CAPONE WITH CHRISTIAN BALE ABOUT 3:10 TO YUMA, RESCUE DAWN, AND DARK KNIGHT!!
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Still slightly soggy, but in slightly better shape than a couple days ago. […]
For the entire summer, I’ve been practically tripping over film sets for THE DARK KNIGHT. A couple months ago, the crew was shooting about two blocks from my house. And just last week, the production took over the lobby, two floors, and most of the outside of the building where I keep an office in downtown Chicago. You can’t walk through the Loop without hitting either THE DARK KNIGHT or WANTED (the new Angelina Jolie) filming somewhere in this city. Every week, I get an e-mail or seven from someone working in an office building telling me how some part of their building has been converted into a set for a weekend or an entire week. It’s actually been kind of exciting, but also slightly frustrating since the production has been operating under a complete and total press blackout, and I can’t arrange an official set visit.
This doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have a few things up my sleeves as far as THE DARK KNIGHT, including this interview with Christian Bale, in which the subject of Batman is hardly discussed (be patient; I really do have long sleeves, with many things up them). But let’s be honest, you could fill pages just talking about the films Bale has impressed me with in just the last three years, including RESCUE DAWN; THE MACHINST; THE PRESTIGE; HARSH TIMES; THE NEW WORLD; and the upcoming 3:10 TO YUMA, which opens next Friday and is the reason I was put in a room with him, as well as November’s I’M NOT THERE, in which he plays Bob Dylan, along with many other actors.
I should add at this point that there were two other writers in the room with me asking question, but they were two guys I happen to like, so often their questions were on my list of topics to discuss as well.
Bale is a soft-spoken but very focused man, and when he answers your question, when he’s talking to you, he looks you directly in the eyes. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure he never blinked as he locked his laser-guided glare on me. It’s slightly intense, but not scary, and it forces you to listen to him, since his body language and eye contact don’t really change. That being said, getting him to smile or laugh seems to loosen him up (as I had evidenced the night before my interview with him at a post-screening Q&A he did for YUMA). And so I began my conversation with Bale with this question.
Capone: Did playing a fake cowboy in NEWSIES prepare you in any way for 3:10 TO YUMA. Did you draw from that experience?
Christian Bale: laughs I drew nothing from it, except for the quite annoying fact that when I first arrived in Sante Fe, I could not get the song from NEWSIES [“Sante Fe”] out of my mind. Every time somebody said ‘Sante Fe’…if you’re familiar with NEWSIES, there’s a song, and it would just go on through my head. And, it hadn’t been in my head for, whatever it is, 16 years or something like that. Dammit, if every time I saw a sign, a road sign or somebody mentioned it…and it took a good month or so for that to quit.
Question: And, you just had to belt it out right there?
CB: Oh, no. I definitely kept that inside. I wasn’t going to let anybody know about it there.
C: But, it added to your character’s torment, I’m guessing.
CB: That’s actually what his conflict is. [laughs]
Q: Were you familiar at all with the first film when you were approached for this one?
CB: I wasn’t really approached more than just, the script was going around. No, I wasn’t aware that it was a remake at the time. I did watch it before we shot, but no.
Q: So it was the script that attracted you, not the idea of remaking the film?
Q: So, what about the script attracted you?
CB: There was a time for me following BATMAN BEGINS–and I’d also made THE MACHINIST before that–where I felt that I was actually happy with the results of the movies I was making. And, I kind of was hoping to be able to continue that.
And, I had a couple of projects, which were things that I had been wanting to make before BATMAN BEGINS came along–one of them being RESCUE DAWN, another being HARSH TIMES, and I’d also had spoken with Terry Malick about THE NEW WORLD beforehand. So, I felt, okay, I need to get these done. These have to be completed, this comes first. And, then, I decided to just really, instead of looking at a script and thinking, ‘Well, something could be made of this. There are many problems, but something could be made of this with the right people,’ just to really try and wait, and just hold out and wait for a script that I just really looked at and that stayed fixed in my mind for sometime after reading.
That’s what happened with THE PRESTIGE – which was a lucky thing, because Chris [Nolan] was directing, so he was a phone call away – and then, with 3:10 TO YUMA as well. It’s just one of the those scripts that I read and didn’t stop thinking about.
First of all, I wanted to make a Western. Secondly, Westerns can be great in their simplicity about ‘Here’s the bad guy, here’s the good guy’. This one presented you with that, but then, it kind of presented, like, 2+2=5 and showed you why that was correct. But, these two apparently, absolutely ethically opposed people had a great fondness and similarity in that they were both seeking redemption in very different ways. But, I liked very much all of the questions that arose from it in the midst of all the great Western gunfights and the horse riding.
But, this land of lawlessness where you truly did have to stand by your belief, and people have to have a very strong belief. Nowadays, you can kind of get by without that. There’s so much infrastructure and support, at least in the major metropolises, you can kind of just have vague opinions about everything and still get through life. I think at that time you had to have much stronger opinions and beliefs, because you were completely unprotected.
Q: Christian, Dan Evans [Bale’s character in YUMA] is certainly, as always, a much different character for you to play, but he’s also someone who will go to extremes when he needs to. What attracts you to characters that sort of… at one minute they’re one thing, but when they’re pushed in a certain direction, they have to go through this serious change, because they’re up against so much?
CB: Right. Doesn’t that interest you as well? I mean, circumstances that you can find yourself in and a whole different side comes out? The possibilities of who you could be, given different circumstances? And, everybody not having a predictable life? Everybody has a question throughout their lives, ‘If they were really put to the test, could they stand up and be the person that they would hope to be?’.
And, I think, also particularly with Dan, it’s… I’m a father now, and I see in myself that principles and ethics that applied when I was not a father changed radically when I became a father. And, I kind of have two different sets of principles about who I am. Things that I would do for my daughter, which are pretty much limitless, versus what I will do for myself. And, I could see that in Dan, of him having to decide about the fact that he has a family now and at what point are his own beliefs actually destroying his family, and wanting to set a great example of somebody who has conviction, but really having to question whether his conviction has just become selfish pride. Or, whether it is actually something relevant and practical. That’s what I love about the character, is the conflict within himself, of needing to prove to himself and be the man he aspires to be. Also, needing and just dying to see his son actually respect him for once and his wife actually respect him as well. But, is this pure selfishness? It’s a great dilemma that he has, and, I think, it’s a dilemma that anybody can find themselves in to a lesser degree than Dan does, obviously. But, in life, when they do find themselves having people… loved ones who depend upon them completely.
C: Actually, one of the more interesting elements of the film is how that part of Dan’s character sneaks up on you, because you don’t really know until the end that he’s thinking in his head, ‘I want my son to respect me and look at me with dignity’ and regain some of that dignity that he lost in the war. And, by the end of the film, Russell Crowe is literally carrying Dan into his legend, making that little transition so his son will remember him, his father, in a very different way. Did you ever think about your own legacy as an actor? Especially in the last couple of years, you’ve really built up an incredible cadre of film roles, with each role being better than the one before.
CB: Absolutely. I’ve been able to work on movies that I like very much in the past few years, which I think have turned out how I had hoped that they would. And, I’m human, you know; that makes me feel good. I like it when people like what I do. I don’t like it when people are laughing at me for what I do, you know? I mean, I’d love to say I was completely impervious to anybody’s opinion, but that just ain’t the truth. Of course, it matters.
At the same time, there’s also a danger when you start playing it too safe. After all, what am I paid to do? I’m paid to essentially make an ass out of myself, if needed. And occasionally, in doing that, you’re going to fall flat on your face. But, I have learned, through doing that numerous times in my life, that there’s also a ton of enjoyment to what other people see as humiliation. You can actually come to sort of thrive on that, because in a way, it kind of leads to a sort of fearlessness, if you genuinely don’t mind. If the point is that you tried, I think that really is the most important thing. And, like you said, I feel like I’ve been very fortunate in the last couple of years that I’ve gotten to do what I loved, which is actually the making of movies, and on top of that, if I’ve liked how the movies have turned out themselves, then that’s fantastic. But, to start getting too comfortable within that would be eventually to start churning out boring, boring chaff.
C: In the kind of films you make, “comfort” doesn’t seem to play into a lot of what you do.
CB: For the viewer or for you.
Q: You speak a lot about fortune and luck in the last couple of years, but do you think BATMAN opened doors, gave you the freedom to…
CB: Okay, I don’t mean luck. I’ll rephrase that, because I don’t believe that that’s luck. I can say that that’s ‘fortunate’, but certainly, it ain’t ‘luck’, because it wasn’t like me picking it out of a hat, is what I’m saying. I did choose the scripts; I did choose the people to work with. So, no, that’s just wrong terminology.
Q: Okay, but do you look at anything that allowed you to take that turn, to give you the freedom to choose whatever part you have. Or, have you always felt that way? Did BATMAN change things and give you the freedom to say, ‘I’m going to wait for something like 3:10 TO YUMA to come along’? Or, did THE MACHINIST give you a new life in the eyes some directors and some people? Was there anything that happened recently that led to that two-year streak? Or, was it just fortune?
CB: I think it also came from a year and a half before THE MACHINIST where I didn’t work at all, and nobody wanted me for anything, and… Well, a couple of people did, but it was for very bad things, and so it was kind of realizing, ‘Okay, I have to re-evaluate, reinvent at this point’. But, I don’t know, I’ve always had this kind of feeling in the back of my head that I’ll be back there again at some point. I’ll be sitting, staring at the wall, banging my head against it, and having to reinvent myself once again at some point.
Q: You obviously have such an incredible dedication to the parts that you play and the things that you do. As you’re doing the preparation, are you just focused, knowing you can do it and you do it; or do you ever wake up in the morning or get the sense of, like, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’
CB: You mean feeling like the dedication is wasted?
Q: Not wasted, but just sort of almost surprising yourself in what you’re willing to do and what you’re able to do. And, having a few moments of, like, ‘I’m not sure if I can do all this’. …like for RESCUE DAWN or THE MACHINIST?
CB: You know, there’s something also to taking yourself away from your everyday life. I don’t mean my family, I bring my family with me. But specifically talking about RESCUE DAWN… being away in Thailand, you feel completely removed. You don’t even have the sense that this is a movie that anybody’s ever going to see, you know. And, I think that’s a very nice feeling. I think it’s the thing that you have to battle against somewhat with larger movies, to still have the balls to treat it like it’s not a movie that’s never going to be seen, and therefore, I personally think, to come up with something more interesting. But, being away in Thailand, it was as much for me about the adventure of making the movie, you know, so everything I did in that movie, I loved doing. I mean, sure, bumps, cuts, bruises, headaches, all sorts of things, but, I willingly put myself in places to get all of that.
If I’m understanding your question correctly, the times I’ve felt ‘What am I doing here?’ is when you realize that you’re working with people who aren’t dedicated to what they’re doing at all, and they don’t really care that much. At that point, you just start to feel like a fool, because you’ve committed yourself and you’re thinking much more about it, and you realize that, I don’t know, they’re just kind of walking in. Those are the times that you kind of sit back and think ‘Who’s the idiot here? Am I the idiot? Are they the idiot? I’m not sure.’
Q: So, doing something like THE MACHINIST, there’s no voice in the back of your head saying, ‘God, I could really go for a good cheeseburger at this point,’ or something like that?
CB: Yeah, man, what, are you crazy? I chose not to go eat with anybody, because the second I saw or smelled that food, I was like a wolf. And, I had a couple of times when I did do that, and I ate five meals at one go, you know? And, I just went ‘Ahh-h-h-h’ [mimics ingesting a burger in one bite]. And, obviously, your stomach isn’t prepared for that. I felt terrible afterwards, so I just said, ‘I can’t do that,’ because you do, you want a cheeseburger every day.
C: At the Q&A last night, you mentioned that you didn’t really have a vast knowledge of film history and, because you’ve been acting since you were so young, you didn’t really have any formal training as an actor either. When you were younger–or maybe even today–did you feel like you had to try a little harder? Did you feel like there’s something maybe you have to prove to filmmakers and other actors?
CB: Not anymore. I did. I used to feel that way. I used to feel, hey, there’s a lot of people who paid… they go and study for years to do this, and they have techniques that they use. And, I thought, ‘Ah, maybe I should do that’, but I don’t feel that anymore.
I spoke with a few people, you know, who did study… with some pretty good actors, even a couple of heads of drama schools and things, and actually, after having the conversations with them, I kind of felt like ‘Alright, I don’t need to do that. I can quit with this guilt thing,’ you know?
But, it was also partly because there was also a slight sense that at that age, you know – you’re talking about 17, 18, whatever – ages when most people I knew were heading to college, and studying and stuff. And, I wasn’t, you know, I was working, and that’s great, but what comes with that are bills to pay and responsibilities and stuff like that. I kind of thought, ‘Eh, maybe I should just throw this in and do what they’re doing, because they’re not doing anything but, you know, kind of studying and goofing off the rest of the time.’ There was a temptation there, sort of, being a bit more normal. But, not anymore, no. I don’t feel that at all.
For me, I think that there’s too much talking done about how people act and how to get there and all that, as though it’s some – and I know a lot of other actors will disagree with me on this–sort of mechanical skill that you have to acquire. And, if you don’t have this certain knowledge, well, there’s no way that you could ever do it. I just don’t believe that at all. I don’t think you have to have taken a single lesson in your life, because all you’ve got to do is watch people. That’s it. You know when you’re faking situations with other people, when you’re in uncomfortable situations and you pretend to be somebody else. You know when you’re most feeling like yourself. Everybody knows that in themselves. Well, that’s it. That’s all you’ve got to know about, I think, personally.
And, then, yeah, there’s a few, just very simple, technical things that just make it easier for yourself to do film acting in particular, where you know, okay, this is the way you do it when there’s a camera following. But, other than that, I don’t see it as being something that needs a whole lot of study.
Q: Christian, can you name three situations that you would be willing to wear a cape in and three that you wouldn’t?
CB: Three situations where I would be willing to wear a cape? You mean three situations within BATMAN? First of all, let me say, whichever superhero first came up with the idea of wearing a cape, he wasn’t really onto anything. The number of times I’m treading on that damn thing, or I throw a punch and it ends up covering my whole head, you know. It’s really not practical. As a superhero, I wouldn’t do it ever, myself.
I’m not quite following, I mean, I’m wearing a cape every damn day, so I can come up with many more than three situations where I’m wearing a cape. But, practically, actually, the situations where I wouldn’t wear a cape would be crime fighting. I especially wouldn’t choose to don that.
Q: Are you almost done filming [DARK KNIGHT]? How much longer are you going to be working on it?
CB: No, we’re going until November. It’s a seven-month shoot.
[At this point, the interview is brought to a close, but as I’m shaking his hand good-bye, I got out one more question I was dying to know the answer to.]
C: In I’M NOT THERE, which era of Bob Dylan are you covering?
CB: I cover two. I play, like, kind of the Troubadour of Conscience, as they called him when he first sort of hit New York, and then I play the Christian era.
C: That’s great, thanks.