(October 20th, 2004)


Remember how Tobey Maguire beefed up for Spider-Man and starved himself for Seabiscuit? Actor Christian Bale is another such dedicated (some might say deranged) thespian. He slimmed down dramatically – losing 63 lbs. – for his new indie film, The Machinist (opening Friday). We’re talkin’ Lara Flynn Boyle skinny, kids. It ain’t pretty.

Bale plays Trevor Reznik, a paranoid, sleep-deprived factory worker who, in fact, hasn’t slept in a year because of a secret buried deep in his psyche. This, we are meant to understand, is a tortured soul, and he wanted to look the part for the sake of verisimilitude. “I lost about a third of my body weight,” Bale reveals. “I didn’t really see how else to do it.

“There are parts where your appearance really doesn’t matter, and there are some where it’s a very essential part of the character,” he explains. “Trevor is in this ridiculously crazy downward spiral emotionally, physically and mentally. He read to me [in the script] as though he should look like he was on the brink of death.”

Bale certainly accomplished his goal. Gone is the ruddy-cheeked Welsh boy we fell for in Little Women. He’s gaunt as a ghost. And that muscle-y, ab-licious torso from American Psycho is replaced by a shockingly emaciated frame with an all-too-visible rib cage.

“I didn’t set out to go as skinny as I did,” Bale says. “I just found that I was more successful at it than I’d imagined!” Over the course of six months – including four months of prep time and the actual eight-week shoot – he reduced himself to 120 lbs. “I actually got to the weight specified in the script, which I never really thought was possible. A number of people suggested leaving it to CGI, but I don’t have the faith in CGI to do that.”

Still, why risk his health? “I liked the challenge – and the slightly self-destructive urges – involved in losing that amount of weight,” admits Bale, who at least consulted a nutritionist for advice on vitamin supplements. “It ended up being a very nice place to be mentally. When you’re skinny, man, you’re calm. Because you can’t waste any energy whatsoever. Most people probably couldn’t tell I was happy because I really didn’t have the energy to smile too much for them. Inside, I was more content, for a longer period of time, than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

No worries, Bale hasn’t turned anorexic. Right after filming wrapped, he began scarfing down pizza and going carb-crazy. After all, he had to buff up Patrick Bateman-style again for Batman Begins. “American Psycho was more about keeping cut for vanity than being strong and capable,” he points out. “Batman’s body is essential for genuine strength.” So long as you’re eating again, Christian, we’re happy.

By Daniel R. Coleridge.