INTERVIEW: CHRISTIAN BALE
Okay, Christian Bale does not want to talk about Batman Begins yet. You’ve seen that journalists have been able to get a little bit out of him, but he really wants to focus on his current film, The Machinist. And you can understand why. He gave the film a dangerous physical commitment that damn well better pay off for him.
Bale got down to 121 pounds, which if you don’t know, is really thin for a guy. He’s skin and bone in The Machinist, playing a factory machine worker driven crazy by a year of no food or sleep. As Bale’s look in the film is the most striking thing about it, much of the interview focuses on that.
But Bale is cool. He seems aware that he’s about to enter blockbuster mode, and he’s just enjoying the little indie film while it’s still there. I’m not sure he’s aware that the reason it’s getting most of the attention is because his star is about to break, but no matter. It’s a good conversation for any reason.
Did you have any medical assistance in losing the weight?
I just had a nutritionist who I visited one time just to inquire about what she thought that I’d probably become deficient in, in terms of vitamins and minerals and everything. So I got those pills. So after that I was just kind of my own guy about how I felt. I just figured that as long as I was feeling okay then it must be okay.
Were you aware of the possibility of long term damage?
I had a stupid kind of feeling of invincibility, like, “Oh you know, I can do it. I can manage it.” I certainly did feel that if I was going to do this the one time, I could. I would be very cautious about doing it a second time for anything. Also, the kind of novelty is gone. For me, there was also the challenge of whether I was able to do that, was it possible. I managed it more than I had expected. So I feel like I proved that point to myself, that I could do it. But I didn’t actually feel bad until I started eating again. It was when I started putting the weight back on that I did it somewhat too rapidly, and apparently I had the cholesterol levels of a ninety year old man or whatever. I just had to start getting fit and eating properly. It was because I just gorged too much. I didn’t take the advice of everyone which was take it slow. In putting the weight back on I just wanted to consume pizza and donuts.
Were you annoyed that you couldn’t indulge in all the great restaurants in Barcelona?
I went to them as soon as we finished. I stayed for a week. Whilst I’d been there, I would read or ask people about different restaurants, and so by the time we actually finished I had a notebook with restaurants addresses, the best dishes in each restaurant because I wanted to systematically eat everything that I’d miss out on that anyone had mentioned that was really good at any place during that. I did that. My wife and I just went for breakfast and lunch, dinner, everything in between as well. I would get temperamental at times at the beginning of dieting, before I realized that I’d have to just change my entire life and any kind of social life. Whilst I was still trying to pursue that, I would get very annoyed because you really felt how much you were missing out because you were seeing friends drinking and eating and you suddenly realize just how dependent you really are upon that to socialize with everyone. If you’re abstaining and sitting there you just feel like you’re no fun. You’re not taking part in what is meant to be pleasurable. So those times would be annoying. Also, when my stomach hadn’t really adjusted yet. So you were just groaning and feeling weak from not eating, but you get to a point where you do go past that. You’ve gotten so accustomed to a real minimum of intake. At that point, I really did feel like I hit this point of enlightenment. Mentally, I could understand very much of why you hear about monks fasting for enlightenment. It changes your mental outlook completely, and I found myself almost unable to become angry or frustrated at almost anything. Perhaps it was because I almost didn’t feel that I had the energy to be able to do that. But I was very happy as a person during that period. Although, people probably didn’t see me smiling too much because I was like, “I don’t want to waste the energy on that,” but inside I was smiling a great deal.
How did it affect your love life?
What romantic life? I mean, come on, my poor wife. It was a good insight I felt for her as to what my ass was going to look like when I’m ninety.
Were you living alone during that time?
No. I was living with my wife during that time, out here for the initial four months of prep and then in a hotel in Barcelona.
So what she going out to eat all the time?
Well, I kept saying to her, “Look, you can’t follow me on this. It’s got nothing to do with what you have to do and I don’t want you to feel that you can’t enjoy yourself.” But you know, bless her, she still couldn’t feel right about eating in front of me. So I would occasionally kind of catch her out in the backyard stuffing food and then pretending that it hadn’t happen. Then I’d have to actually convince her to have dinner right in front of me. But she felt pretty guilty.
When you see the movie, was it worth it?
I feel that it was as long as I don’t ever find out that there’s ever been any permanent damage because of it. I’d really, really kick myself for that because at that point it’d just become stupidity, and certainly wouldn’t be worth it. But I feel fine. So right now I do feel like it was worth it. I think that it was also just an endeavor where I just wanted to see for myself, beyond the movie itself, I kind of just wanted to see if I could set myself a challenge and achieve it and have the mental discipline not to waiver from it. The way that I thought of it is just that it’s only actually eight weeks of filming and I’d done the preparation beforehand, but I’ve had many six months of my life which I can almost remember nothing particularly that I did during that time. It’s fairly unremarkable. So I felt, ‘Well this is really only six months. Why not really do something that defines that time?’ And it would’ve been ridiculous if it was for a movie that I didn’t think it was worth it, but I felt that it was essential for playing this part. And I do think that it’s turned out exactly like I hoped it would. I think that everyone involved did a fantastic job with it. I understand that a number of people have also said to me, “Well, this isn’t going to be a mainstream movie. You’re not going to get many people to go and see it. So why did you do it?” Well look, it’s not for that. To me a movie doesn’t become better just because a lot of people go see it at all. My primary satisfaction for making movies is actually in the making of the movie. So in those terms, absolutely, I feel like it was worth it.
Would you ever do it again?
I would be very cautious about doing it again. Firstly, because I got no plans that loves losing a lot of weight. I would never do it to that extreme because I just can’t imagine something that it’d be necessary to do it that extreme again. Also, I would feel that by that point, it’s very weird not wanting to make it into a gimmick. If you do it a second time and maybe it can’t be helped that it’s seen like a gimmick. But some parts do require physical transformation. Some don’t whatsoever. I think that this one really did. I really wouldn’t want to do it any time soon certainly and I think that the second time around I’d be much more cautious about any bodily damage that I may be inflicting on myself.
What research did you do for the role?
I got a number of videos and looked at them about insomnia. Whilst I was still here in Los Angeles, I just stayed up for as many nights as I could just to see what it’d do, what I’d start thinking.
How many nights did you go?
Not a whole lot. I decided that I love my sleep. I went like two nights. But you know, you get a slight sense of it, but it actually became a very different thing after losing the weight because I found that I was in a state of almost being on the verge of sleep throughout the day, but actually falling asleep was very difficult. I just really couldn’t do it. I would lay there for hours with my eyes closed or open just staring at the ceiling. So that was how I rested. But many nights, I would sleep no more than two hours whilst we were shooting. I would sit there in bed, but I just couldn’t sleep. So I’d just sit there staring at the wall or reading a book or something. I didn’t need a whole lot to keep me entertained at the time. I could usually just sit for hours doing nothing, and that was often what I did during the nighttime. Except for some scenes that I really detested having to do where I had to run in the movie, it was okay that I looked exhausted the next day or whatever. But I just kind of hit a constant level of energy or rather a lack of energy. So it wasn’t really any ups or downs. It was just a constant level of, ‘I’m here. I’m going to do it in my own time, thank you very much. When I’m there I’ll be there.’ And that was it. So it wasn’t like I was really doing tremendously tiring endeavors during the day to make me need to collapse in the bed at the end of the day.
Was it hard to let go of this character?
I usually let go of the emotional burden of it, the paranoia and everything. I didn’t maintain that with me whatsoever. It was purely the physical aspects that dictated my mental state, that remained with me.
What would you like audiences to know about this movie?
Beforehand? Ideally, I’d like them to know nothing because I love going to movies when I know absolutely nothing about them whatsoever and to be completely surprised by them. I understand that obviously we have to try and entice and interest people, but I mean, for me and I don’t know if this means anything to anyone else, but from my experience it’s quite rare that you get a group of filmmakers that are absolutely making a film solely for their own viewing pleasure. This is something that we all want to watch, but without it being some sort of masturbatory exercise in indulgence. Genuinely, it was, “This is how we want to work. This is what we want to see,” and thankfully working with a production company that absolutely put no demands on Brad [Anderson] or anyone whatsoever. They just said, “Guys, you make exactly the movie that you want to make.” And that doesn’t happen that often. To varying degrees it does, but usually you have some outside influences that you may have to bow to because of agreements that you’ve made beforehand and that could’ve happened here with ‘The Machinist’ because we were offered financing through other companies, but they all had demands about changes that must be made to the script.
I think maybe just the dark and what some may see as the hopeless tone of it and just the traditional kind of, “Hey, we want a pick me up somewhere along the line.” But I think that for me the pick me up that is there is already present because I find it very humorous as well, this movie. I know that not everyone would necessarily share my sense of humor, but I know that Brad did. It’s just the extremity that this character is going, the ridiculous lengths that he’s gone too. I can’t help, but smile at the same time that you’re watching him go through this wretched period of his life.
Why do you think you have such a cult following on the internet?
I don’t know. I think that unfortunately that internet thing kind of went awry. I had nothing to do with it. The original intent of it is that I really wanted to attempt to be an actor that could work without ever having to do interviews. It hasn’t worked. But it seemed like a possible option, a way of being able to do something, giving some amount of information about movies and so on so that I wouldn’t have to do anything. But unfortunately, I never monitored it very much and it kind of took a course that when I did go back and look at it, I said, “This is not what I thought it would be and I want nothing to do with it any longer.”
Did you create your own website?
No, I didn’t. Someone else did. They said to me, “Look, this is a way that you could actually, potentially give information in terms of you needing people to know that you have movies coming out, and without ever having to do interviews.” At a certain time in my life, I practically had phobias about it really. It just didn’t work out to be that way at all. But I think it’s more likely that it’s certain kinds of movies that I have chosen to do and I see it more as those movies having cult following than myself having that cult following because I’ve done many different kinds of movies. I mean, you can’t look at something like Reign of Fire and say, “That’s why you have a cult following.” Or Batman. It’s just far too big of a picture, but you look at Velvet Goldmine or American Psycho, or lesser known movies that I’ve done like All The Little Animals, and Metroland, and they’ve tended to amass a small, but a very much appreciative crowd of people and imagine The Machinist will probably amass that same kind of feeling in audiences. I think that it’s inevitably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea by any stretch of the imagination. But I do hope that the people who do appreciate it really appreciate it. I see it myself in comparison to many movies that I’ve made which I’ve been disappointed with and everything is obviously a leap of faith and a group of effort, but with this movie, I just adore it. To me it’s just some sort of classic movie. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone actually shares that opinion or not, or if it’ll just have a cult following of me.
How exactly do you expect to be courted less for interviews when you do a movie that you know is going to be as big as Batman?
Well, my theory was that you don’t need to do them because it’s such a big movie anyway. But I think that I’m going to have a very hard cold reality next year.
By Fred Topel.