The Inside Reel (2000)

AMERICAN PSYCHO’S CHRISTIAN BALE REVEALS THE METHOD TO HIS MADNESS

In the first frame of American Psycho red paint streaks across a white canvas, and I was sure that the film was going to be too self-conscious to be enjoyable. But it is exactly that kind of self-absorption that makes the character of Patrick Bateman so intriguing. He kills with abandon, and believes that he will never get caught.

At the press screening, a lot of critics walked out because the violence was so in your face, yet the young crowd I saw it with on opening night, seemed to connect with the psycho.

And Christian Bale as the charming but totally crazy, Bateman is a slicing presence. Sitting across from me at the Le Meridien Hotel inBeverly Hills, Bale is relaxed and pleasant (and has a British accent!), a stark contrast to his on-screen character: For the movie, he had his teeth wired to make them look absolutely perfect. He worked out to the point of collapse to make himself look like the ultimate Dionysus of Death. Now Bale talks to Tag about Huey Lewis, Hitchcock and the art of being an ax murderer.

Wassberg: Who is Patrick Bateman really?

Bale: I think “really” that he could never exist. I never viewed him as a real person. I never went into motivation of why he would be like this. He describes himself as an abstraction and that’s the way that I played him as well. He is just someone that could not exist. Bret Easton Ellis looked at these very privileged, educated young men in Manhattan in the 80s behaving badly and asked himself, “How far would they go?” “How much can they get away with?” “Can they get away with murder?” Then Patrick Bateman arrives.

W: American Psycho seems very Hitchcockian to me.

B: Director Mary Harron is a great fan of Hitchcock. She had me watch a few Hitchcock movies to sort of show me what style she was going for… and the movie does get very surreal. Bateman doesn’t even knowing if he’s Bateman by the end. Bateman goes from a psychopath to a complete psychotic in his own world, absolutely out of touch, by the end of the movie.

W: Music seems to be important for Bateman.

B: The music is really used as a tool to lead-up to mayhem. There are these very mainstream songs which Bateman just adores. I always viewed it as though he recognized that humans seems to get some kind of warmth from this thing called music and he’d better just do the same to show that he’s human as well. But then he, rather bizarrely, goes out and picks the blandest numbers you can come across. He genuinely feels some soulful nourishment or joy from “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis or a Whitney Houston Song.

W: For Bateman it seems that pulling back a strand of hair is no different than stabbing a woman through the heart.

B: He has absolutely no conscience. No feeling about what he does. He wishes he would have. He knows the appropriate moments when he should be feeling remorse. He never really feels any guilt. So he realizes that he has no limits at all because he feels nothing for what he does. He could just as easily pay somebody a compliment and be incredibly nice or take their head off with an ax–it really wouldn’t make any difference to him.

By Tim Wassberg.