CHRISTIAN BALE: AMERICAN PSYCHO
For those who best remember Christian Bale as the boy-hero of Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun and as the wholesome love interest in Little Women (1994), his new film will come as a shock. With its disturbing tale of a monstrous serial killer protagonist, set against a backdrop of conspicuous consumption and graphic violence against women, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho was one of the most controversial novels of the last decade. Now the film version looks likely to attract at least as much attention and controversy. Directed, ironically enough, by a woman, Mary Harron, it stars Bale in the title role as a handsome, rich and powerful Manhattan alpha-male named Patrick Bateman who indulges his darkest sexual and homicidal appetites. On this early April afternoon, however, the actor is, thankfully, indulging another appetite; he’s chomping on a banana, followed by a capuccino. In fact, wearing a dark blue sweater over a white t-shirt and olive army fatigues, Christian comes across as a nice, well-adjusted young man as he nestles into a padded armchair in LA’s posh Meridien hotel and talks about the film, its controversial sex scenes, how he almost lost the role to Leonardo DiCaprio, his recent marriage, his personal cure for a hangover, and his unlikely link to John Wayne.
Did this role give you bad dreams?
I really didn’t dream about him at all. I slept well. A lot of people were asking me how I’d be able to play him without being affected in some way, but he’s such a performance in himself. He’s performing 24 hours a day, so there’s no real Bateman to be affected by, to linger in you. So, no nightmares. But then I played Jesus after this in Mary, Mother of Jesus and that gave me nightmares like I haven’t had since I was six. I was waking up with sweats.
How do you feel about Bateman?
He’s so ludicrous and ridiculous and pities himself so much. He’s someone I’d love to be next to at another table in a restaurant and eavesdrop on, but I wouldn’t want to be at the same table.
There’s a very graphic three-way sex scene.
Yeah, and I hope they don’t cut it too much. The truly disturbing thing for me is that it’s essentially Bateman having sex with himself. He’s watching himself in the mirror, and that’s what’s turning him on – flexing his muscles. He’s almost oblivious to the fact there’s two women there. They’re just tools, but it’s himself that he really gets off on. I think Bateman has a lot of similarities with Dorian Gray, that obsession with youth and the amorality of it.
Is there anything you’d draw the line at in a sex scene?
You have to maintain the fact you’re acting, and I’d draw the line at that. There are the realities of two people pretending to do it, and you can get carried away – except that movie sets are completely unsexy places. And this sex scene is pretty unerotic I feel. It’s cold, the prostitutes are bored silly, with blank faces. But it’s an interesting sex scene as it tells you something about him.
You’re really pumped up physically for the role. Was that a pain to do, to turn into Sylvester Stallone for a while?
Yeah, but you really have to get into it, otherwise you can’t do it. The psychology of Bateman, you fake it entirely. But then for the physicality, which is so important for him and more so than with most characters, you can’t fake it. It doesn’t come natural for me to spend three hours in a gym and run six miles and eat very boring food. So I had to adopt some of his psychology to get the physical part in shape – some of his vanity and obsession. And I did that for several months before we began shooting, and during the shoot, so the driver would take me to the gym at 3am and I’d work out. So you have to be addicted to it to discipline yourself to that degree, and there’s no way I’d ever have done it without the role as the goal.
Do you ever feel your looks have hindered you?
I feel that I totally transformed them for this part. When Mary asked me to play Bateman, I was playing Bobby in a film called All the Little Animals, a character who’s 24 but with the mental age of about 12. So I had a bit of a belly and I was soft all round. I enjoy attempting some sort of transformation with each role.
How did you feel when you and Mary were booted off the project when Leonardo flirted with it for a while? It must have been a real education in the politics of Hollywood.
It was. I was devastated and it felt like we’d been kicked out of our own party. It was a wakeup call in terms of the business side. Creatively, though, it was a great confidence booster as Mary said if she couldn’t cast me, she wouldn’t do the film. So she was booted off her own film. But when the Leo thing came to nothing, she was asked back. So it says a lot about her integrity, as she must have turned down a ton of money.
Did you ever meet Leo?
Just briefly once, many years ago. I’ve been told by friends of his that he was merely sent the script and he liked it. Well, I can’t blame him for that. It was a great script. And they said his involvement wasn’t anything more. I don’t know what the truth of the matter was. Whatever happened, Mary felt all along it wasn’t smart to make it into a mega-budget film, and thankfully she stuck to her guns.
Bateman has zero emotional life, but you just quietly got married, to indie producer Sibi Blazic.
Yeah, we met through a friend and got married January 29. She knows a lot about the business and she travels with me everywhere now, so we’re together all the time.
So what made you suddenly decide to get married?
I’d never wanted to before. In fact, I was never excited at the idea and I hated going to weddings, but when I met her it just suddenly hit me. I just wanted to get married, and it was right and I’m having so much fun. It’s hilarious when you first get called a husband, it really is. But I’m loving it and I think marriage is great – at least, with her it’s great.
Do you want to have kids?
Did you get time for a honeymoon?
A really brief one. We didn’t tell anyone about getting married, so we just had a few days off, that’s all. We’ve yet to go on a proper honeymoon.
Where do you live now?
I’ve been in New York until a month ago, and then I’ve been travelling about and back in London for a bit. But I find that I’m mainly in LA now. I always moved around growing up and I was never that bothered about where I was. Now, there’s far more choice for me in film here than in London. It seemed like it would change a few years back, but it didn’t happen the way everyone was hoping for. There was all this excitement and I went back and did 3 films back to back, Labour came in and gave these great tax reliefs for movies, and everyone said, ‘Here we go.’ But then it didn’t go at all. So I’m based here really and trying to decide where to settle as I am finally getting sick of always living out of a suitcase. I love travelling, but I do want to have a place for all my stuff.
So you don’t own a house yet?
I have family out here, and I actually do own a house. But as I was never there I sort of got ousted out of it, and I found that I was having to sleep on couches and everyone else was in my house. (Sheepishly) It’s my sister, but I ousted her now. I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I’ve got a house, I’ve got a wife now, why do we have to sleep on this couch?
What do you do when you’re not working?
Lately it’s been meeting a lot of people about work and eating a hell of a lot of sushi. I don’t have any real hobbies, although I love to take my dirt bike out into the desert. I’m actually very good at spending a lot of time doing absolutely nothing. I’m a master at that, and I love to sleep.
What do you spend your money on?
I’ve always been typically bad at handling all that. Until now I haven’t even earned enough where it’s been an issue. I’ve never had to ask, ‘What can I do with all this money?’ I did American Psycho for minimum wage, and they told me I got less than the make up girl. But that was a choice I had to make, otherwise it wouldn’t have got made. I do hope that’s going to change! But then even with scale on a movie, you’re still living like a king compared with actor friends who’re doing theatre in London. Nobody can pay their bills there.
What are your vices?
I smoke on occasions. I love to smoke when I drink, but then I also love to go running like crazy and getting my heart pounding and gasping for air, and the two don’t tend to go well together. Running is actually a great cure for a hangover – I know it sounds hideous, but if you’ve got a bad hangover, just go and run like crazy. It’s hideous for a few minutes, but it does cure it.
Is the drinking part of your Welsh heritage?
I was born in Wales but I’m not Welsh – I’m English.
Where did the acting come from? Was your family at all showbiz?
In some way, yes. My grandfather on my mum’s side was a stand up comedian, a children’s entertainer and in the Magic Circle. My mum was a dancer for a bit, and my great uncle was an actor, and my other grandfather was in the RAF and when he retired he became John Wayne’s stunt double. I’m also meant to be related to Lilly Langtry somewhere along the line, which is kind of interesting. I’m going to research that at some point. Maybe that explains it. Then one of my sisters is in theatre and directs in LA, while the other is a musician.
What did you inherit from your father?
From the age of 13 he lived by himself and travelled all over the world working on cargo ships. He was living in a 24-hour Wimpey’s in Earls Court when he met my mum. The manager just let him stay there, and then he’d go off to the docks. So I must have inherited my restless nature, and being a bit of a gypsy like that is great for acting as you’ve always got to be ready to just uproot and move somewhere else.
What did you inherit from your mother?
(Laughs) Putting on make up! I remember going to watch her. She was in the circus and she’d put on make up as the head clown. And there’d be all these gorgeous young women walking around topless in fishnets, and she was the head dance girl too, so there was always a lot of make up. That was in Battersea, and I was about 6. That was a great time, hanging around the back of the tents, and having a kiss with a young Polish trapeze artist. Fascinating time. That’s probably what started it all.