TeenHollywood.com (July 13th, 2002)

CHRISTIAN BALE: DRAGONSLAYER

Christian Bale was an “American Psycho,” Winona’s man in Little Women, Calista’s misguided suitor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and well… Jesus Christ in Mary, Mother of Jesus on T.V. Now, the hunky, 28-year-old Bale is the leader of his people and a kick-butt dragon slayer in the new sci fi actioner Reign of Fire. When we spoke with Christian in L.A. recently we had forgotten that he is Welsh-born and speaks with a soft British accent. He’s also got a wicked sense of humor. He sat down, leaned over and started reading our interview notes. When he saw “five-year-old daughter” written near his name, he responded with “Whew, not that I know of” and was relieved to see that we were referring to his co-star Izabella Scorupco and the interview was off to a wacky start.

This was Bale’s first real action movie and a sci-fi one at that. “I had a lot of reservations about making a movie like this. Initially, I was very surprised that they were interested in me for it because I didn’t expect that and it came to be an attraction for me. I hope that I can always do something that isn’t predictable.” The actor grew to have faith in X-Files director Rob Bowman. “There’s a great deal of risk involved in making a movie of this scale. It really needs a good director helming it. I really wanted to know that there was going to be one person who was genuinely directing this movie and it would be his movie at the end of the day.”

Working with his first “something that isn’t there” was a leap of faith. What if the dragons looked dorky? “The dragon is the star of this movie and I had no idea what it was going to look like or how they were going to present it. I wanted to know that what Rob told me was going to be exactly what it was. I wanted to know that suddenly, in editing, there wasn’t going to be a CGI guy who decided that one dragon was gonna kinda like my character or suddenly was going to have a hat on its head or have big eyelashes or whatever. These things can happen and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be that kind of a project.”

Initially, the script wasn’t quite up to Bale’s standards. “I had very specific notes but I asked Rob what he thought was problematic with the script and it was exactly what my concerns were. So I did a complete 180 in the meeting. I went in there kind of thinking really, probably not and left there thinking ‘man this could be really quite exciting and different for me to do.'”

Imagining attacking, fire-breathing dragons was pretty weird. “It was having to stare at mid-air. I got an awful lot of the artists’ renderings of the dragon so I knew exactly what it would look like. Also, what made it much easier is we didn’t use bluescreen at all. It was all done on location. That enabled the performance to have a kind of reality to it instead of the cold atmosphere of a studio with a blue screen and that helped us a great deal.”

How crazy is it to run from attacking flying lizards? “Well, it’s as silly as you can imagine it to be really. Every part of the job is. Every movie is actually incredibly silly. The most earnest, character-driven movie is still very silly if you look at it with clear eyes when you are making it. It always a good idea to have that in mind and not be taking yourself too seriously.”

Christian was experienced at talking to nothing but air. “I’ve done many movies where there are no special effects whatsoever where I’m doing a scene, apparently talking to somebody and in reality 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 etc. So it’s not something that is completely alien.”

The actor has steered away from action movies in the past. Does he feel that they aren’t his cup of tea? “Only in that so many action movies or special effects movies seem to have no interest whatsoever in telling a story and in having the perspective of the human characters. It seems to get lost very often. [In this case], it was more being excited to have the opportunity to do it because I believe any type of action movie can be done well.”

Christian’s youthful exposure to science fiction might not be that unique. “I primarily knew Aliens from sitting in living rooms at parties at school where everybody had taken some kind of substance and was just sitting there going ‘wow! Look at the mooooovie’ and I hadn’t really seen it other than that. I enjoyed Star Wars a great deal but I was never a hardcore sci-fi fan. I like it if I find the story is good. He saw Attack of the Clones but is more attracted to the Star Wars Classics. “I don’t seem to be able to enjoy them [Star Wars films] as much as I did as a kid. They’re a part of my childhood so I’m always going to be there and see them but it may well be nostalgia but there’s something about the early ones that I really feel for.”

Both Christian and co-star Matthew McConaughey look really buff in this film but Christian confides that it wasn’t always so. “Matthew was obviously punching people non-stop in Dublin. He was sparring constantly. I actually arrived having dieted quite considerably because I thought [my character] should be gaunt and then I saw Matthew and I realized that I actually had to be competition for him. I had to be somebody that people could believe could go toe to toe with him and not just psychologically so I did a crazy couple of weeks of desperate working out to look like I could stand a few minutes in the ring with him. I ate a lot of fish and chicken.”

Christian’s goal of creating believable competition wasn’t easily met. Was he up to Matthew’s tough guy level? “Well, I kind of thought I was. When we were doing the fight scenes. I was like ‘well, there’s a good fight between us. We’re going to duke it out’ and then I watched it and it was like ‘what was I thinking?’ I just get creamed! I thought I was being competitive but he just walks all over me.” Things got a little overly physical at one point. “He [Matthew] head-butted me and that’s what you see in the movie. It’s a genuine (smacks his hands together) and then I stood up and genuinely punched him because he had just genuinely head-butted me. But, I think he got the better shot in.”

Working on a set with constantly burning fires and ash was quite hellish. Did he get scorched? “There were a few times we got close to it but they had some flame-retardant gel that they would douse us with, but it is fire. They can control it to a point but there was one scene were I went running up and there was going to be a ball of flame and it sort of rebounded off a wall and came back over me again. Every morning we would see the crew get on their white masks and we didn’t because we were on camera and by lunch time they were jet black. You’ve got to be looking at that saying, ‘hey.'”

American Psycho was a very controversial film but Christian was willing to dive in. “I don’t ever want to be turning something down because I’m afraid. I always want to be unpredictable in what kind of movie I make. I really enjoyed making American Psycho. It was well worth the fight I went through to get it done. I never quite understood it when people I knew in the industry said I’d never work again if I made it. Career suicide. I must be honest, it gave me a little kick to do something that people thought would end my career. I found it was a misconception about what the movie really was.”

A movie buff off the set, the actor had just rented a couple of films he really liked. “I rented Chopper, an Australian movie with a great performance by Eric Bana (soon to be The Hulk) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” The next of Christian’s projects to be released will be Equilibrium a quieter sci-fi piece with Emily Watson and Taye Diggs. “I play a law enforcement officer in a unspecified futuristic society and psychiatric drugs are enforced to create peace. They eradicate hatred but they also eradicate joy and love. It’s set over five or six days and there are circumstances where he doesn’t take his dose and feels emotions for the first time.”

When asked what his anti-drug or natural high in life was, the actor made it personal. “In my everyday life, I mean it sincerely, I get my biggest high out of my wife. I love her beyond belief and we have a fantastic life together.”

By Lynn Barker.