BATMAN BEGINS SET VISIT
Prior to breaking for lunch we had witnessed Batman and Gordon intensely discussing the nefarious schemes of the movies villains. A scene that wasn’t in the leaked script. Bale looked perfect as the Dark Knight, mean, intense and downright intimidating and that was talking to an ally. God knows how he would present himself to the criminal element of Gotham City. Bale’s Batman voice came as a surprise to me. I expected a low, deep whisper, reminiscent of Keaton. Bale’s voice was at normal volume and higher than I expected, but it reminded me of something else–A growl.
In previous interviews I had read that Bale saw The Batman as truly a creature. He wasn’t kidding. He moved as though he was a predator getting ready to pounce, his whole body seemed like a coiled spring, ready to unleash without warning. And the voice, this hissing growl was sending shivers down my spine.
Mr. Oldman was no slouch either, looking as noble and as authorative as one might expect. It was obvious though, that Oldman was having a little difficulty with the scene. Hey, so would you, if a very powerful Christian Bale was throwing an object to you in character. Let’s face it, Batman would not throw like a sissy, so one could sympathise with Gary Oldman having to catch the projectile that was being launched at him. […]
We soon start to get word that Christian Bale will soon be with us. On this note, I once again check my notes and my dictaphone. I look up to see a man dressed in a baggy tracksuit, so baggy it utterly hides any shape to his physique, sit at the table in front of me. He picks up one of the other journalists Ipod dictaphones and examines it carefully. “That is tiny, look at that,” he says softly in a one part British, one part American accent. “That could be a Batman gadget.”
It takes a moment to sink in, almost as long as it takes for this man to sit, that this is Batman himself –THE BATMAN!
Somewhat predictably the first question to be asked is how he became involved in the project. “I’m not somebody that really comes from a comic book loving background,” says Bale. “I didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about it, so when I first thought about Batman is was thinking ‘Why?’ Why would he dress up like this? This is ridiculous. That either it has to be done like a spoof like the TV series was or that it had to go somewhere else that I hadn’t seen before. I just found personally that when I put everything on, it made you feel like a creature. I didn’t feel human so much anymore. I liked that feeling and felt that it was appropriate for how I wanted to play it.”
Bale continues, “I hadn’t shown a great deal of interest until a friend of mine who is a comic book fan lent me ‘Arkham Asylum.’ I just didn’t expect anything like that not being somebody who is accustomed to comic books, it was really unusual to me.”
The Grant Morrison/Dave McKean graphic novel was just the beginning of the actors interest in the Dark Knight. “I looked at ‘Year One’ – Frank Miller, ‘The Long Halloween’ and I saw that they were superb and hadn’t realised before that (he) was that interesting of a character because I think that all that I’d seen before was that the villains were fascinating in BATMAN always, and suddenly I was reading these and it was like he’s by far the most interesting of them [comic book characters].”
Bale’s interest in portraying the Caped Crusader on screen came long before Chris Nolan was attached to the project. “Initially what I had heard rumoured was that there was going to be a much lower budget BATMAN made [the Darren Aronofsky/Frank Miller “YEAR ONE” adaptation–Jett], where they were going to go very dark with it. I thought ‘yeah that sounds really interesting,’ so I started calling up my agents and saying ‘Can you find out about this.’ Then I heard that they’re going to go with a big one (budget) and I kind of thought ‘Ugh’ that’s probably not the one that I’d be interested in.” Bale informs us. “Then I heard again that Chris Nolan was going to be directing it, which altered everything. I hadn’t been anticipating that they were going to go in that direction. Met with Chris, spoke with him and just thought ‘yeah this is definitely the right one to do.'”
Bale goes on to describe that they are telling and his take on the characters psychological torment. “In our story it’s the early days. You see him as a very young boy, you see him age twenty-two and then you see him again at age twenty-nine/thirty. He was very much bent on enacting revenge, of maintaining the promise that he makes to his parents, but specifically I think that he thought of it as a short-term deal, something that he would be able to complete. At a young age initially he just wanted to take revenge on the person that killed his parents and that doesn’t go to plan and he has no other life to lead. So in this story he disappears off on a journey. My take is that this is something that he never comprehends that this will be an ongoing thing. He believes that ‘I can do this once and then I can get on with my life.’ Then it just ends up consuming him and sucking him in and not being something that he can avoid doing, but also not being the healthiest of endeavours.”
Bale goes on to explain how much of a physical challenge the movie was to prepare for. “I finished THE MACHINIST in July and then we started filming on this at the end of February. I had a lot of work to do, it’s one of those parts that you have to be in decent shape for, visually, but also I did need to be for filming, just dealing with being in that suit 12 hours a day.”
So how did Bale pile the weight back on? “Eating like crazy, trying to put on pounds and pounds and actually I went way overboard. By the time arrived, Chris looked at me in shock and said I looked like some kind of grizzly bear, because I arrived with long hair and a beard and filling up the hallway. By that time I’d put on exactly 100lbs, from the day of finishing THE MACHINISTto arriving in January in England. It was not very healthy. I could lift a lot of weights, but if you asked me to run across the room and I would have been exhausted.”
The actor’s commitment to the role was never more evident than when he talks about the training he had to endure. “I was up for doing a lot more stunts than they would ever let me do. We did a lot of wire-work rehearsals before we started filming and I think they got cold feet after the stuntman one day came down on the wire and landed straight on his face and at that point they thought ‘Let’s rethink just how much we’re going to let Christian do.’ So with all the enthusiasm in the world I haven’t done everything that I can do and that I learnt how to do in rehearsals.”
Bale explains the fighting styles he had to prepare for. “Buster (Reeves) the stunt man introduced us to this really great fighting form called Keysi, which has a very unique look to it and is a very brutal fighting style and really fits well with the Batsuit. It’s very savage, very fierce and I had to learn that. We have a lot of different fight sequences, I did learn every single fight sequence that is in the movie. I kind of tag-teamed with Buster, but I did have to do the whole thing. There’s nothing that I ever sat back and said, I’ll be back there having coffee. Then a couple of times where I did manage to convince them to let me jump off a roof. We were in Chicago, outside and we where six stories up and they let me jump off of one roof just onto the next one down, but it kind of looks like I’m doing a real high dive.”
One of the great things about playing Batman is the coolness factor to it and the “toys” he gets to play with, particularly the Batmobile. “I’ve never really been that interested in cars and I realise why after going in the Batmobile, because that’s something else, being in a car where you can see how everything works. That was fascinating. Usually if it’s a nice car, there’s nice upholstery so you have to be kind of dainty and it’s from an assembly line, so it’s impersonal. The noise is incredible. It’s like having Ozzy Osbourne screaming in your ear. I was screaming as I was going along purposely and I couldn’t hear myself at all. It’s a fantastic car and I’m in awe of the guys that are able to design something like that.”
Even when faced with the challenge of acting through several pounds of rubber, Bale like the professional he is, takes it on the chin. “I’m not going to bitch about the suit. There’s a quote from me that some of the people have on the back of their t-shirts (the wardrobe dept. did it as a joke) that says ‘It’s hot, dark and sweaty and it gives me a headache,’ which is absolutely true, but there’s nothing more annoying than hearing to actors bitch about their work. I’m playing Batman for God’s sake. That’s pretty fantastic, I’m not going to complain about getting a little bit sweaty. And also they’ve changed it so much from the first movie they made, so even though it may not feel like the most comfortable outfit to me, I know that others have had it worst.”
Even better, Bale was able to turn the isolation of wearing the suit to his advantage. “I felt like a panther the first day, I did feel like some kind of wild animal. I don’t know if anybody else was looking me in that way, I don’t know if I appeared quite as ferocious as I felt that I did, but I really felt like everybody was jumpy. It makes you feel like you want to run and jump at people and beat the crap out of ‘em. It gives you this great neck and physique that just looks intimidating, it’s all aggressive, it’s all pointed forwards, very much like a predator. That was a thrill.”
Something that the actor recognised early on was the need to make Bruce Wayne and Batman separate entities. “I just felt that it was practical that Bruce adopt a different voice when he’s in the Batsuit. Practical in terms of identity, but also it was a way of him being able to channel the clarity of mind that he must have had as a young boy when he first declared that he would get revenge. It’s very difficult to maintain that throughout your life, it becomes a memory and it takes a great deal of energy to maintain that sharpness of emotion. I felt everything about him should become different, the look, the voice. If he was just going to be Bruce Wayne in a Batsuit, that seemed a little bit ridiculous to me. It would have been as ridiculous as any of us getting in a Batsuit and genuinely thinking we could go out on the town and intimidate people, I think most people would probably laugh. So you have to really go for it in every way and for me that involved taking on a slightly beast-like voice as I hear it.”
Toward the end of the interview mention is made of the fact that Bale was a huge favourite for the role. Modestly he dismisses the attention. “I had heard about it, but I think there were lots of different names. I think everybody under the sun was being suggested for it. I don’t really go online very much.”
Now that he is The Dark Knight, how much pressure does Bale feel about doing the role justice and living up to the fan interest in his portrayal? “It’s probably beyond anything I’ve experienced before, but I really don’t want to know about it to be honest. The weight of expectation can be a daunting thing. Before I started I had a couple of days of thinking ‘Oh shit. What do people want to see?’ and it ain’t the way to go. So instead, I’ve got to do something whether they like it or not, to do it how I would like to see BATMAN done and hope that gels.”
And how does Bale unwind after a long day of playing this intense icon? “I go out and kick the shit out of criminals.”
By Paul J. Wares.