INTERVIEW CHRISTIAN BALE | THE ACTOR TALKS NEW WORLD
December 20, 2005 – It’s been a very big year for Christian Bale. He received wide praise his late 2004 performance in The Machinist, although the film was unfairly shunted opposite bigger, inferior performances come Oscar time. Soon after, Bale followed with a summer blockbuster that no one could ignore. As Batman, Bale brought to life the most multi-dimensional, fascinating portrayal of the dark knight yet seen on screen. Batman Begins was loved by critics and geeks alike. Although nothing concrete has been announced, Bale will likely return for a sequel and is welcome by fans to play the caped crusader until the end of time.
Never one to simply rest on his laurels and avoid an upcoming challenge, Bale chose a pretty interesting follow-up with one of Hollywood’s most notorious and mysterious directors, the seldom heard from and seldom seen Terrence Malick. New World is Malick’s first film since 1998’s The Thin Red Line and only his 5th film since his directorial debut in 1969.
Starring Colin Farrell as John Smith, Bale as John Rolfe and a newcomer named Q’ Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, New World is the epic story of the 17th century English settlement in North America and their brutal clash with the Native Americans. John Smith falls for Pocahontas, but their love can never be. Eventually, Pocahontas meets Rolfe, an English gentleman who becomes infatuated with the young and storied native. Pocahontas soon falls for the socialite’s charm and becomes the toast of England.
Bale was on hand at the press day this past weekend to talk to press. Along with New World, FilmForce tried to eek out a few details on the actor’s upcoming re-teaming with Christopher Nolan, The Prestige.
Malick is known for his long, storied productions. He’s also often been known for cutting his actors out of the film almost entirely. Adrien Brody voiced similar issues with the final cut of Thin Red Line and, during the course of the New World press day, co-star Wes Studi had similar issues. Bale comments: “A lot of them were cut. But, when Terry first asked me to do the movie, at the time I was setting up a movie with Werner Herzog that we were doing and I just called him to check about the progress and the dates and everything. And then, they’re very good friends. Werner was at the premiere the other night, and I’d heard about the Adrien Brody story. I’d also spoken with Gary Oldman about it, because he had had early involvement with Thin Red Line and stuff and had a lot of good stories about that. And then, Werner’s first comment to me was, ‘Oh wonderful, Terry’s a wonderful man. You’ll have a fascinating time working with him. Just don’t expect to be in the movie.’ (Laughs) So nothing could surprise me after that. And then I was actually communicating with Terry a great deal throughout his editing process. And it was very interesting. He explained, he had a requirement to bring the movie in at two and a half hours. I know that he’s working on a three hour version which hopefully will be released on DVD. And, you know, consequently, a number of scenes had to go and you really have to get down to the essence of the story. And so, much of the dialogue was actually removed. He felt, and it was things that we would experiment with while we were filming as well… There were often times, we would try to do scenes that may have had a great deal of dialogue, maybe two pages, and we would see, ‘Can this work without ever saying a word? Can we make it work and make it understood without saying anything.’ And it seemed as though that ended up being more the way to go.”
“Of course, you know, from a selfish point of view, I’d like every single scene that we shot to have ended up in the movie. But I’m not a moron. I understand it. That’s not always what’s important to the movie. You often have to cut very nice scenes for the better of the movie. So nah, there’s absolutely no bitterness whatsoever. The only thing that I would have liked is just to have been involved more actually there, actually in the filming. You know, because I ended up only being there for I think four or five weeks or something. And I just like his style of working so much. He’s such a calming director. He’s so curious and he’s appreciative of absolutely everything and there’s never a sense that you’re kind of being tested. Sometimes, with a movie, where there’s such a hard, fast idea from the director about exactly what the scene should be, then it’s very much like you are being tested, you know? You better achieve that line there, you better get that one in there and this one has to have this inflection and you’ve gotta switch here. And it stops being natural. With Terry, he was all about you do what you feel is correct to the degree that he would say end and the rare thing with him was that he actually would mean, if you don’t want to say anything in this scene, then don’t say anything.”
Malick’s methods on set have been said to be unique by some and require a bit of adjustment by others. “He has this nice way of kind of creeping up on you with filming. He doesn’t announce, ‘Hey everybody, tighten up. This is it. Film costs money. You better get this scene right, right now.’ So you’re feeling a little bit of, ‘Oh, all right.’ And you’re running it through your head beforehand, ‘Okay, I’ve gotta get that line in that way, then I have to make this one sound this way.’ With Terry it was never like that. Half the time he would start filming and you didn’t even know that he had begun filming. You’d just be sitting there doing whatever and then you just kind of realize it. Nobody was talking for some reason and then you just kind of go, ‘Oh right, oh we’re filming.’ So, you know, and you start talking and it really seems like you’re talking and I think that was something wonderful that he did, especially with it being a period movie, because so often with period movies you get this… Uptight, you know, human interaction that just, it’s so difficult for me to believe that they actually behave that way outside of books. He just really masters that, you know? It was really great. I wish more movies could be done that way.”
Coming off Batman Begins, New World was already well into production when Bale arrived on set. “I’d been a little bit nervous before arriving, because I’d spoken to a friend of mine who was working on the movie and he said to me, ‘Oh, we do a lot of improvisation,’ which to me, I thought, ‘Holy crap. 1607, how do you improvise in the correct language?’ And I thought, I imagined all the other actors had been studying for months and had learned how to speak like that without even thinking, so I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I’m out of my league here, I’m out of my depth.’ But then I got there, experienced that first improvised thing, and he didn’t care that I came up with a whole bunch of anachronistic sayings. (Laughs) There were some of them which were great, so he just used those bits. I also accidentally credited John Rolfe with the discovery of gravity. (Laughs) Which, that was pointed out, that Newton had not actually written that yet. So, I hope that the Rolfe family were happy that I gave him that distinction.” (Laughs)
Either you like Malick or you don’t. There isn’t a whole lot of in-between. One undeniable aspect of his work is the visual beauty of the things he films. He often takes breaks in the scheduled production for that perfect sunset or unexpected visitor. “He always kept himself busy. He never stopped. There were never times when we were sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting. As I’m sure you know, whenever it was exteriors, there was no artificial lighting. Even when we did go interior, he would just go one lighting set up in the morning and that’s it. It wouldn’t change, the lights would stay the same. So consequently, you just filmed and filmed and filmed and filmed and filmed, you know? And so you would go way off of what the scenes were, you’d come up with different things and then he would edit it and you had a look back on the scene and you’d go, ‘Wow, look at that. He took that bit by bit and wow, he’s woven it together wonderful.'”
“There were absolutely times where we’d be in the middle of doing a scene and it was, ‘Oh God, look at the sun, look at the way that, look at the trees, the way they’re moving right now. Quick!’ And people would run over there, get that, you know, or hey, ‘Q’Orianka, chase that grasshopper.’ (Laughs) ‘Go on. There you go.’ Or somebody would walk past with a caterpillar on their hand and it would be, ‘Heeeey! Come on, get the caterpillar now!’ But it was great, so you never knew what was gonna happen and Terry was just endlessly enthusiastic and had a great humor, you know, about him, and I found it just incredibly easy working with him and would really be honored to do that again.”
Bale always heavily researches the role he takes on, but admits he may have overdone it prepping for New World. “I did. I did a whole lot. As usual, I tend to find that by the time I finish the movie I think, ‘Ah yeah, once again Christian, you did all that research and it wasn’t needed.’ But I just can’t help it. It’s nice to know. I just enjoy finding out as much as I can. I was in London at the time. I went along to the British Public Library and found these great little, you know, documents that they had and old books with John Rolfe’s writings actually in them. Assessments of his character and everything that was happening at the time. And I like having that, I like having that background….”
Next for Bale is another film with Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan. The Prestige co-stars Hugh Jackman, David Bowie and fellow Batman co-star Michael Caine. “They’re magicians, you know? And so we’re working out all sorts of shenanigans that we can get up to for that. It’s a very interesting cast, and obviously working with Chris Nolan again is nice. Many of the crew that I’ve worked with before and some of the actors as well. Yeah, I think it’s going to be a really interesting piece.”
The actor admits even he doesn’t know whether a Batman sequel will follow Prestige. “I don’t know, yeah.”
By Jeff Otto.