CHRISTIAN BALE’S HARSH TIMES
Christian Bale is not only known for being a compelling and versatile actor, but also for transforming into himself deeply into his characters. In his latest film, Harsh Times, he does it again. Bale plays Jim Davis, an ex-Army Ranger who falls back into the crime scene and his partying ways after a job at the LAPD falls through. The intense drama is based on Training Day creator David Ayer’s experiences growing up in Los Angeles.
ComingSoon.net recently had the chance to talk to Bale about his gritty new indie role.
ComingSoon.net: You look like director David Ayer in this movie. Was that intentional?
Christian Bale: Well, I haven’t seen Dave for a couple of months. People called us brothers whilst we were making the movie because whilst we were making the movie, he had the same haircut as me.
How much a fan were you of “Training Day”?
I had met David regarding “Training Day” many years back. I am a fan of it. However, this feels more personal to me. This is just more his real piece. This is something he started before “Training Day.” This is something that he just, like he says himself, kind of owns a part of his own soul and personally I feel that with this one. I also love that it’s just the kind of grittier, more kind of low income version.
Were you up for the Ethan Hawke role?
That would have been the part that ultimately I would have been up for. But I just feel, to me “Harsh Times” is similar and obviously Dave’s attachment and obviously the locale, the locations. But to me, it goes that much further than “Training Day” did. I think that was why David kind of wanted to keep it in his pocket. He felt like this was his piece. He didn’t want anyone else messing with it. “Training Day” he kind of let out to the studio and he got great results. But this one really felt like it meant too much, it meant more to him than that one.
How can you be so intense with an American accent?
I’ve been living it for a number of years. If I hadn’t gotten it down, it would be a little bit questionable by now. I’ve been living here for almost 14 years. The new thing for me on this one was obviously getting the military lingo down and getting the Chicano lingo down as well. And finding a happy blend of the two.
What kind of research did you do?
I had the best kind of research. First of all, Dave himself. This is inspired by his own stories all I had to do was say to Dave, “Bring ’em all on.” Bring all your friends in. Bring the military guys in. Bring the gang member guys in. Bring everybody in. Let’s just sit and I spent three weeks hanging out. We went on tour, policemen as well. It was funny because one day we’d be hanging out with an ex-gang member. He’d be telling us all stories about what he did down that street there and then we go get a drink in a bar somewhere and we’d be chatting and he’d be helping me out talking about Chicano lifestyle, vernacular, lingo and everything. And the next day we’d be going on a drive-around with a policeman who was showing us the same streets and telling us stories about what he did down there. I could see in both sides of the fence and how they actually intersect an awful lot. On top of that, the military. Military personnel people who were good enough and I’m really appreciative to them for being good enough to come spend some time with me, for allowing me to pick their brains, for some who divulged and this goes for some ex-gang members, people I spoke with, the policemen included, military, people who told me very personal stories, very tragic stories. The military war’s going on and there’s wars right in the streets of LA as well. And stories that I would not repeat to anybody just because these are personal stories that they offered to me with the understanding that it was just between the two of us. It was a fascinating thing. Many of the military personnel, even though we’re not trying to suggest that this is a generic experience of soldiers. Not everybody comes back and suffers from some kind of PTSD. Many do. It’s not a rare case and almost everybody knows somebody who has been affected. With Jim, however, the problem is he won’t admit it. He is in denial about that and that’s what really sends him on his downward spiral because he believes himself to be invincible, to be self-sufficient and so how could he ever need help from anybody else? He’s this unstoppable force.
Without giving too much away, can you talk about the end of the movie? It’s not your typical Hollywood story.
It’s a morality tale very much. It doesn’t start off that way. You don’t know that that’s the movie you’re going to be seeing. I feel like you start the movie and you’re going to be seeing a good time couple of folks just going around LA getting into trouble. Then suddenly you’re faced with the abyss and it becomes almost physically uncomfortable to sit and watch. Personally, I like Jim very much in spite of himself. He’s a prick beyond belief but you know that there’s a good side to him. You know that he’s also been through one hell of a lot. And you know that he has potential. He just keeps on denying it to himself. But certainly the way that he knows best how to deal with situations is with violence. And so he truly loves his fiancee, Marta. He won’t confess to his buddies back in LA about this kind of romance and poetry that she embodies for him, that he adores. It’s just too soft for him to ever admit to, but the fact is he’s sincere about it but the irony is, whereas in his job he is able to take life or give life, with his own life he’s completely out of control and he can’t even choose his own wife. There’s a lot of self-loathing that comes out of that and a lot of resentment of the military. I think it was cut but there was one piece where we had me actually kind of talking about my government and he’s genuflecting as he’s saying it. It’s just like you don’t question it. But the fact is, when it delves into your personal life that much, you can’t help but be affected by it in some way.
And you did this film coming right off of “Batman Begins” correct?
[It was] perfect because seven months shooting straight on “Batman,” the movie obviously was very much helped by the fact that I had gotten that role in between first meeting Dave and then actually making it. I called Dave whilst I was shooting “Batman” and said, “What’s going on about Harsh Times? Let’s get this thing done. I’m still thinking about it.” He said, “Oh, I thought you would have forgotten about me a long time back.” I said, “No, I want to be doing this one. Is it still studio?” No, he said, “I’m going to finance it totally myself.” I said, “Great, you’re crazy for doing that but it makes me want to believe in it even more.” And within six months we had it up and running and going and we shot it in 24 days and it was perfect to go from one style of filmmaking to the total opposite. It’s as independent as you can get. You can’t get more independent than somebody taking the money out of their own back pocket, remortgaging their house.
Did you get trouble from your handlers?
Not at all, not at all. I’d kept on saying to them about “Harsh Times,” keep your ear to the ground. I don’t want to lose track of that one. They also knew that I like “Batman” immensely. That was one I’d been chasing in and of itself ,but that I had always maintained, I’m doing this. In no way does this mean I’m going to keep on doing big budget movies. Big budget has nothing to do with whether it’s a good movie or not. Everybody knows that. And necessity is the mother of invention in many cases as well. Not having a huge budget for this movie meant that we got true believers working on this movie and you can see that.
How long does this character stay with you?
The intensity as well as the speed of filmmaking meant that he was pretty much there the whole time. I remember Dave getting very freaked out. We were up in the desert on my last day of filming. We went right through the night. We finished at about eight o’clock in the morning. We decided to break open a bottle of tequila and just kind of celebrate. I was suddenly being me again and he was sitting there and he looked at me and he was going, “Who the f**k are you? Who is this?” and I could see there was a certain amount of “Well, we’ve all been played here.” Because we’d become fast friends and that was all completely sincere. But it was all done as Jim. I still am, I do still consider myself to be a great friend with Dave but the fact is he was freaked out at that point because with that speed of filmmaking, you kind of can’t let go of it. But then afterwards actually he was gone pretty quick. I had other things going on in my life which demanded my attention very quickly which I wanted and needed to give my attention to, and so Jim was gone pretty fast.
Is it hard to come up with these intense and raw characters?
Listen, it can be but I’ve definitely had periods of absolutely nothing going on. I have made bad choices as well. I’ve done things which I’m glad I did because I wanted to experiment with certain styles of filmmaking and just see how I worked out. Usually those ones ended up with just one attempt. It tended to be like okay, I’ve tried it now. I wanted to try it. I’m done with that. Other than that, I just stick with what gets its hooks into me, what do I keep thinking about. And I just like to figure that as long as you keep that mentality, don’t try to be my own kind of marketing man whatsoever, then – well, personally, any writer, any musician, whatever, I want to see that they’re doing it for themselves and hey, hopefully other people are going to get it as well. So man, it’s so nice when people do get it. I’m so happy that “The Prestige” has done so well. So far I’m so pleased with the way that people seem to be getting “Harsh Times” because in no way was this ever a thing where we wanted to bang people over the head with the layers that there are actually within this movie. And there was always the concern that you could potentially get people just thinking it was some kind of love of violence, a bunch of kind of teenagers making a movie about some cool guys just causing havoc and getting into a whole lot of trouble and causing mayhem in LA. And it ain’t that. It ain’t that by a long shot. And it’s very nice to at least be hearing from the people who have seen it that they seem to be seeing much more into it which is the reason that I did it.
Since you’ve had these opportunities, are you looking forward to returning to “Batman Begins”?
I’m looking forward now. I’m getting kind of trickled down information from Chris [Nolan]. I’ve been seeing bits and pieces of it. I’m aware of the whole basic outline now. I am working on something else currently though. I’m back working tomorrow morning in New Mexico on something so I’m kind of just focused on that completely now. But Chris will be contacting me when he knows it’s the right time and when he wants a bit of input.
Is that “3:10 to Yuma”? How’s that going?
That’s going great. I’m just three days in right now but it’s going really well. That’s a western. It’s directed by James Mangold and it’s with Russell Crowe. It’s based on an Elmore Leonard short story and it was also a movie made I believe in the ’50s with Glen Ford and Van Hefflin.
Please talk about the scene with you, Freddy Rodriguez and Terry Crews.
Yeah, that was a hilarious scene. Terry’s great. He’s a great guy. We just rapped. We just kept going because that was one of the few days where due to locations, we kind of had that house and we were a little bit too far away from any other location. We kind of had a lot of time to be shooting that scene. We ended up with something like a 15-20 minute scene because everybody just kept on going. We went completely off script and it just kept going and we were pissing ourselves laughing. We’d have to stop because we’d just gone way too far off of the script. And eventually just time constraints condensed it to whatever it is, a three minute scene or something, but that was a good day. That was definitely one of the funnier days. But also one of the more memorable days on the movie was actually early on in Mexico when we were filming in this little town down south in Encinitas and we just invited the whole town down for a fiesta. There was food, pig was actually slaughtered right there so there was great eating for everybody that night. There was a band playing. Everybody was dancing. We were handing out drinks for everybody. It was just a genuine party and we just filmed in the middle of it. We just tried to get our scenes done in the middle with hopefully not too many people walking past looking in camera or stumbling past. That was a very memorable evening. That was a real good beginning to the movie. You also had Dave’s wife and her dad doing the catering for everybody. It was a real family affair.
And the scene in the car, is it easy to do with that intensity threatening your costar?
It’s obviously a very uncomfortable scene. That’s one where you’re squirming in your seat. He thinks he’s in control. He thinks that he’s kind of just showing a side of himself that would make her never want to have anything to do with him again. He’s not had the courage to actually talk to her about the decision that he’s had to make but he does know exactly how to scare her physically. However, at that point, the trauma starts kicking in and he kind of starts really losing it. So no, that was not an easy scene to shoot whatsoever. There’s nothing easy whenever you’re dealing with guns and behaving with them in that fashion. It was cut a great deal as well because in my mind it was just this is as extreme as Jim gets and we actually decided you know what, we’ve got to take it back some here. You don’t leave that feeling good about yourself. You do kind of feel like you’ve got to go have a good shower, clean up. And the thing that I like so much about this movie is I begin it, it’s a joyride, I want to be in the car with the guys, I want to be doing what they’re doing and then suddenly I go whew, I want to be nowhere near them anymore. This is hideous, this is ugly. You’re certainly witnessing the ugliness of war of war in the inner cities, of war in the individual, of just the ugliness of life. There’s such potential for beauty but it’s just getting completely raped. You just feel almost physically uncomfortable towards the end of the movie and I finished it, and all I could think was, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I have to go perform some really good act for somebody. I’ve got to go and do something to try and make this world a slightly better place.” That was how I ended up. I feel like my hope is that a lot of people are going to donate to charities or something or help that homeless person on the street or whatever because I tell you, that’s what I felt like doing. It was kind of the moral equivalent of needing to take a shower.
Did you find a good deed to do?
I kind of forgot it fairly quick. I got back, had a nice drink and settled into the night, but thanks for reminding me. I’ll find something nice to do.
Harsh Times opens in theaters this Friday, November 10.
By Heather Newgen.