CHRISTIAN BALE TALKS ABOUT DISCOVERING “THE NEW WORLD” WITH TERRENCE MALICK
Christian Bale on “The New World,” Working with Malick, and Research His Role.
You have to wait until fairly deep into “The New World” to finally see Christian Bale onscreen. The first part of the film is taken up telling the story of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his fateful meeting with, and eventual romance of, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). After Smith’s out of the picture, Bale takes over the lead as tobacco farmer John Rolfe. He also takes over for Smith as Pocahontas’ suitor.
“The New World” has long held director Terrence Malick’s interest. He meticulously researched the film’s subjects, and made sure all the buildings and everything used in the film were as authentic as possible, down to the minutest detail. That attention to detail and Malick’s ability to collaborate with actors were huge selling points for Christian Bale who took on a supporting role in “The New World.”
Christian Bale on the Attraction of Working with Terrence Malick: Malick’s notorious for shooting much, much more than he needs and for cutting actors out of his films entirely. Knowing that going in, Bale said it’s really just the opportunity to be on the set with Malick that appeals to actors. “I think that truly with him it is that. He’s such an unusual and rare bird that you want to do it.
I just liked him a great deal. We’d met a few times, not actually talking about me being in the movie. Sometimes they just sort of ask actors to go in and read the script through so that the director can sit and listen to it. And then we just met up socially when I was in London. Everything with Terry just seems to kind of slide – like sliding into warm water. He doesn’t make big exclamations. It just kind of happens. It gradually happened, and it was like, ‘So what would you think if I did ask you to play one of the roles in the movie?’ ‘Oh, yeah? I think that would be quite nice. Yeah.’ It’s all very low key and quiet.
I think that as an actor that you’re not in the editing room, unless you’re on there as a producer well. But you’re not in there and so it’s always part luck about what exactly is going to be in there. So often you find that your personal favorite scene isn’t going to be in the movie. You just have to understand that even if the scene is really remarkable, it might not fit the time allowed. It might be absolutely essential to the storyline then it might have to go. So you’re always, as an actor, at the mercy of the director and editor at that point. Hopefully they just make some nice decisions, like you didn’t waste your time completely. But I really wouldn’t have felt like that regardless on this situation.
I found his way of working to be so interesting, that it was actually possible to work that way. I think forever I’ll be trying to edge other directors into adopting the same attitude that he always had on the set, which made it so very easy in each and every scene. And absolutely, truly trusting in the actor. He let us do whatever we felt like. Whereas often other directors say that, but they don’t really mean it. You’ll end up doing something that you feel like doing and you look at them and their furious with you at the end of it. Well, that’s not really being honest about letting the actor have free reign whereas Terry truly is.”
Bale says that Malick’s style of directing wouldn’t have worked on “Batman Begins” because it’s a totally different animal. Bale said, “Well, you have to also remember that different styles of movies requires different styles of working. On ‘The New World’ we didn’t have artificial lighting whatsoever. If we did have anything when we were doing interiors, they would set it up in the morning and it wouldn’t move all day. That was it. So you never had down time like when you’re waiting for lights to be reapplied. So what that meant was that you had a real great sense of momentum because you never had to stop filming. You could move around everywhere and do whatever you wanted and you never stopped filming.
I would also just stay on the set the whole time. Terry liked that. Sometimes he would just be sitting there, and you didn’t have the regular actor chairs. Everything would be over the period and so you might just be hanging out on a period chair and suddenly realize that they’d been filming you for the last ten minutes and you didn’t even realize it. It was very nice. It was very nice working in that way.
Obviously with something like ‘Batman’ it’s on a much grander scale and there’s the fantasy of the piece which is essential. So there are, of course, times if I had decided to walk ten feet over to the left it would’ve been panning over and we would’ve had an hour of lighting that we would have to do because I wanted to walk over there. But I’m working with Chris [Nolan, “Batman Begins” director] on something else now [they’re working on “The Prestige”] which is very much the antithesis of the ‘Batman’ experience.”
Christian Bale Describes the Atmosphere on the Set of “The New World:” “I would say that this was the least intense movie that I’ve ever worked on, and I mean that by Terry’s charisma and character. The great thing with him is that you recognize that instead of just going for one thing, you recognized everything that was going on around you. He was so enjoyable to be around, and curious to be around, that there wasn’t that kind of tension that can obviously be great, but can sometimes lead to a slight paranoia and a slight panic. And also you can get blinded to wonderful things that might be happening over here because you’re so much focused on one particular thing.
I think that Terry manages to focus and appreciate everything that’s going on. So actually I think that it wasn’t intense. It’s the first time that I’ve realized that this can actually be a wonderful thing. I’ve always had that kind of belief of like, ‘Yeah, you’re working. Focus. Really focus. Really get this right. You have one opportunity.’ With Terry it wasn’t like that at all. It was like, ‘Hey. What do you want to do? Try it. It’s no big deal. It’s just film. Let’s see what happens.’ That’s when you get some really interesting work.”
Christian Bale on Preparing for “The New World:”“The nicest thing that Terry brought out of me was just having the confidence that he did in me. I always prepare greatly before any movie, and he was really appreciative of that as well, because I was able to tell him little bits of information that we ended up including in certain scenes. There were nice little character traits and ideas that I had about him.
I certainly don’t like turning up absolutely cold, but being able to have that relaxation, being able to say, ‘You know what? Don’t worry about it. You’re in really good hands here.’ It’s that. When you have a director that you truly trust and truly think that they’re a brilliant filmmaker – and I do think that about Terry. He’s just one of the finest around so you really can just kind of lay back and go, ‘Okay, you know what? There are no worries here.’ If I can recreate that kind of working environment on another movie, I think that we could get some really great stuff from all the actors. If every director could be like Terry, I think that we would see the bar really being raised across the board.”
Christian Bale on “The New World” Star Colin Farrell: “Colin and I really didn’t cross paths too much. I literally saw him twice. We don’t have any scenes together. We literally just crossed paths, and I had a few nice conversations with him. He’s a good guy. As to what he’s going through now I haven’t spoken with him in more than a year, but I wish him all the best.”
Christian Bale on Working Opposite a 14 Year-Old Unknown: “I think that it was rather hard of a journey for them to find the right person to play Pocahontas because the reality of it was, I believe, that she was more like 12 years-old at the time. Relationships during that time of that nature weren’t frowned upon like they are now. They’re incredibly frowned upon.
I had already agreed that I wanted to play Rolfe and with Q’Orianka [Kilcher], they found someone who had equal parts the youth and exuberance of that, but also the ability to play the pain and the maturity that was required. I love working with unknowns, I really do, and obviously it’s a crap shoot but every movie is anyway. But I very much like that because you can absolutely believe in them and believe in the character.
I trusted that the people caring for her, her parents, were around all the time. Terry included, who is a very maternal man and very considerate that there wouldn’t be any situations that wouldn’t be inappropriate and I don’t believe that there were. I was very surprised as well at just how remarkable Q’Orianka was at being able to adapt to this character. I think that she was also very spoiled frankly, as we all were, but especially since this was her first experience, at working with Terry. It’s not something that I think she’ll find that she’ll be able to repeat too often, myself included in that. I don’t think that I’ll be able to find this experience again.”
Bale continued to lavish praise on his “The New World” director. “He takes as much time and is so appreciative of actors, and so curious as well. So in tune with what is comfortable for each and every person and only wanting to go with that and not wanting to push anything.”
Christian Bale on the Dialogue and Post-Production Narration in”The New World:” “We were accustomed to that on the set because many times he would say to us, ‘Here’s the scene. Here’s the dialogue.’ And we might change it at the last minute, or whatever. But he’d also say, ‘If you don’t like saying it, don’t say it.’ And he really meant it. He didn’t say it – just say to say it. He really meant that we should do what felt right. ‘I don’t want you saying any of the lines that I’ve written if it doesn’t feel right.’
Then with the voice-over it was really quite fascinating. He just likes to amass as much interesting [material] as possible, and then unfortunately has to condense it and lose a great deal. But I like very much the way that he worked.”
Christian Bale Hints at What We’ll See in “The Prestige:” Bale reunites with “Batman Begins” director Christopher Nolan for the dramatic movie, “The Prestige,” based on the novel by Christopher Priest. While Bale wouldn’t say what kind of magic tricks he’s studying for the movie, he did reveal a little about the difficulties of making “The Prestige” work.
“I think that there is a great deal that genuine magicians use for television to be able to do tricks that you wouldn’t be able to do for the naked eye. And [on one hand] you’ve got the one-eyed spectator of the camera, which can be a very difficult spectator to convince. On the other hand it does afford opportunities as well, where you can appear to be much better than you actually are.
Something that I love very much about acting is that I see an actor as someone who in a very short amount of time attempts to learn the skills and mannerisms of other people. And so I’m trying my best to actually be able to do as much as possible. But believe me, it takes many hours each and everyday. There’s much frustration, but also much satisfaction when it does actually come through and work. I’m working with a couple of really remarkable magicians who are advising on the movie.”
Christian Bale on the Next “Batman” Movie: Asked if he’s going into the second “Batman” movie with more confidence, Bale said he definitely is – but that’s a double-edged sword. “We know now that people have supported what we achieved. I have to say though that I always like the idea of not knowing if people are going to like it, and then that gives me a certain drive to improve what I believe is the correct way of bringing the character about. I like the slightly self-destructive notion of like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this regardless and if people don’t like it then, well, I’m out. That’s it.’ I’m kind of enjoying that possibility and that will always be there, but we can’t help but recognize that we’re probably on slightly safer ground now with the second one. But in doing that there’s the great danger of becoming too comfortable.
Obviously with the second one, you have to outdo the first one. You have to keep on moving forward and pressing on and finding new and impressive character points and storylines. But I’ve got real confidence. I think that Chris is such a smart man and when I did finally get into the game, I would have certain questions about why he was doing something and not quite understanding it. He would explain it to me and it would be like, ‘Now that he’s said it’s so obvious. That really works. Yeah.’ So I have great faith in him that he will be pulling something out of the hat that will be even better than the first one.”
By Rebecca Murray.