TV & Satellite Week (January 2004)

INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY

After years keeping a low profile, Christian Bale is now stepping into the limelight as the new Batman.

There’s an air of mystery surrounding Christian Bale – all of his own making. While many movie stars crave publicity, the Welsh-born actor goes out of his way to avoid the glare of the media spotlight, opting to keep his private life and screen image separate.

Perhaps that’s why British director Christopher Nolan sees him as a perfect fit to star in his forthcoming Batman film as Bruce Wayne, a man with two very distinct lives – by day a mild-mannered millionaire, by night the mysterious Caped Crusader.

“What I see in Christian is the ultimate embodiment of Bruce Wayne,” says Nolan, who made his name with the mind-bending mystery thriller Memento. “He has exactly the balance of darkness and light we were looking for.”

Bale, who is due to film his first scenes for Batman 5 in the UK next month, has used that darkness and light to great effect on screen before. In 2000’s American Psycho he made an unforgettable Patrick Bateman, a merges and acquisitions Wall Street broker with a sick sideline in murder.

Apart from the similarity between their names, Bateman and Batman have little in common. But 29-year-old Bale believes the tactic of keeping himself to himself when he’s not working helps him make any character more believable.

“It’s important for an actor to have a certain amount of mystery,” says Bale. “Personally, I love going to see a film when you can really watch a character. If you’ve just read some article about who the actor is sleeping with, that’s gonna be at the back of your mind all the time.”

Bale married producer Sibi Blalzic four years ago and his father is married to feminist writer Gloria Steinem, not that you’ll get the actor to talk publicly about either relationship.

His desire to stay out of the spotlight can be traced back to 1987 when, as a fresh-faced 13-year-old, he starred in Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Empire of the Sun. He’d had action jobs before that – a Pac-Man cereal commercial at the age of nice being followed a year later by his West End debut opposite Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd – but Empire of the Sun completely changed his life.

“I enjoyed making the film, but I was shocked at all the attention when I got home to Bournemouth,” he says. “Girls were all over me, boys wanted to fight me and I was being asked to open local fetes when all I wanted to do was ride my BMX bike in the woods.”

It got worse. “We did this huge international publicity push for Empire, and I really hated it. It was horrific. I was almost crying in interviews and running away during press conferences, pretending I was going to the bathroom and just disappearing. That has very much affected my ideas on exposure.”

Happily, the experience didn’t put Bale off acting and he has featured in a string of films, including Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Little Women opposite Winona Ryder, the glam rock fest Velvet Goldmine and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. More recently he’s ventured into the realms of fantasy with Reign of Fire and Equilibrium, which are both premiering this week.

So it seems natural enough for Bale to continue in the fantasy vein, following in the footsteps of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney as the latest resident of Wayne Manor and its adjoining Bat Cave. Despite the previous four Batman films failing to live up to the high expectations, Bale is more than ready to tackle the Caped Crusader, tights, codpiece and all. “I’m attracted to risks,” he says. “I want those roles people are too vain to take.”

By Mark Kitchen [via JenGe].