BAT OUT OF HELL
In 1997, I was unlucky enough to see Batman and Robin, one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. I wasn’t alone in my hatred of the film. The general feeling among Batman fans was that this was it, it was over. In 2003, it was announced that a new film would be made exploring the origins of the Dark Knight and that he would be played by Christian Bale. Fan reaction was ecstatic. Bale had already been rumored to play Batman when Andrew Kevin Walker’s Batman vs. Superman script was being seriously considered. For fans, it was a sign that by casting a well-respected actor, and not just a flavor of the month, Warner Bros. was indeed doing Batman justice.
If you’ve ever seen Christian Bale in films like Reign of Fire, Equilibrium, or American Psycho, then it’s clear that he can handle the physical presence of Batman. But as you’ll see in the interview below, he also has a firm grasp of the character, based on the 66 years of mythology built up in DC comics. Bale came to Batman Begins after losing dangerous amounts of weight for the movie The Machinist, which meant that he had to bulk up in a short period of time to play Batman. But it was worth it. Having seen the film, and having some time to think about it, I’m of the opinion that Bale is the best Batman yet.
Christian Bale talked with us inLos Angelesrecently about the challenges of the film as well as Bruce Wayne’s journey from scarred child to a prisoner in a Bhutanese jail to Batman.
Thank you very much.
Are you happy with it?
Yeah, no I’m really happy with it. I think that Chris did a fantastic job with it. I think it’s gonna be the first movie that really pleases the hard-core graphic novel fans of Batman, but also is something that people not familiar with can go along and just enjoy it because it’s good film-making and it’s, you know, a good story.
How do you think everyone’s going to feel about having a British guy playing Batman?
You know, I mean yeah, he’s a very American icon, but, you know, he’s globally embraced. You know what, I got no idea about that. I mean, I live in the States now and I’m an actor, you know. I’m gonna be a shape-shifter. So, I mean, who knows?
Where’s your accent?
I think, well… I just finished doing another movie which I had to have, you know, an American accent for and then I just made a decision actually, very much based on what you just said, that uh, it’s just too weird having a guy playing Batman speaking in a British accent; you know, for interviews. You know. For Batman interviews I’ll stick to this.
It’s great to see to see a serious Batman movie. Can you just talk about making it that way?
I think that that was what Bob Kane intended when he first created the character, you know. I spoke with his wife and she said that he was kind of appalled at the TV series; that it was spoofing what he had intended. And you know then you got the great revival when Frank Miller did Batman: Year One and you got Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and everybody else and the artwork of Alex Ross and people. And, to me, if you’re gonna make Batman, you really have to pick a side. And either really send it up, the way that Adam West did – because a man running around in a bat suit can be a very funny thing – or, really take it seriously and delve into the demons, you know, within this character etc.
And I think that the other movies kind of went in between, you know what I mean. You had like these little one-liner quips and things. You never- I always got a sense that it was just Bruce Wayne in a bat suit rather than a becoming this other creature that kind of came out of his dark guts, you know, whenever he put on the suit. And in a way a kind of a, you know, demonic therapy that he needed just to channel his rage in order to be able to exist in every day life as Bruce Wayne, you know, without becoming a complete nut-case.
Can you talk about the physical training; especially going from being rail-thin for The Machinist?
Yeah, I mean it was excessive because of that. You know, it was much harder because of that. I spoke with Chris whilst I was making The Machinist and he said, you know, I was gonna need to screen test for Batman at the beginning of September and this was like end of July. I was like a hundred and twenty one pounds at the time and he said “well, you know, can you put on any weight in that amount of time? Because, you know, nobody’s gonna be convinced by me telling them that you’re gonna be the next Batman, you know, if you’re like a toothpick.” And so I did have to put on a great deal of weight in just that short amount of time, and once they cast me, that’s when the real, you know, effort started just because that was when I actually had to start getting strong because, you know, he’s got no super powers. You have to look like you can be a brawler…And so he has to look like he really can do what you see him doing, you know. And it was very- it was cutting it very fine, you know. I kind of just got ready in time for the beginning of principal photography.
What was more physically taxing? Was it this role or was it The Machinist?
I think that The Machinist, whilst it was more demanding mentally to start with, ultimately once you get accustomed to the change and in the losing weight, it was a much calmer and more comforting place mentally. I think the gaining weight fast is really the unhealthy thing. That was- I did actually feel hideous during that time and that’s what I wouldn’t repeat again.
More unhealthy than losing the weight?
Yeah. No really, I felt absolutely fine in losing the weight. It was in putting the weight on too fast that I felt that I was pushing things too far.
Presumably you’re going to have to go back up; like you’re doing three Batman films, is that correct?
I mean, if people like this one, yeah.
You’d have to go back up to that weight I guess, for the film…
Yes, but you know, I think I’m gonna have a bit of time and I’ll make sure that I have plenty of time for it.
For the record, how much weight did you lose for The Machinist?
Uh, well I’m usually like 185 and I went down to 121 and then I went up to 220 and then back down to about 190, 195 when I was doing Batman.
And you went up that high over what course of time? A few weeks, months?
No, it was about five months, or something. About 100 pounds in about five months or something like that. NOT advisable.
I had heard David Goyer say that Warner Brothers figured out if they had a successful Batman picture they could make, with the merchandising and everything, 3 to 4 billion dollars. I don’t know if they ever told you those figures..
NO, they didn’t tell me that!
Can you just talk about the pressure on Batman and this whole movie that’s riding on your shoulders, especially how reviled and hated the last one is. How do you work with that kind of pressure hanging over you?
I really didn’t view it as being pressure because we were coming at it from a completely different angle. It was a re-invention and it was a recognition that the last ones just really had been, you know, not satisfactory at all. So, I just had a genuine belief that this was what like true Batman fans would be enjoying and wanting to see. And more importantly than that to me, this is what I had seen in the graphic novels and, you know, ultimately you gotta just go with what it is that you want to see in it and stop trying to think about pleasing everybody. Because, of course, not everyone’s gonna love the way that I portray Batman in this or what Chris has done with the movie. But we like it, you know. And so, you know, the test will be if we get asked back to do it again.
Were those Frank Miller books you mentioned like Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, was that a big inspiration for you?
Yeah. Very much, yeah. Those, and the artwork, like I said of Alex Ross, I really loved that. There’s one called WAR, I think it was. And then also the- I mean DC sent me just a box full of graphic novels which I had in the trailer all the time with me. But the two that I liked particularly was Dark Victory and The Long Halloween. They just had some really fantastic imagery in there of the severity of Batman and everything and I would kind of imitate those positions and, you know, adopt in practice.
Sounds like you and Chris had a great working relationship as actor/director. Is that something you can see taking into doing something else with him?
Oh yeah. Very much, yeah. You know, I mean I don’t know from Chris’ point of view if I’ll forever be Batman for him, but absolutely. I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker and- no I’d be very interested to work with him on something else.
Why do you think people are still so fascinated with this character?
I think it’s modern day mythology, you know. I mean that’s really what it is. It’s- these are gods, these are modern day gods, really. It’s what we wish we could be, it’s kind of our ideals of what we could be and particularly with Batman, you know, he’s fascinating because we really could be him – alright you’d have to inherit a lot of money. But if you manage that then, you know, the idea is that it is possible to actually be this one, this particular super-hero. And to me, I always loved the Greek mythology as a kid and that was what really intrigued me when I first started reading the graphic novels in 2000 again. I hadn’t realized that’s essentially what the super-heros are. I just never made that connection that it’s modern day mythology and particularly, you know, American mythology.
Did you approach this as playing two characters, Batman and Bruce Wayne, or one? I almost felt like the dominant character was Batman and it was like a pain to play Bruce Wayne.
Yeah. I mean, I did kind of view it as – the Batman – as being the absolute sincere, raging character that is within him, you know. But there were really three characters because you’ve then got the Bruce Wayne facade; you know, the Bruce Wayne that is used to throw people off, to make them think that he’s just such a wastrel and such a, you know, waste of space and just drunken billionaire guy that he could never possibly be Batman. Be then the younger Bruce Wayne, you know, as well. The one, you know, leaving college and wanting to make good on his promise to his parents and give vengeance for their deaths. And I find each of them, each of his incarnations to be very interesting – and then again the older but angry guy in the jail in Bhutan, you know, and discovering who he is and getting some sense of purpose. So, I actually, you know, I would put it as like four different characters or something, in there.
With the anticipation of learning the origin of Batman, with also the anticipation of seeing all these heavyweights on screen, what did you take from each of them if anything?
You mean the other actors in the movie?
I think – well first of all I took the confidence that I was making a good choice because the fact that we were getting this caliber of actor being interested in making it, you know, only kind of supported the fact that, well ‘hey, we’re onto something here. This is good’. And what you get from working with good actors is that they make you better. It’s just always the same thing, you know.
And how are you better?
You just, you know- it’s just a feeling, you know. It’s a feeling that you have that things should be- they should just flow. When things are working well there shouldn’t be a whole lot of effort. And when you’re working with the likes- you know Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman, you know, and Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson; there’s so many good actors in this. You just found ‘man that just worked’, you know. It just like a rhythm that you feel it. That’s all I can say. I can’t really describe to you verbally what it is, but you just feel that this is working. And with guys like that around, you kind of can’t miss.
USELESS TRIVIA OF THE DAY: The 1998 Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine features Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale doing some full-on man kissing. Who knew that someday, some people would see that as Batman kissing Obi Wan Kenobi. Ironic, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s a great movie, with another great performance by Bale. Check it out!
“Batman Begins” owns your ass Wednesday June 15.