BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN
Christian Bale seems unusually upbeat for someone who specialises in portraying dark, disturbed characters. The once fresh-faced 13-year-old, whose perfect public school features and innocent manner led Stephen Spielberg to cast him in Empire Of The Sun 14 years ago, has acquired a penchant for playing the kind of people you wouldn’t exactly take home to meet your parents. Lately we’ve seen him as a murderer in Shaft, and as the psychotic killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
The handsome leading man sitting before me, 6ft-plus with glossy brown hair, hazel eyes and an endearing smile, couldn’t be further removed from those unpleasant screen personas, but then Christian has a lotto grin about.
Something of a sceen veteran, with 20 films under his belt, his most recent project has him starring alongside Penelope Cruz and Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which looks set to win critical and box-office acclaim for its sensitive treatment of the book that one in every 20 UK households now owns. Christian plays the humble Greek fisherman Mandras, Penelope Cruz’s love interest until Cage’s charismatic Corelli comes along and changes the lives of those around him.
There is another reason for Christian’s sunny demeanour, however: after discreetly dating some of the actresses from his films (which include Velvet Goldmine, The Portrait Of A Lady and Little Women) the Welsh-born actor has found true love. Christian married American film producer Sandra “Sibi” Blazic in a secret ceremony last year 10 months after meeting her at a friend’s barbecue. They live in Los Angeles with Christian’s two dogs and three cats.
“My marriage is the most important thing to me, and while I want to tell everyone about it, I don’t want it to be written about publicly,” he says, trying to look serious, while the smile flickering around his mouth betrays his undoubted joy. “It’s a paradox but I’ve promised myself I won’t say anything. I can’t read too much about myself without getting paranoid.”
Christian’s shyness can perhaps be traced to his unhappy experience of childhood stardom after Empire Of The Sun. At one point during this period he became so overwrought that he slipped out of a promotional interview in Paris and sprinted up the Champs Elysees. “It was a great feeling, walking out on that amount of attention,” he says simply. “I was almost crying in interviews and running away during press conferences, pretending I was going to the toilet and just disappearing.
“Part of the reason why children can give good performances is their complete ignorance of the pressure on them,” he adds. “No way was I thinking Empire Of The Sun could be a career-maker – but that film had a massive effect on my life.
“I don’t know how you manage not to feel like a freak from all the sudden attention. I went from being a loudmouth teenager trying to get attention to suddenly having it all the time. So I tried to be as invisible as possible. I even said to my dad, ‘I don’t want to do this, it’s not fun any more.'” Christian’s father persuaded him otherwise, something that Bale junior must be thankful for today, with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin set to be as popular as Shakespeare In Love (which had the same director, John Madden).
The movie was filmed on Cephalonia, the Greek island where the book is set, and Christian recalls with fondness the time spent on location. “I loved being on Cephalonia- studying the accent, eating the food, dancing – the rhythm of the place got into me.”
The role of Mandras, the Greek partisan, is one that Christian particularly relished, as it meant immersing himself in the Greek way of life. “Of all the characters, he is the one who most symbolises Greece,” he says with pride, “and I was told this constantly by the locals.”
Born, he says, “on the pig’s snout” of Wales, in Pembrokeshire, and brought up in Oxfordshire, Bournemouth, Dorset and Portugal, Christian is the youngest of four children, and the only son. His father David (who later married the American feminist Gloria Steinem) was a commercial pilot, but Christian caught the showbiz bug, aged six, from his mother Jenny, who was a circus dancer. “I’d be in a caravan with these beautiful women who would walk around naked except for fishnets and peacock head-dresses,” he says.
Both his grandfathers were part-time actors, and his great uncle, Rex Bale, a professional with more than 20 movies to his credit, was a cousin of the infamous Victorian stage actress and singer, Lillie Langtry. Christian began acting in television commercials at the age of nine. He then followed his sister Louise into theatre workshops and played in the stage comedy The Nerd, opposite Rowan Atkinson.
Unlike a lot of hisHollywoodcontemporaries, Christian looks horrified at the thought of hanging out with the in-crowd and craving the spotlight. “I love going to nightclubs but there are things that should be done anonymously, y’know? I’ve hung on to my privacy by keeping a minimum of people around me – just my agent and my dad,” he says.
While Christian is no Brad Pitt or George Clooney in terms of global hero-worship, he nevertheless has one of the most popular actors’ internet sites, and christianbale.org receives an impressive 100,000 weekly hits. A large portion of his site is dedicated to the actor’s favoured causes: fans can read about his philanthropic involvement, offer donations and even start their own campaigns.
“My family has always been very interested in animal care and animal rights,” he says. “All my pets are from rescue homes, so I tend to be aware of these issues.” Christian has been a vegetarian, too, since the age of six, when his sister read him the children’s story Charlotte’s Web, and he made the connection between animals in the farmyard and meat on the table. Currently he’s raising funds to look after an orphaned baby gorilla in Rwanda, and promoting the Happy Child Mission, a school for street children in Brazil. He is also working with PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) to bring an end to fox-hunting in Britain.
“People with higher profiles can lend support by drawing attention to charities,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to use the internet to direct my fans toward causes I believe in.”
Fans drawn to his website will be disappointed at the lack of personal information about Christian, since he constantly plays down his private life in order to protect his privacy. “It’s inevitable that people find out some things,” he muses, “but I feel I must attempt to maintain some level of mystery. Not out of any desire to be intriguing, but just because it makes my job easier as an actor. I didn’t get into this to be a personality. I want to pretend to be other people, so why tell people too much about myself?”
Nevertheless, he has acquired legion admirers, who refer to themselves as “Baleheads”. “It never ceases to surprise me that I have so many fans. It just sort of happens,” he says.
Such privacy as he’s managed to maintain is unlikely to survive Corelli, however, and those praising his performance will be joined by admirers of the Bale physique – particularly after the scene where he bares his bronzed posterior.
But, as the demure, animal-loving, spotlight-hating Mr Bale says, “Who wouldn’t like having girls you don’t even know compliment you? It’s a great ego boost.”
By Pippa Smith.