WORTH THE WEIGHT
Dr. Atkins, eat your heart out. In “The Machinist,” opening this Friday, star Christian Bale put himself through physical torture. The actor dropped 60 lbs., reducing his fit frame from a healthy 180 lbs. to a sickly 120 lbs. – to play Trevor Resnick, the paranoid and possibly murderous factory worker at the heart of this disturbing thriller.
“I just didn’t eat,” shrugs the British-born actor.
All this from the kid who broke on the scene in 1987 at age 13 in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” and once played a singing, dancing newsboy in the musical “Newsies.”
But Bale’s recent career surge is all thanks to his willingness to dig into, shall we say, troubled minds. His portrayal of preppy serial killer Patrick Bateman in 2000’s “American Psycho” opened a lot of eyes, and he’ll be following up “The Machinist” next year by playing perhaps the most famous nocturnal brooder of all in “Batman Begins,” director Christopher Nolan’s gritty relaunch of the comic book franchise.
We caught up with the resilient actor to discuss how he went from skeleton to superhero.
You had to lose about a third of your body weight for “The Machinist.” How did you do it?
I just didn’t eat. Well, I didn’t really see how else to do it, you know? There are roles where your appearance doesn’t matter, and there are some where it’s essential to the character. With Trevor, he’s in this ridiculously crazy downward spiral emotionally, physically, mentally. His internal paranoia has consumed him to such a degree that he’s unable to really engage in normal life. He read to me as though he should look like he was on the brink of death. And I didn’t set out to actually go as skinny as I did. I just found that I was being somewhat more successful at it than I would imagine. So I thought, ‘I’ve got six months of work on this movie, let’s just make it a memorable six months.’ A number of people said to me, “Why didn’t you just leave it to CGI or whatever?” I enjoyed the challenge and the slightly self-destructive urges involved in losing that amount of weight. It actually ended up being a very nice place mentally when you get that skinny. Man, you’re calm. You just can’t waste any energy whatsoever. I was genuinely more content than I’ve ever been in my life. People probably couldn’t tell, though, because I didn’t have the energy to smile too much. [laughs]
Were you under a doctor’s care?
I was not, no. It was something a number of people kept saying to me, but I felt fine. And I had taken advice from a nutritionist about the vitamins that I would probably come to be lacking. I don’t know, it was maybe a certain stupidity or a feeling of being invincible. I just felt like I could do it and I could come back from it and I would feel fine and there wouldn’t be any problems. I wouldn’t very seriously consider ever doing anything like that again. I think a second time you’re definitely asking for trouble.
How long did you take to go from your “Machinist” shape to Batman?
It was a fair amount of time, but I was in such terrible shape that it was really torturous. It was about six weeks between finishing “The Machinist” and doing the screen test for “Batman,” for which, obviously, Chris Nolan had asked me to try and put on as much weight as I could because we would find it very difficult to convince the studio to cast me if I was a beanpole. In doing so, I overdid it, because I was enjoying gorging. I was ignoring all the advice about, you should take it slowly because your stomach has shrunk. I was straight into pizza and ice cream and everything. Five meals in one sitting.
How sick did you get?
I got pretty sick during that time – but I didn’t mind it at all. In that short amount of time I went from 121 lbs. right back up to 180 lbs., which was really fast, obviously. And that resulted in some doctor’s visits, to get things sorted out. It was funny the first time I went to a trainer. I put back on the weight, but I had no muscle whatsoever. It was just destroyed. And so the trainer says, “Give me 20 pushups,” thinking it was an easy first day. I go down. That was it. I couldn’t even do one [laughs]. So the guy looked and went, “Oh, Lordy, we’re going to have a tough time here.”
Was it similar to how you got in shape for “American Psycho”?
No, because with Batman it’s an essential thing for him – he needs genuine strength. It’s about being strong and capable. The “American Psycho” body was just vanity-driven.
It does seem as though you like characters who are on the edge. What is it about these kinds of roles?
I think there’s something attractive about them, certainly, but I just really try to look for roles that are different. In fact, I used to be asked questions like, “Why do you always seem to play a good guy all the time?” That changed considerably after “American Psycho,” of course. I think it would be a folly if I was to pigeonhole myself into just always playing those kinds of characters, but they’re undeniably interesting.
By Jordon Riefe.