Cinema (July 2002)


Christian Bale is one of the most remarkable and versatile actors under thirty in the movie business. Bale’s first rise to fame began with the lead part in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” playing a British diplomat’s son who becomes separated from his parents in World War II while the Japanese are invading Shanghai and learns to survive on his own in the concentration camps. At fifteen, he gave a sterling performance in this grand and magnificent movie that earned him an award by the National Board of Review for Outstanding Juvenile performance.

The Welsh-born Bale disappeared for a few years to further his studies, and then returned as a heartthrob in “Little Women.” It became more difficult to categorize Bale when he went on to test his versatility in such indistinguishable roles in “Velvet Goldmine,” “American Psycho,” “Shaft” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Handsome, brawny and charismatic, he believably inhabits his latest film with the post-apocalyptic dragon slayer movie “Reign of Fire,” which is more of a summer popcorn movie that you would expect from him. Such strange but beguiling career choices have even led Entertainment Weekly into hailing him as one of the “most powerful cult figures of the past decade.” Bale tries to shed light on his career path and making sense out of acting.

What were you feelings at first when you were approached to make Reign of Fire?

I had reservations about making a movie like this. Initially I was very surprised they were interested in me for it because I didn’t expect that. It was an attraction for me because I hope that I can always do something that isn’t predictable. There’s a great deal of risk in making a movie of this scale.

Why do you think that there is some kind of risk involved?

First of all, it really needs a strong-minded director. I wanted to know that it was going to be Rob’s movie at the end of the day, and not anybody else’s. Not somebody who is not there on the set. And Rob told me that it was going to be exactly how he planned it, and no tricky editing with [computer generated effects] that was going to perhaps have one dragon was going to kind of like my character, or another was going to have a hat on its head, or make me wear big eyelashes. (Laughs) Or whatever… but these things happen.

Isn’t it true that you had problems with the script?

I had some concerns about the story, but what was great is that Rob had the exact same concerns and promised that there were going to be changes. I did a complete 180 degree turn in the meeting. I went in there thinking, ‘No, probably not,’ and left thinking this is something exciting and different for me to do. And Rob stayed true to his word throughout, which is no small feat really. There wasn’t a single thing that I was disappointed with.

Was it new for you to be working with complicated visual effects and matte photography?

I’ve done plenty of movies where there are no special effects whatsoever and I’m doing a scene where I’m doing a scene apparently talking to somebody and I’m looking at a brick wall, because that actor was not able to fit behind the camera and the lights needed to be there and the room is too small and etcetera. Blue screen is not something that is so alien to me really.

Are there any other action movies that you have liked in the past?

I enjoyed Star Wars a great deal as a kid. I was never a hard core, science-fiction fan. I liked it if I found the story is good basically. I don’t seem to be able to enjoy them quite as much as I did as a kid. I still enjoy them because I can’t help it; it’s part of my childhood. It may well be nostalgia, but it’s something about the early ones that I feel something for.

Has the concept of acting changed with you since when you first started acting as a child some fifteen years ago?

Man, I’ve hated it and I’ve loved it. I wanted to quit and wanted nothing to do with it, and everything in between.

You’ve taken some controversial parts before like American Psycho and Velvet Goldmine. Did you take those roles in order to keep acting interesting for yourself?

I never want to turn something down because I’m afraid to do it, because of some idea of image or whatever. That was never anything I set out to do. In fact, the opposite, I always want to confuse people in terms of any kind of image and be unpredictable in any kind of movie I make. I never want to feel that I’m playing it safe.

Were you competitive with Matthew McConaughey on the set?

Competitive? I kind of thought I was. When we were doing the fight sequence, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re really duking it.’ And then I watch it and it was like, ‘What was I thinking?’ I just get creamed. (Laughs) I thought I was being competitive, but he just walked all over me.

Come on. Tell us what McConaughey was like otherwise.

Matthew was punching people non stop in Dublin. (Laughs) No, he was. Down at the boxing gym, he was sparring with [amateurs]. I did a crazy undertaking for a couple of weeks where I worked out so I could be convincing with at least lasting a couple of minutes going up against Matthew on the screen.

Since you worked in the theater when you were much younger, have you ever considered about going back?

I’ve thought about it, but I have no immediate plans to go back. I understand why stage actors talked about it so highly. Nevertheless, just as a viewer I have always enjoyed movies more than I have enjoyed theater. Maybe that has to do with the choices of movies that I’ve gone to see. I have a more natural inclination more towards movies.

What gives you the most kick out of life?

I really do get a kick out of acting when it’s done really well. When there’s a feeling on the set and working in tandem with everybody and you just know that everything worked exactly how you wanted it to. That’s the fantastic part. In everyday life, my wife is the most wonderful. We’re in love with each other beyond belief.

By Sean Chavel.