DailyNews.com (October 26th, 2004)

UP AND DOWN WITH CHRISTIAN BALE

Christian Bale is not crazy, self-destructive or masochistic. Well, maybe a little of the latter.

Reassuringly, Christian Bale is not anything like the way he appears in “The Machinist,’ his latest movie release. Since filming the psychological thriller, in which insomniac Trevor Reznik tries to piece together his mysterious past and surreal present, Bale has gained back all of the 63 pounds he lost to play the role.

You read that right. He dropped 63 pounds, about a third of his regular body weight, for a small independent movie a screenwriter dreamed up for a college class, never even expecting it to get produced.

“At a meeting with Christian, I did say, jokingly, ‘Don’t go too crazy. I’m sure costuming can come up with some baggy clothing and makeup,’ ‘ writer Scott Kosar says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect he would go to such lengths. As a screenwriter, I couldn’t be more honored that an actor would have such belief in a role that he would do what Christian did.

“But when I saw him in Spain near the end of the shoot, I think I almost cried. I felt like, ‘What have I created?’ The movie essentially is about guilt, and I felt some pangs of conscience when I saw him.’

OK. Maybe Bale is nuts.

“I had a stupid kind of feeling of invincibility, like, ‘I can do it, I can manage it,’ ‘ says the entirely rational-seeming, 29-year-old British actor. “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. I managed it more than I had expected. So I feel like I proved that point to myself.’

With no more than one vitamin consultation with a nutritionist, Bale began severely cutting his caloric intake four months before the two months of principal “Machinist’ photography began. What little he did ingest wasn’t necessarily healthy. Sure, salads and apples were staples, but he’d also get through each workday on chewing gum, cigarette smoke and one very slowly sipped nonfat latte.

It didn’t affect his stamina or concentration, according to “Machinist’ director Brad Anderson (“Session 9,’ TV’s “The Wire’). Unless, of course, some ungodly amount of physical exertion was called for, such as running more than a few feet.

“He persevered because he’s one of the most committed guys I’ve ever worked with,’ Anderson says of Bale. “He had every reason in the world to complain. He was physically uncomfortable, it was Spain’s hottest summer on record, he couldn’t eat. But he never really did complain. And it prevented any other member of the crew from complaining.’

According to Bale, wasting away actually had some pleasant aspects.

“I really did feel like I hit this point of enlightenment,’ he says. “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.’

Sounds like a nice change for an actor who has evolved from a soulful kid star (at age 12 he was the lead in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun’) to young heartthrob (“Little Women,’ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’) to, well, the star of “American Psycho.’ Bale has displayed a penchant for playing increasingly troubled characters, an interest that could culminate next summer in “Batman Begins,’ which he says sticks closer to the comic book hero’s darker aspects than have the previous films and TV shows.

More on that in a minute. But first, how did Bale’s wife, Sibi Blazic, cope with watching him waste away for half a year?

“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,’ ‘ Bale reports. “But you know, bless her, she still couldn’t feel right about eating in front of me. So I would occasionally catch her out in the back yard 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.’

Bale points out that, as soon as “Machinist’ wrapped, he and the missus hit all the great restaurants in Barcelona. Hard. In fact, he had to get back up to fighting weight in six weeks, in order for “Batman Begins’ director Christopher Nolan (“Memento’) to convince Warner Bros. brass that he could handle the action demands of their prize franchise revival.

“I started putting the weight back on somewhat too rapidly, and apparently I had the cholesterol levels of a 90-year-old man or whatever,’ he explains. `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 doughnuts.’

The grueling, special-effects-heavy Bat-production began filming as far away from sweltering Spain as it could meteorologically get — in freezing Iceland.

But much as the emaciated actor managed to keep the “Machinist’s’ focus on Trevor Reznik’s inner conflict, Bale hopes that “Batman Begins’ will reflect the hero’s tormented psyche more than costumed spectacle.

“We’re doing the prequel, really, and so it’s very much looking at Bruce Wayne and how he came to invent and create this character, and how he got to be this nut case that runs around dressed up as a bat,’ Bale says.

And even though he won’t reveal whether the new film’s batsuit boasts the much-ridiculed nipples seen in the franchise-wrecking “Batman and Robin,’ Bale admits that donning the crusader’s cowl enhanced his performance.

Even if it did feel a little nutty.

“I no longer wanted to present this as Bruce Wayne dressed as a bat,’ he explains. “He becomes a different creature other than himself. It’s partly out of the necessity of disguise, but also out of his own necessity of an attempt to keep himself sane in his own life. I just felt that once I put that on, I was like, ‘If I don’t play it this one certain way, then I’m just going to feel like an idiot standing in a batsuit the whole time.’ ‘

Mad as Bale’s methods may seem, they’re certainly paying off professionally. He’s segued from the recently completed “Batman Begins’ into “The New World,’ a film about the first English colonists in Virginia, directed by the highly respected Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line,’ “Days of Heaven’).

“It’s a wonderful story — and what a director to be making it as well,’ says Bale, who plays historical figure John Rolfe. After these two highly anticipated projects are released next year, thoughts of Christian Bale, crazy man, could well be forgotten. In the meantime, though, Bale remains understandably proud of his “Machinist’ achievement.

“I’m sure many people will look upon this as being quite ridiculous,’ he acknowledges. “I admire when people really work themselves to the bone for something they’re passionate about.

“It’s a very fulfilling thing to do. Obviously, I’d be taking that back if I find that I have risked my health. But I feel fine.”

By Bob Strauss.