FROM THE MACHINIST TO BATMAN BEGINS
Christian Bale sat in a chair wearing a black Sea Shepherd baseball cap, a black Glendale race cars T-shirt and dark jeans. Sporting a scruffy beard from cheek to chin, his face was full and his arms still showed signs of Batman biceps.
It was a far cry from his look in The Machinist, in which he plays a blue collar worker so disturbed he has stopped sleeping and withered away to an almost skeletal form. The film’s psychological thriller moments are not nearly as scary as watching Bale lurk around the screen like a Tim Burton stop motion puppet.
But Bale has always immersed himself in roles. You believe him just as much as superficial pretty boy Patrick Bateman as you do a dragon hunter. We can expect he’ll bring the same commitment to Batman Begins, which he discusses a little bit at the end, but spend some time with us analyzing his commitment to The Machinist and you’ll be impressed.
You once said that you were in unhealthy shape for American Psycho. How unhealthy was this?
I guess I was fit in it, but just the diet that you have to go on. Yeah, I guess the diet that you have to go on for the vanity side of it, that ain’t healthy. It’s all this protein and crap. This one wasn’t healthy either really I suppose. I didn’t feel terrible to be honest. I felt quite fine once I got beyond the pangs of hunger et cetera. Your stomach shrinks and you get used to it. And interestingly, I did find that mentally it was very, very calming being that skinny, because you really didn’t have any energy for expending on unnecessary things, so you just kept it simple. Life became very simple. Much like when you are ill, you just do what is essential and that’s it. But I actually never felt sick really. That really happened actually in putting the weight back on. It wasn’t in losing it, it was putting the weight back on. I was a little bit too eager to eat afterwards and I rushed that. That wasn’t wise.
How little were you eating?
I forget exactly what it was, but it starts off and I just kept on seeing how far I could go without eating. But you have to try to find some kind of pattern because otherwise, if you just starve yourself for a while, then you really get cravings to just binge and so you go and binge and it just doesn’t really work. So I just gradually said to myself, “Okay, no eating before 12” and then “no eating after six in the evening.” Then gradually cut down on the things that I was eating. And eventually, I think it also helped a great deal once I was actually over in Spain and occupied mentally with the movie, that that took up much of my time. I was always somebody who kind of would forget to eat during the day. Just if I was busy doing something, I’d suddenly realize I’ve got a funny feeling in my stomach. Oh, Christ, I haven’t eaten. So I just tried to rekindle that and try to get nutrition through other means. Go read a book instead of eat when I started feeling hungry.
How much did you exercise?
I started off exercising with just running. Actually, I became very good at being able to run very long distances but very slowly. I had no oomph to me, but I could just go and go and go. But then I got to a point where it actually all started falling apart and I really couldn’t run any longer. It just got too stupid. I looked like a 90 year old man trying to run and I just couldn’t do it after a while. I have a couple of scenes in the movie where I do have to run and I just hated those days so much because it was so tiring, and so after a while it pretty much just became about sitting still and smoking cigarettes really instead of eating.
What happens to your other organs? It looked like you didn’t even have room in your vacuum of a stomach cavity to have any.
Well, they fit in there. They work it out. I never felt any problems internally. I suppose some people could look at what I did and say it was ridiculous anyway, but to me, I said it becomes ridiculous at the point that I actually feel like I’m going to damage myself. I don’t believe I did. I wouldn’t want to do it again. I think repetition of it, I may very well be potentially damaging myself but I never felt like anything was going wrong inside. And if that ever did happen then I would just let myself go with whatever urges I was having for eating, whatever. Your body tends to tell you a great deal about exactly what it is that you really need.
What daily tasks became impossible in that state?
Well firstly, I didn’t really socialize a great deal. The temptations, the smells, socializing generally involves drink or food or whatever, and that was just something I didn’t want to tempt myself with. Being in Barcelona was not a wonderful thing in those terms because they have such fantastic food over there. Walking, you know. I just didn’t much enjoy it really. I could do it but it had to be at my pace which was very, very slow. It was a real snail’s pace. I drew and I read. I didn’t actually sleep a whole lot during the filming, so I would often just find myself sitting up in bed at nighttime and read a complete book.
It actually made you an insomniac?
Well, I think that losing the weight and so not really having bursts of energy, rather just having a constant state of slowness meant that I just didn’t really tire that easily. I was always a little bit almost like on the verge of sleep, but not quite enough that you actually wanted to go to sleep. It was enough for me to sit in bed and rest and I would often just have a couple of hours sleep each night and felt okay for the next day.
How did you still act?
Well, it helped it really because that was what Trevor was going through and I had to isolate myself a little in order not to have all the nice food temptations, and so I found myself very much in my own head much more than usual in life. And that’s certainly where Trevor finds himself, so I think it helped it really. It’s a funny thing. Every movie I’ve had to do, you know, there are some movies where you don’t really have to do anything. It doesn’t matter what somebody looks like at all. And then some like this, The Machinist, and like American Psycho where I think that it was very essential, it’s a very important part of the person’s character. And it’s a very helpful thing because obviously with acting, you can just fake it, but with anything physical, you have to really do it. And it’s quite amazing how much your own physical state affects your mental state.
What is more challenging to you, the physical or psychological aspects of a character?
Well, the physical becomes a psychological challenge. American Psycho, I’m not somebody that really enjoys going and working out in the gym. Batman, I had to do the same. I don’t really enjoy it to be honest, so you have to psychologically will yourself to be doing that in a very intense fashion, but I’m better at that. I prefer doing things in a very intense way and having a deadline and really having to strive to reach it rather than just sort of having a general lifestyle of fitness. For me I prefer to do it for a while and then just forget the whole thing for a while as well. But ultimately, obviously acting can involve physical change, but that’s not really what the whole thing’s about. It’s exceptional parts where you have to do that and primarily it’s correct to be focused more on the psychological side of things and there’s far more depth and interest to that than anything you can ever achieve physically.
Do you have a normal fitness routine you do between films?
No, I don’t really do sh*t. If I don’t have to for work, I do just what I feel like doing. And especially if you’ve had to do it for work, you just feel like you’re reclaiming your own identity by not doing it because you’ve been forced to for so long. Whether it be losing a great deal of weight and looking unhealthy or trying to look as healthy as possible, it’s an obligation that you have during the work time. And so it’s an obligation that I like to reject completely immediately following. So for instance, after American Psycho, I had no interest in working out ever again. And after Machinist, all I wanted to do was just stuff my face. It’s a rebellion, like reclaiming your own identity each time.
What was the best comfort food when you started putting the weight back on?
Bizarrely, apples. You’d kind of think it would be something a little bit more indulgent than that, but it was them. It was apples that I really wanted. I dreamed about them. Any kind. There were all sorts of different apples that they had in Spain and I was really into them and interested in finding out about all the different kinds of apples. And then different crew members would bring me different apples to try. And I’ve never liked apples particularly in my life, but it must have been I guess the vitamin A I believe that’s in apples that my body was craving.
Did you do any research on machinery?
I attempted to more than actually succeeded at. In reading the script, I did feel that probably a good deal of research would be needed. And also just sometimes I think that regardless of whether or not it actually is useful for the movie, I like to use it as an excuse to gain entrance to places that I wouldn’t usually. And just have a look around and see how other people work and live. So I did contact a number of different machine shops. Most of them weren’t really interesting. They kind of just gave me comments like, “Look, we’re actually working here. We’re not here to entertain actors who are pretending to work.” And so I went along to a place which actually does training, myself and the writer, Scott Kosar. We went around in the valley. We stopped at various small kind of family run machine shops which have much more basic machines, but tended to be on the small side whereas we were looking at larger machines for the movie. But in America, it’s become a much more technologically advanced profession where most of it is guided by computers, so most of it actually really just involves pressing buttons and you’re not physically laboring, working the machines as much any longer, much for safety. So I realized that it really wasn’t actually going to get what I was looking for, and ultimately, it ended up to be completely useless anyway because we used a genuine machine shop on the outskirts of Barcelona where they had these very antiquated looking machines which each machine seemed to have its own personality to it. And we would work through the night, and then the actual workers would come in at six in the morning and take our place. And so we had each worker actually show each of the actors exactly how to work each of their machines. And to be honest, with my machine, we wanted something that was very, very repetitive, very simple and very mind numbing. That it was something that Trevor had actually consciously sought out in order not to have to really engage himself very much during his days. And so I learned it in five minutes flat. That was all that it took, and then it was just a matter of patience, of just the monotony of doing it for hours on end.
Are audiences savvy to twist endings now?
I don’t know. I think Brad [Anderson] did a very good job. It’s very interesting when there is such a twist, or revelation really more than a twist, because we do know that he’s searching for the truth throughout. I think though that it doesn’t depend wholly on that twist. I think there’s a lot more substance to the rest of the movie that provokes a lot of thought. So I would hope that they don’t get there beforehand, but I think that if ???
What does he get from the relationship with Stevie, because she offers to commit and he doesn’t want to?
I think that he is very curious about that, about the possibility. There are some nice correlations between his relationship with Stevie and then his relationship with Maria as well. In the fact that obviously Stevie is a hooker, so he pays. And then he also with Maria feels that he has to tip her hugely in order to have her company. He’s somebody who wants no involvement. He doesn’t want anybody really introduced into his life that’s problematical and not something that would be beneficial for them, but I think he likes the idea with Stevie that it could be possible. That kind of against all the odds and against his instincts that it may be possible for this complete wretch of a man to actually have a woman’s heart.
How cool is the Batmobile?
I think they did a really wonderful job with it. I’m quite in awe of the men who engineered and designed the whole thing because I’m not really good at any of that kind of thing. And they created actually a one of a kind car that can actually genuinely do all of the things in the movie. That was very much the aim of everybody on the set, that we wanted to use as little CGI or models as possible.
You can actually drive it?
Oh yeah, I did. It does everything. They all do different things. There’s a number of different ones, but they all do everything that you see it do in the movie.
What are your favorite Bat gadgets?
I don’t think it’s quite as gadget heavy. We have the introduction of how he acquires all of these. We’re very much interested in looking into the hows Bruce Wayne manages to acquire everything. And I guess there’s a grappling gun which is the kind of most commonly used one. That was the one I actually had in hand each and every day.
Does that give you the same acting challenges as something like The Machinist?
It’s different. It’s different acting challenges. I think that there are appropriate styles of acting for differing movies. I’m somebody who enjoys many different kinds of movies and I think that ultimately my first love really probably would be more akin to The Machinist. I just enjoy the actual work on them. But I enjoy the challenge as well of looking at other kinds of movies and seeing if we’re able to manage them and Batman is obviously a mass entertainment movie. The challenge is well, can we manage to put some quality into such a big mass entertainment movie. But you feel out each movie and you recognize the difference of some movies having escapism being an essential part of it. And not entirely truthful acting being required for it. What I mean by that is being much more based on fantasy, even if you try to introduce some amount of reality to it, it’s still fantastical. These are not situations that you would ever actually find yourself in in real life at all. And I enjoy all of that. I think if I was sticking to just one style all the time, it would be rather dull.
Is there any pressure with last two Batmans not being perceived well, that you’re responsible for reinventing the franchise?
I didn’t feel it.
How does the suit fit and how long was that fitting process?
Very extensive, very laborious but ending up with it fitting absolutely perfectly. There’s a whole team of people whose job it is just to make sure that it is looking right and working right and there’s a conveyor belt process of creating these suits. It’s very involved and it has progressed since the first movie.
How much mobility do you have in it?
It’s pretty mobile, yeah. I could do everything I had to do in the movie. I believe it’s Neoprene.
By Fred Topel.