Esquire (May 2000)

KILLER CUTS

Forget the ‘right profile’: Christian Bale plays man at his worst in the long-awaited film version of American Psycho.

Christian Bale is convinced: “There’s always a fascination with the bad guys,” he asserts. “It’s easier to grab people’s attention being bad than it is being good.” After bringing one of the most amoral literary characters to the cinema screen, the 26-year-old British-born actor speaks from experience.

There is very little to redeem his character, Patrick Bateman.an obnoxious, self-obsessed Wall Street banker whose sadistic, murderous fantasies leave Gordon Gekko looking like a genuinely nice guy. But then the “impossible project” of filming Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho was never going to be a bed of roses. “I think American Psycho, either the book or the film, is always going to incite controversy,” says Bale. The detailed scenes of sex and violence that pepper Ellis’s novel caused original publishers Simon and Schuster to drop the book, incensed literary critics and feminist groups when it was later published by Vintage, and nauseated many of the 100,000 punters who subsequently delved into its infamous pages. So why was Bale keen to take centre-stage as such a monstrous individual?

“Initially it was my surprise at the script,” he says. “l expected a deep, dark analysis of a serial killer, but actually it’s an analysis of the Eighties. American Psycho depicts men at their worst, but it’s an absurdism to see Bateman as a serial killer. It’s not the focus, and to do so neglects the satire, social commentary and intelligence of the story.” Mary “I Shot Andy Warhol” Harron’s film is indeed a wickedly humorous period piece about the elite twenty somethings of Manhattan in the Eighties.That one of the film’s fantasy scenes has Bateman hack his more successful colleague to death with a large axe is testament to American Psycho’s gore factor.That the murder is preceded by Bateman delivering a lecture on the profundity of Huey Lewis and the News lyrics, having covered the floorboards of his minimal penthouse in pages of The New York Times’s Style section to soak up the anticipated blood stains, confirms its deliciously macabre tone.

The film is a style-perfect study of the material fetishes that marked the Eighties (sculpted hair, double-breasted suits, big hi-fis, minimal interiors, expensive restaurants). Bale, however, is experiencing it all for the first time. He’s too young to have enjoyed adulthood in the second decade that style forgot, as well as hailing from the wrong side of the Atlantic to have hung out with Bateman’s crowd. Does it seem odd to him that Harron chose a British actor? Would a US actor not have had a clearer understanding of the character? Bale argues Bateman’s motivation is not the point of American Psycho.This shared viewpoint is, he believes, the reason why Harron chose him.”Bateman’s not a real person – he’s an abstraction,” he argues.”Bateman is playing out his fantasies of being the lead in various movies: a horror film, an action flick, a porno… so that was how I approached many of the scenes; with a sense of detachment that meant Bateman was acting what he was doing rather than really feeling it.”

If the psychology of Bateman is all fake, his physicality certainly isn’t. Bale admits he had to adopt a lot of his character’s narcissism in order to get the required physique in double-quick time.”Bateman’s six-pack is mentioned in the script, so I couldn’t play the role without having a six-pack,” he explains.”! had to be in the gym three hours a day, after 14 hours a day on set, and I wasn’t allowed to eat anything except chicken, tuna, cottage cheese and egg whites.” Was he pleased with the results?”! enjoyed feeling fit, but the exercise mania burrows into your brain.You end up judging everyone in terms of their body, and find yourself having boring conversations about the gym and working out. One part of you is standing back going, ‘Christian, what are you doing?’ while the other half is well in there going.’l love it!'”

Bale has allowed himself to become the “star vehicle” to promote American Psycho but it’s testament to his passion about the project, rather than any desire to put himself in the spotlight. Despite a perfectly healthy pan-Atlantic acting CV covering two decades, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t recognise Bale.The last time he grabbed headlines was back in 1987, when the 13-year-old unknown was cast as the lead in Steven Spielberg’s epic, Empire of the Sun. The boy from Bournemouth beat 4,000 hopefuls to the role of Jim Graham, the upper-crust kid who wheels and deals his way through the Second World War, almost nabbing an Oscar nomination in the process. Bale became an instant tabloid darling, but resented the attention:”l’m a schoolboy, not a star,” he protested at the time.

Bale wisely chose to work through his teen angst out of the media glare. By the time some of his child-star contemporaries were crawling out the other side of their pre-pubescent drugs hell, Bale had amassed a critically acclaimed body of work, including roles in Little Women (with Winona Ryder), Portrait of a Lady (opposite Nicole Kidman), and more recently with Ewan McGregor in the glam rock epic Velvet Goldmine. This prompted USA Today to dub Bale,”the hottest young actor you’ve never heard of”.

Bale’s relative Hollywood anonymity has served to create quite a mystique. It may help explain the actor’s enormous popularity on the internet.Thousands of fanatical “Baleheads” join virtual communities like “Bale Haven” to wax lyrical about their favourite star. Another person who developed a “thing” for Bale is Bret Easton Ellis. In Clamoramo, his follow-up novel to America Psycho, Ellis features a sinister character called simply “the Christian Bale guy”.

But Bale’s appointment as the lead in American Psycho was not a cut and dried affair. When uber-celeb Leonardo DiCaprio expressed a post-Titanic interest in taking on the Bateman mantle just months before filming was due to start, the production company couldn’t wait to accommodate him.They increased the film’s modest budget substantially (partly to incorporate Leo’s anticipated salary), and told Bale to scram. He was furious, having worked on the project since its inception a year earlier, but decided to hold out hopefully. Sure enough, Leo soon had second thoughts about working on what was sure to be a controversial project and Bale was only too happy to reclaim his rightful starring role.

Bale is clearly a man with convictions. He’s bucked the celebrity trail, and isn’t about to start taking career advice from the marketing men. “After American Psycho I was advised to do a romantic comedy playing a very likable character. I won’t do it for the sake of it,” he says.True to his word, Bale’s next role sees him embracing evil again, opposite Samuel L Jackson in Shaft Returns.”My character is not psychotic like Bateman. It’s more about the evil eyes between me and Sam Jackson, and him calling me motherf**ker a lot. But I have to admit I’m enjoying it.” Proof, perhaps, that bad guys really do have more fun.

By Maria Paggetti.