MAGIC CASTS A SPELL OVER BALE
In “The Prestige,” the actor learns tricks of the trade. There are so many things Christian Bale won’t talk about these days. Not because the movie star is a jerk. Far from it. Speaking with a mild Welsh accent from his childhood in Britain, the dark knight from “Batman Begins” is as gracious as they come, taking on each question as if it were the first time he has been asked it.
But Bale’s new movie, “The Prestige,” is an epic battle of Victorian-era magicians, and the brooding film’s basic message is that the secret to a trick is the most valuable thing in the world. And that applies to any trick – whether shuffling cards, acting or editing a special- effects scene, Bale argues.
“I wish secrecy was enforced a bit more with movies, to be honest,” said Bale, who is 32.
He has a particular bone to pick with DVDs, and their behind-the-scenes look inside moviemaking’s bag of tricks.
“The information they give is too much,” he said. “And it destroys the mystery somewhat.”
Bale’s co-starring role with Hugh Jackman in writer-director Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” will solidify his status as a top choice for a somber leading man. “Batman Begins” was a 2005 summer hit with a $205 million box office, and Bale went on to co-star in Terrence Malick’s “The New World.”
In coming weeks, Bale will be seen in the L.A. street drama “Harsh Times” and a Toronto Film Festival favorite, the Werner Herzog film “Rescue Dawn.” Bale has agreed to join Nolan for another Batman movie in 2008, tentatively titled “The Dark Knight.”
For all his rising clout in the industry, which has helped projects like “Rescue Dawn,” Bale along with Jackman had to go back to acting-school basics for “The Prestige.” Nolan and his co-writer, brother Jonathan Nolan, demanded authenticity in every scene; the actors spent weeks practicing tricks that never made it into the film.
“I was particularly intrigued by the sleight-of-hand tricks,” Bale said. Illusions that rely on mechanical devices are unfulfilling, he argues, echoing the guiding spirit of “The Prestige” itself, because once people learn the trick they are disappointed. Movie editing is even less satisfying, because any effect can be produced after the fact.
Instead, Bale loved watching the film’s magic consultants, magicians and historians Ricky Jay and Michael Weber, perform basic tricks that rely on repetition and faultless hand work.
“Ricky and Michael didn’t want any hacks on the set. They didn’t want to see packs of cards with strings dangling from them. They said, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it for real.’ The purity of the sleight-of- hand tricks, it’s just absolute ability,” Bale said. The magician can show you exactly how it’s done, yet the magic doesn’t fade because the observer can’t duplicate the result without years of practice.
Did Bale get good at pulling rabbits from hats?
“I got to the point I could shuffle a deck of cards in one hand,” Bale laughed. “I know the beginnings of some tricks and the ends of some tricks, but Ricky and Michael weren’t really game to give away whole tricks. And I like that they maintain that. It’s the only thing that gives their profession value.”
In “The Prestige,” Bale’s character, Alfred Borden, is a brooding, working-class magician, more interested in proving he’s smarter than everyone else than in putting on a good show. It’s a typically intense part for Bale, who three years ago lost 60 pounds to play a tortured paranoid in “The Machinist.” Equally focused turns in “American Psycho,” “Batman Begins” and other movies cemented Bale’s reputation as the young actor least likely to go slapstick.
“I don’t look for that,” Bale said of the intensity of the roles he plays. “But these characters intrigue me. I do tend to wait, and get haunted by a part.
When it won’t let you alone, he said, that’s the time to accept a script.
He believes Nolan chose him for “Batman Begins” in part because of the “commitment” he showed by losing the weight for “The Machinist” – playing Batman required equal intensity in the opposite direction, bulking up and getting in superhero shape.
Is Bale, who began his movie career at age 12 in the Steven Spielberg epic “Empire of the Sun,” interested in expanding that intensity to a movie genre he’s never tried. A Western, perhaps?
Funny you should ask, he said. “That’s what I’m doing next.” The actor is teaming with Russell Crowe and director James Mangold on a remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” The 1957 original, with Glenn Ford, was itself based on a short story by famed thriller writer Elmore Leonard.
“I love the bare bones, the tough circumstances” of Westerns, Bale said. “I love the simplicity of the morality tale.”
By Michael Booth.