of fake blood helped, too. There were times when you felt like you were jumping in a fountain of it with all your clothes on. It’s very liberating, almost bestial.
How does a nice, quiet actor get in touch with a guy who’s in love with himself and loves killing?
I played it as though Bateman was appearing in his own movie. For instance, he has sex scenes, and I played them as though it was him living out his fantasies of being a porn star. Since he is in love with himself, the sex is incredibly cold, detached and actually very unerotic.
You brought it up, so let’s talk about those brutally sadistic sex scenes between Bateman and two hookers: I can’t imagine you were looking forward to filming those.
Thinking about it, I built it into this massive problem in my own head. It just seemed so bizarre. Then Mary Harron, the director, gave me some little stick figures and let me choreograph all the different positions the women and I would be in.
She looked at my drawings, and she sounded like she was ordering sushi: “Yes, that looks good. I’ll have one of those.” And when we actually did it, it was pretty humorous for us. The camera would roll, and we’d keep on simulating sex as long as we could until one of us started laughing.
Well, since we see most of your body in those scenes, no one can accuse you of not being in shape. You had Bateman’s exquisite form, but was it that way before you started filming?
Bateman liked to admire what he called his “six-pack” – those perfectly defined abs. I didn’t have any when we started, so I did manic amounts of training. I was as obsessive as he was, running six miles a day, boxing and lifting weights.
For the longest time, it seems that nothing is happening, and then suddenly you go, “Bloody hell!” because your body is completely transformed. I had never been in a gym in my life, and suddenly I was running my fingers along my own “six-pack.”
Did you spend as much time in front of the mirror admiring it as Bateman did?
Actually, I probably spent more time because I’m an actor. It’s an excuse to check yourself out at every opportunity. If I were to get caught, I’d say, “I’m just preparing for my role.”
How hard was it to get that annoyingly upper-crust accent?
It took about four weeks, and once I had it, I just kept it up the whole time, 24 hours a day. That was part of the reason I didn’t socialize with any of the cast. Bateman’s voice has this sort of arrogant tone, so you can’t help but come across as an arrogant prick.
You got married recently, but you’ve stonewalled any questions about your wife. Why the veil of secrecy?
My wife’s name is Sibi, and she’s not an actress. I promised myself I wouldn’t say anything else. It’s not beneficial for actors to talk about their personal lives. It becomes more difficult to make people believe in the character you’re playing if you’re in Hello magazine or something like that.
I’m not a TV personality. I’m not a talk-show host. I’m not here to talk about me and my wife and what we’re up to. That’s my own business.
I notice you keep touching your wedding ring. So, at least share one fun thing about being married.
The whole marriage thing I actually consider fun. It’s surprised me, but I enjoy saying “my wife.” I made a guy apologize to her the other night because he was rude. After saying, “You, apologize to my wife,” I couldn’t stop laughing because it felt great to say it.
After a tough day on the set, I guess it must be nice to be able to come home to your wife and escape the pressure.
Absolutely. That’s an essential thing, and that’s also why I really try to make sure there is a dividing line between the work I do and my personal life – you know, going home at night and not letting your work follow you.
You’re not known for playing the Hollywood fame game. What’s kept you on the sidelines?
When I first came to Los Angeles and made a movie, I was 17 years old, and it was all new to me. Suddenly, “Oh wow!” Here were these people taking me out to clubs and bars and pointing out actors and celebrities. It was fascinating, and I found it hilarious. I never really lost myself, but I did see that I could suffer from extreme overconfidence just like everybody else in that scene. It can actually kill your enjoyment of the real craft of acting.
I’m not being scathing about going out to parties and clubs, but when it becomes a serious thing of being seen at places, then it’s not fun anymore. But I’ve been as much of a brat as anybody. I think it is probably something you have to go through to realize why you hate it.
Can’t keep the girls away, though. Do your fans behave, or do they hit on you?
I’ll give you two extremes. I was at the L.A. Marathon recently, and some woman leaned over and started stroking my neck. This clammy hand came out of nowhere as she was saying, “I really like your work.” It made me want to vomit. I don’t know what the hell she was thinking.
The other time was when I was a lot younger. I was sitting in a café with some friends, and we started talking to these two girls. One of them started telling us about her boyfriend, who [she said] was Christian Bale. We started asking questions about him, and eventually, one of my friends couldn’t hold it in any longer and just got hysterical. He said, “You idiot, this is Christian Bale sitting right across from you.” The girl was so mortified she went rushing out of the restaurant.
After all the time you’ve spent in L.A. recently, what part of you is still British?
I love rain. Actually, I think most British people hate rain, but I actually love it. I like tea. I drink to projectile vomit, and that’s probably an English trait.
What do you do when you aren’t filming?
I don’t really have hobbies. I like to dirt-bike. I have a motocross bike, and I love doing that. But, you know, otherwise I just make faces at myself in the mirror, really. More faces in the mirror.
By Jeanne Wolf.