Manhattan File (2000)

THE MAKING OF A KILLER

Starring in American Psycho wasn’t scary for Christian Bale – until, that is, he had to do some research.

“It’s a morality tale, really,” says Christian Bale of American Psycho, the controversy-dogged film in which he stars, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s stupendously gory novel about a misogynistic, Wall Street, yuppie serial killer named Patrick Bateman. “It’s just … not for kids, you know?”

On this sun-soaked afternoon, Bale is spearing slices of grilled chicken at the SoHo eatery The Cupping Room, near his short-term digs in Greenwich Village. The buzzed-about Brit is here filming John Singleton’s update of Shaft; Bale’s the villain, a sociopathic rich kid with a toxic temper. “It’s fun,” he says impishly. “I go eye-to-eye an awful lot with [Shaft’s star] Samuel L. Jackson.” Bale’s first post-Psycho character shares Bateman’s “arrogant sense of entitlement, without the psychosis.” (His next role is Nicolas Cage’s vengeful rival in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, shooting in Greece in May.)

The pitch-black comic ’80s satire American Psycho was directed and co-scripted by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol). Bale, Harron’s first and only choice for Psycho’s lead, was so keen to play sadistic, status-obsessed Patrick Bateman that he hung tough even after the film’s producers, angling for a flashier name, went for broke and courted box-office behemoth Leonardo DiCaprio.

The American Psycho commotion didn’t end with Bale’s reclaiming his role. Its 1999 Toronto shoot was beset by protests from women’s and victims’ rights groups. And although Harron wisely kept most of the carnage off screen, Psycho drew an NC-1 7 rating for sex (biggest offender: a not terribly explicit three-way scene, subsequently excised.)

To get in character for Bateman, Bale swam with the sharks at Salomon Smith Barney, “going on the trading floor, going to bars with them.” And no, he didn’t observe anyone comparing designers (Bale’s Bateman – gym-sculpted to Greek-statue standards – is smartly turned out in Nino Cerruti) or suffering business-card envy (in one of the film’s most darkly funny scenes, Bateman goes into a murderous tailspin over a smug colleague’s watermark.) “But,” Bale says, amused, “a couple of ’em wanted to show me their ATMs: ‘You gotta see my bank balance, man.’ I had people telling me Bateman’s their hero.”

Nonetheless, stresses Bale, “you do get enlightenment from American Psycho – that without ethics, material success is pointless. Frankly, the same message could come out of a film with lots of fine and happy people and bunnies jumping around: ‘Greed is not good, for the individual or for society. Let’s have a bit of warmth.'”

By Moira McCormick.