Empire (May 2004)

BATMAN SPEAKS

Christian Bale is back and ready to give Robert De Niro a run for his money as Hollywood’s most committed actor.

Childhood stardom is tough and few survive it, but Christian Bale has shown that it doesn’t have to be a curse. Thrown into the public eye at 13 with Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Bale bided his time before reshaping his career in the late ’90s with a string of provocative roles (Metroland, Velvet Goldmine) that re-established him as a talent to watch. However, it was with the black comedy American Psycho that he finally made the leap – as serial killer Patrick Bateman, Bale was a revelation: slick, toned and thoroughly evil.

High-profile roles in Shaft and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin kept him in the public eye, but Bale’s been quiet lately – until now. Christopher Nolan’s take on the caped crusader story, Batman Begins, started shooting this month with Bale in the lead as the oddball millionaire Bruce Wayne. But before that is released here in 2005, Bale’s fans – known affectionately as Baleheads – will see him in Brad Anderson’s soon-to-be-cult chiller, The Machinist, later this year. And his appearance will shock them.

Following the example of Method legend Robert De Niro – who put on 50 lb to play Jake La Mottain Raging Bull – Bale went to great lengths to play the part of Trevor Reznik, a man haunted by a terrible secret. For four months, Bale dieted until he lost some 60 lb, roughly one-third of his bodyweight. Considering The Machinist is not exactly Academy Award material, it seems a lot of effort to go to for a genre movie. Indeed, the film’s writer, Scott Kosar, thought the character’s leanness would be conveyed by lighting and baggy clothes, but Bale, now 30, had other ideas.

“You know,” he told us when we caught up with him in Berlin recently, “this was just really a special project for me and I wanted to delve into it more than any part I’d done for a long time. So I thought, ‘I’ll give it a crack. I’ll see how low I can get.’ So I went to a nutritionist and she said, ‘You can get down to about 140 lb and still be alright.’ So I got down to that, and then the script changed a bit. My character was meant to be 130 lb. and then suddenly Scott rewrote it to 120 lb. I called him up and I was like, ‘You dick!’ but I kinda realised, ‘I think I can do it.'”

Did he have any misgivings? “You know,” he laughed, “I never realised how much pleasure I got from food until I was on that extreme diet for such a long time. When you’re not eating, I tell you, 24 hours is a f**king eternity!”

When we met, however, Bale was back to his usual size, impressively muscled and sporting a bohemian goatee. How does it feel to be going from a movie like that, we asked, to Batman? Is this the look we can expect?

“No, this is just me!” he grinned, stroking the growth. “But, yeah, it’s very much like going from one extreme to the other. Batman is a guy who has to be able to tear apart a room, scale walls and do phenomenal things. So … it’s been bloody hard to get to that point!”

And what could he reveal about the way he and Nolan are taking it?

“We don’t want to imitate anything that’s done before,” he stated. “There’s actually a great source of material in … I’m loath to say ‘comic books’ because many of them are more like graphic novels. I believe that there’s an opportunity with that character to do things that I, personally, have never seen done. There are choices that you can make with such a character. You can go very camp with it, like the TV series, but that’s been done. You can’t outdo Adam West with that kind of deal. So what else do you do? It’s actually a really interesting character, psychologically. There’s a really interesting character there, and that’s what I’m aiming for.”

By Damon Wise.