CHRISTIAN BALE TALKS ABOUT “THE PRESTIGE”
Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman Play Rival Magicians in “The Prestige”.
Christian Bale reunites with his Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan for the dramatic thriller, The Prestige, co-starring Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson. Bale and Jackman square off inThe Prestige, not as Batman versus Wolverine but as two rival magicians.
The story follows Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale), two magicians who began their professional lives working as young assistants employed by the same magician. As the two fledgling magicians work separately to build up their own repertoire of tricks, their dislike for one another escalates. With each trying to best the other, their rivalry morphs into something dangerous and deadly.
The Appeal of The Prestige: “I didn’t actually really read it during Batman. I had spoken with Chris about it before we started shooting on ‘Batman,’ but just casual conversation. Nothing to do with the whole me doing it whatsoever – he was talking to other actors at the time. But, then we worked very well. I read The Prestige again after I finished Batman, but I wasn’t sure if Chris just wanted to keep me as Bruce Wayne in his eyes and that was it, and he wouldn’t want to work on anything else. So, I contacted him and raised that question. I really liked the character of Borden and just told him, ‘Hey look, this would be great. I could really do this very well.’ And he did believe me, so we got crackin’.”
It was nice as well in the way that, obviously, actors are shape shifters, and those are the ones that I admire most. [But] Chris was a shape shifter in the way he went to very different styles of directing from Batman to this. He really wanted to be able to move very quickly, spin on a dime, and have us all ready to approach different scenes in different ways. ‘Maybe we are going to do this scene today, maybe we’re going to do this one instead.’ Whereas with something like Batman, because it’s such enormous kind of set up, you really know that here is what we have to do. Any changes require an awful lot of time to switch around. So, it was nice to be working in a much more spontaneous manner. Hand-held cameras a lot.
I thought it helped so much with the fact that it was period. Most people immediately hear ‘period movies’ and they start falling asleep. I think the reason for that is that also so many period movies – a lot of actors act like other people in period movies, because it’s the best reference they have. All it took was somebody to do something wrong at the beginning and everyone else is imitating that for ever after. We purposely said let’s avoid [that], and especially with my character you are dealing with a much more working-class background where usually the upper-classes are much more represented in period movies. These are just people. We really wanted to make sure that they are just people who everyone could just relate to. The same ambitions, desires that we all have nowadays and that really helped with dealing with doing the kind of hand-held stuff. It’s much more fluid. You don’t have to be hitting all these marks all the time. You can change it up. You can do one take one way and another a totally different way. And you know, we could really hit the ground running. Not only Chris, but obviously Wally Pfister – the DP. Much of the crew, we’d all worked together before so there wasn’t that kind of breaking in period.”
Christian Bale Won’t Be Giving Up Acting to Become a Magician: “I’m bloody awful. Everyone thinks I’d be good, and I know the beginning of it and I know the end of it, but our advisors, they would never teach me the entire trick. You know? And I respected this very much in them that they recognize, as my character says in the movie, ‘The value of magic is in the mystery.’ You tell people how it’s done and that’s it. It’s not only not interesting anymore, it’s bloody annoying once you find out how it’s done. The only different kind of trick, I would say, is slight of hand. Because, that, I found it even more stunning when they showed me how they were doing it. There are a few things like that I had to learn, which we didn’t end up using in the movie anyway. But, I admired that immensely. Just the hours, the commitment, basically a lifetime of commitment these guys devote to it.”
Magic sort of runs in Bale’s family. “Yeah, my grandfather was a magician. I never saw him perform or anything, but he always remembers the magic circle in London. By the time I kind of knew that, he had a few old tricks in a chest up in the attic and he would pull it down now and then, but most of them were busted so he’d describe how they were done before. But, certainly, he very much enjoyed that.”
The Tricks of The Prestige: Magicians Ricky Jay and Michael Weber consulted on the film and taught Bale and Jackman how to do a couple of tricks. “They were stunning beyond belief,” Bale said of working with Jay and Weber. “Like I said, to me it’s the mechanics – the slight of hand – that I was so impressed with. And, just the fluidity. They are doing it like they are just sitting down and having breakfast. This is disappearing and this is coming out of here and they are pulling that there. We are sitting in an office with florescent lighting and he’s got no sleeves and they are telling me, ‘I’m about to do this to you.’ ‘No you’re not,’ and then he does it. Truly incredible.
What I like very much there is that this is a lifetime obsession for them. I went around to their houses and stuff, and it is what they live and breathe, night and day. I admire that when you find somebody who has such an all-engaging obsession. I just like that. You just know this has been not hours, not days, but years of practice to get as good as they are. I liked very much the integrity in the way they do their craft, in doing like a little riffle into a hat.
They were proper magicians. If they were going to be our advisors, I was going to bloody learn how to do it properly and do it all in the correct way, and I liked that.”
The Central Theme – Rivalry Between Magicians: Bale and Jackman play rival magicians jealous over the other’s popularity and success, but there’s also an underlying theme of rivalry between classes. Bale’s Borden is a working-class man while Jackman’s Angier comes from a wealthy family. “It’s England so there is going to be class rivalry, absolutely,” said Bale. “And how tricky it is to move so called ‘up’ in classes. That’s very, very tricky. I think it’s something Americans don’t understand much. But coming from England and absolutely understanding that and seeing that… America, of course there are an awful lot of problems as well, but it is much more based on merit. If you do it, you can get given a chance. And it’s not that – especially if you go back a 100 years in England. You know your place. That’s it. Do not try to get above your station at all. So, I’m sure yeah, there is a certain amount of annoyance from Borden’s part about Angier. He keeps that hidden, Angier, his actual resources and where he comes from.”
Bale added, “More for me, the rivalry I was focusing on more was the knowledge of a more brilliant magician, that a more brilliant showman was being considered the better talent. And [my character’s] hatred of having to sell yourself in that way in order for people to understand, a character that doesn’t understand why people can’t see what he is doing. He is by far the best magician.”
Working with Hugh Jackman: “We’re friendly. It was kind of really good casting. I don’t know if Chris knew it ahead of time, just in terms of our various approaches. It was really interesting because both of us absolutely sided with our characters. We’d sit and we’d talk about a scene before doing it. For me, it was very clear that my character necessarily had the substance and was really talking the truth, and his character was really talking a lot of crap. It was all this superficial nonsense. And he would kind of look at me and go, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ The fact is, you both agree with your characters. You agree with what either was saying, so that was ideal.
It was very nice because Hugh is a fantastic showman. He’s a great singer and dancer. He’s used to the stage and comfortable on the stage. I’ve only done one thing onstage in my life and it is just not what drives me. I’m not as intrigued by theater as I am with film. So, you had just in Hugh and I, one very good natural performer and another who really didn’t know what I was doing up here. ‘I don’t really know how to handle this.’ And again, this is sort of what acting requires. It was ideal for the different roles we were playing.”
Reuniting with Michael Caine: Bale and Caine worked together as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Alfred in Batman Begins, but barely get to share any scenes together in The Prestige. “Obviously, he’s much more of Hugh’s mentor in this one than mine, so we didn’t actually… Most of our scenes is him – we’re a little distant from each other. He’s real great company to have around. He’s a real funny and just good man. I think anybody would enjoy just hanging out with him for the afternoon.”
Speaking of Batman…: Bale’s sworn to secrecy and can’t say much. The one thing he would say without fear of being hunted down and having his tongue removed was this: “Listen, I’m sure we’ll be making it better. We’ve got the confidence now of the people behind us that the idea originally – it really works and people embraced it and liked it. But beyond that, it’s got more secrecy than the NSA.” As for working with Nolan for the third time Bale said, “It’s great. No, he’s one of the best around. He’s out there, yeah.”
By Rebecca Murray.