Christian talks Harsh Times, The Prestige and The Dark Knight.
Since Batman Begins, he’s been one of the most in-demand actors working today. He’s got no fewer than five projects lined up, including his second Batman film, and duelling illusionist thriller The Prestige. The film he really wants to talk about though, is his long-gestating indie Harsh Times, which is being released in the UK this week. We caught up with the star to talk about the film and murderous magicians.
Harsh Times is finally getting released over here. We were lucky enough to see a screening of it late last year, but then things went quiet. What was the delay?
Well we made this in late 2004 – early 2005, and the main editing job was done within a month after that. It’s just the way of the independent world – the people who bought it at the film festival, were themselves bought out by a bigger fish, and it’s ended up being almost two years.
You’re executive producer on this one, what got you attracted and involved?
In a different incarnation of it, it was going to be Dave [Ayer] directing it, but it was going to be with a studio. I think it was 2001 that I met with Dave, because I loved it. I picked it up, I read it, it was fast and there was this mercurial character that just never stopped. I just kind of felt drunk on it. It had so much to it – dense, but fast and fluid – you could think what you wanted to about it; it wasn’t banging you over the head… I’ve had differing people say it’s anti-war, some people say it’s pro-war. I love that fact that it wasn’t trying to tell people, or announcing itself really clearly.
At the time though, with it being a studio, they had their list of actors that they would have as Jim and I wasn’t one of them. So Dave and I met in a bar, five hours later we were stumbling out of it, and it had been great. It was a great meeting. It was just a pain that they wouldn’t cast me at the time, the studio wouldn’t. Then I contacted Dave whilst I was doing Batman and asked him what was going on with it, and he’d just decided to take it away from the studio because they were just dictating too many changes to him.
So I was right there from the get-go for the new incarnation of it, getting it made totally independently. Dave financed this whole damn thing out of his own pocket. Not only is that totally reckless and against all common wisdom of what you’re meant to do, it just shows somebody who’s a little crazy and cares a lot about the project. So I definitely wanted in and I also wanted to go from doing Batman, which is a big monster of a movie, to shooting a movie like this one, which we did in 24 days, and it’s as independent as you can get when you’ve got the writer-director sticking his own money into it.
What were your responsibilities as an EP?
You know it doesn’t mean a whole lot, I could sit here and say, “I was very instrumental and sitting in all the meetings…” I really wasn’t! I just got a momentum behind it, got people to sit up and pay attention to the project. Because of that, it meant that things got done quickly and it got it up off the ground, so he said “Hey, do you want the exec producer [credit]?” I liked the spirit in which it was made, and it was nice to know that my interest in it meant that it actually happened. What I’ve been used to is that my interest in projects meant that they didn’t happen! (laughs)
And as you say, it’s easy to see the appeal of the script for an actor…
Jim’s a fascinating character – just this crazy head-case in the middle of it all who has this great talent for violence, but has also this great brain on his shoulders that he doesn’t really admit to or reveal very much. Jim’s based on Dave, and Dave is mercurial and engaging – we were arguing on that first meeting straight off, and it was great, just a real eye-opener and one that I didn’t undercut the piece.
It’s astonishing you say it’s drawn from Dave’s own character, because Jim is almost impossible to like by the end. Apart from the whirlwind aspect of it, where does the appeal of playing a character like that lie for you?
Because despite everything, I like Jim a lot – I couldn’t help but like him. I understood why he was the way that he was. He was infuriating, he’s somebody that you want to shoot at times, but he also made me laugh a lot. He’s on so much all the time, he’s just an engaging guy who’s going to push your buttons on purpose, he’s going to get in your face, but to me had a great validity throughout it all. He appears to be a real two-dimensional guy but you scratch the surface and there’s so much squirming around.
How do you put down a character like Jim at the end of the working day?
I went away to Mexico for a little bit because my wife was sick of it! It was definitely one that she wanted to drop very quickly. You move on to a different project basically, and the project was we were having a little girl, so Jim was gone as quickly as he arrived.
What was the biggest lesson you learned on this one?
I don’t know – I wish I could give you something really insightful there, but I don’t know! I don’t like looking back too much on things. There are things I learn with every single movie that I do, and it’s like re-visiting a really good friend that you know well – I know I can go back there in an instant. I’ll tell you what was great, though: I love L.A., and I love the fact that it’s like a bunch of different towns and cultures all living on top of each other, but half the time you never even know about it. You see it briefly, you catch glimpses of it, and with this I got to go and live in a whole different part of L.A. that I don’t often go to, and learn a culture that I know now, and I can switch that back on whenever I wish.
You say this thing about not looking back to hard, you’ve got your first sequel coming up now, how are you going to pick up the character and where do you see him going for The Dark Knight?
We have the confidence now of knowing that how we saw the world of Gotham was one that other people embraced and liked, so we can be even bolder in knowing that. Beyond that I don’t have a clue because I totally trust Chris [Nolan], he lets me know what I need to know about, and beyond that I know nothing!
Finally: The Prestige – did you read the book?
What did you think?
I thought… it’s the only book that I haven’t lifted anything from whatsoever, and the reason for that is Chris has really done quite his own take on it. It’s based on a book, it’s not the book.
We’re all looking forward to seeing the differences between the two animals…
There’s a lot, there’s an awful lot. I read the script first, and I was very surprised.