(July 10th, 2002)


Christian Bale likes his privacy. While this may seem like an odd preference for an actor on the verge of becoming a household name, Bale doesn’t think the two must necessarily cancel each other out.

“I’m just naturally quite a private person. A lot of people think because you’re an actor you’re a complete exhibitionist – I’m not at all in my own life, whatsoever, not in the slightest. But I do have a real joy of acting when it’s all under the right circumstances,” Bale tells during a phone interview.

The issue of privacy vs. fame is one that the talkative Bale appears to have spent a lot of time thinking about; trying to understand why viewers need to know so much about actors’ private lives.

“I find I get no pleasure at all and there’s nothing added to my life by finding out about actor’s personal lives. It ruins it for me. I don’t understand why people want to know so much about it because it ruins watching movies,” he emphatically explains.

“Inevitably, I think the more you work as an actor, the harder it becomes to let people believe in what you’re doing,” he says. “It’s kind of a Catch-22; the more successful you get, the more choices you get, but at the same time, the more people know you so it’s impossible to believe it as much as a newcomer. That’s just unavoidable, not matter how private you remain.”

“The truth is this: if I didn’t have to do a single interview, I never would,” Bale laments. “But you must, because no one’s going to see the movie unless you tell them something about it. So, it becomes an essential thing.”

The reason for this interview is Bale’s latest film, “Reign of Fire,” a film set about 20 years in the future when dragons have overtaken the Earth and threaten to extinguish mankind. Bale plays Quinn Abercromby, son of the woman who inadvertently awoke the giant and lethal creatures and became one of the creatures’ first victims. Quinn now shelters a community of survivors who are hoping to ensure their survival by outlasting the dragons, who have run low on food resources.

“Fire” is Bale’s first starring role in an action film, unless you want to call “American Psycho” an action film. At only 28, the native Welsh actor (who now lives mainly in Los Angeles) has already amassed an impressive and varied resume, starting off with his starring role in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” and including the musical “Newsies”; period dramas like “Portrait of a Lady” and “Little Women”; the independent films “The Velvet Goldmine” and “Metroland” and bigger box office fare such as “Shaft” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.”

The variety of his roles is no accident, it is precisely that quality that is the key to how he picks his projects.

“There’s a great danger, being an English actor, of being stuck too much in period costume drama pieces,” he says. “If it’s done well it’s great, but sometimes there’s an over-abundance of movies about etiquette and everything a couple hundred years ago, and as an actor you don’t want to be stuck doing those all the time. You want to mix it up an awful lot.”

“I’m not at a point where I get to have a huge amount of choice, but ideally I’d like to do something that is unlike what I’ve just finished doing and essentially not be a kind of actor where you know what kind of movies he’s going to be making,” Bale says. “So, that’s really it. And other than that, it’s just all down to the script and the director and if I think it’s a good gamble.”

“And hopefully (it’s) a character, that when I first read it, I have no idea of how I would play it at all,” Bale adds. “I kind of enjoy that with a lot of the parts when I look at it initially and I’ve seen how it should be done but then I have to think, ‘OK, now how am I going to do this?'”

But ultimately, he says “all that matters is: Is it a good script and do I think it can make a decent movie that I want to see myself?”

In the case of “Reign of Fire,” Bale didn’t expect to take the movie before he sat down with the film’s director Rob Bowman (“The X-Files: Fight the Future”), but by the time he got out of the meeting, the two had basically committed to doing the project.

“The challenge of ‘Reign of Fire’ was making this science fiction/action movie and maintaining a very strong character in the midst of it – not having it be washed out and becoming some bland figure, which when I first read the script it really was,” he says. “And working out how I was going to manage that in a movie where it isn’t a character-based movie, so you don’t get a lot of opportunities and time to really tell this character’s story.”

Plus, Bale’s Quinn isn’t the flashy action hero of “Reign.” That honor goes to Matthew McConaughey’s Van Zan, which Bale called “the rock star part” of the film.

“Van Zan is the one who arrives tattooed — he’s the insane military man who wants to bash heads the entire time,” he says. “That was another challenge as well, to be able to make the quiet character just as entertaining and engaging as the obviously louder character.”

Bale’s willingness to take the role may have been fueled a fascination with the mythical creatures, which filled his imagination as a boy.

“There’s so many mythical stories [about dragons] that I loved as a kid, Greek mythology and folklore that I really enjoyed,” he says. “My head was full of these crazed beasts that were genuinely scary to me in my imagination and obviously film is the perfect place for them do that and especially now with the new technology of CGI, they’ve been able to do that well.”

However, he wanted to make sure the film was done right.

“I think in almost every culture throughout the world there’s some stories to do with dragons or dragon-like beasts, yet I’ve never seen a movie that has presented them as anything but kind-of silly,” Bale says. “I initially looked at ‘Reign’ and thought, this is a huge risk. It seemed even more so because the star of the piece, the dragon, I obviously wasn’t going to be able to see at all until the end product.”

During that initial meeting with Bowman, Bale was convinced to board the project when he realized that both he and the director wasted to make the same kind of film.

“I sat down with Rob Bowman and he had exactly all the same concerns about it that I did, he felt all the things that could go wrong were the same as I felt, so we sort of made a pact in that first meeting that all these things must be done,” he explains. “There’s no point to making this movie unless: The dragons are genuine predators, they’re don’t have human characteristics, they don’t have a particular vendetta even against the humans… they are just creatures going about their business of survival and we just happen to be lower on the food chain than them… And the other thing that Rob was very adamant about that we stuck to was, with a big special effects movie, not to make it a special effects movie.”

“With special effects movies often it just becomes about special effects instead of having the story and then the special effects greatly enhancing certain moments. So often big budget movies they seem to just go, ‘Wow, we got all these special effects, let’s just chuck it all at the screen at one go.’ And I find sitting there watching as an audience member you lose perspective completely because the storytelling has gone out the window, you forget what’s happening with the human characters and do you really care about the human characters at all?”

“So we wanted to make sure that we really established them properly,” he adds. “What’s essential in ‘Reign of Fire’ is that, if you have some characters that you believe in and they’re interested in, that that helps you believe in the dragons as well because obviously these things, as far we know, don’t exist outside of our imagination.”

In the end, he’s happy with the final product and with the opportunities it may open up for him in the future.

“‘American Psycho’ changed things, and it seems like ‘Reign of Fire’ will change things as well,” he says, referring to the amount of roles being offered to him. “Even before it has come out, there are many more scripts that I’m being sent and people saying ‘Oh, let’s meet,’ where before I just wasn’t being sent that at all.”

Which gets us back to the catch-22 and whether he’s willing to give up more of his treasured privacy in exchange for increased fame.

“A good actor is a good actor, that’s the end of it,” he says. “Are they a good actor or not? That’s the only think I care about when I’m sitting down to watch a movie.”

By Vanessa Sibbald.