CHRISTIAN BALE ON BATMAN & RESCUE DAWN
Rescue Dawn is out now, but we still asked him about Batman.
Christian Bale really wants us to wait until his new movie, Rescue Dawn, opens this summer to run the interview he just gave. But he’s about to shoot The Dark Knight and he actually talked about it, so everyone please remember to go see Rescue Dawn on July 4 in select cities. It’s another intense Bale performance as a POW who plans a breakout, and you won’t believe the crazy stuff Bale does in it.
You seem to be somebody who always wants to do something new and play interesting and diverse characters. How hard is it to go back and play Batman again? Is there something new you can bring to the character?
You’ve got to see with the other versions, you know, it wasn’t my cup of tea anyway. I didn’t really keep it going. But I’ve got Chris Nolan who I’m working with for the third time now and he ain’t going to be making a movie if he’s not gonna be doing something very different with it which he’s achieved in spades. Actually I’m liking very much the idea because I haven’t reprised a role ever before and so I know it already and you know obviously there’ll be progress. We’ve got a great cast as well, and Chris and I work very well together so I know that we’re going to be finding an awful lot to add to it. That last thing it’s going to be is treading water. What we have now, we were confident before in what we wanted to do but other people didn’t know. It was untested. Now the people support us completely too. So we’ve got all of that extra wall of support behind us to just kind of let rip and take it further.
Are you going back into training for The Dark Knight?
There are new things that I’m having to train for but again, just in the same way that we kind of were untested before, they know that I know my right from my left now. They know that when I walk, the arm swings the right way and everything so there’s a little more confidence in me about my ability to pick things up quickly. We did start a while back in training which I believe is a mystery for what we are training for.
Batman is supposed to be this great detective as well as an action hero. Will we see more of that detective work in The Dark Knight?
[Takes a long, slow sip of his Perrier water and says nothing.] So if that’s clear enough. I hope that satisfies you. [Laughs]
Are you looking forward to working with Heath Ledger as The Joker?
Absolutely. Heath is a great choice for it. I like him personally. He’s got a real kind of craving for playing that role so I think he’s going to do something really very different with it. We worked together briefly in the Todd Haynes movie as well.
As an actor is it a little weird to be in a movie that’s going to have the Batman following and be that intense?
Well they did it on the first one as well, you know, and I know the crowd. I know everybody now.
As an actor, how important is it to have a franchise character that you can go back to that allows you to do things like Rescue Dawn?
Well, I’d be doing things like this movie anyway because it’s not like if I didn’t have the franchise, I’d say, “No, I can’t make Rescue Dawn.” What it does allow though is if something like Rescue Dawn, Werner [Herzog] and I have been talking about making it for a good two and a half years and I don’t know but I doubt it’s a huge coincidence that we got the financing pretty quick after I’d been in Batman. So it does mean that I can do these things in a much easier fashion versus a number of years back where, you know, like American Psycho took two years just because they didn’t want me in it. So, yes, certainly it helps with that, but in and of itself, I really like what Chris has done and working with him on Batman. I tell you, it’s the only time in my life that I’ve been able to actually plan in the future because usually you know what you’re doing for the next two months if you’re lucky and then after that, you’ve got no idea. And I’ve gone times when I’ve really needed to work and then there was no work coming in for me and I didn’t work for a year and a half or something. I guess having a franchise is the only time you can actually kind of sit back and go, “It’s all right, you know, it’s gonna be okay. Even if nothing else happens, I know that that’s going to come along at some point.” But you don’t even know that actually because they could dump me in a second if they want. It’s a good bet that we’ll be making that.
When you see a script like Rescue Dawn and know it’s going to be hell, why do you do it?
Because I like going to hell and back. And I knew that Werner would be a good guy to take us there. How many times in life do you get to do this kind of crazy shit? It’s something that I was going to take advantage of. That was the big appeal to me of doing it. I like that. Just testing yourself and seeing how far you can go.
If you like going to hell, what do you do in real life for thrills?
Well, even though the finished movie is not real life, when you are actually swimming in the snake infested rivers, you’re not acting swimming in snake infested rivers. You are swimming in a snake infested river. And it’s important to realize that difference. When you are wrestling with a snake, it’s not a pretend snake. You are wrestling with a wild snake. So to me, that is real life. That is what has become my real life. I really did do that. Sure, once it’s into the movie, yeah, it’s the character. But these are not things that haven’t happened to me. They have. I’m not talking about obviously the acting side of it. POW Camp, etc., of course none of that is real life but it’s always true that in any movie, the physical aspect of it is always real. Unless it’s a stunt guy doing it or something, special effects, the acting is always fake but what you physically do, that’s for real. You’re out there.
Was that snake venomous? Was there a snake wrangler?
The snake wranglers were the local kids. No, the snake was not venomous. He had some pretty good fangs on him and I got ’em in the shoulder, but no, he wasn’t venomous because these snakes. The local kids, it was nothing to them. They would go, they would see one of those and they would run straight after it, grab it by the tail, whip it around, smash its head and they would cook it and eat it. This is ultimately what they would have for dinner. And like everyone says, it tastes like chicken. That’s what they said. They would actually call it chicken snake. So one of the local kids caught the snake, put it in position and the snake started going and I just kind of ran in on it and grappled with it. It didn’t end up as dinner. We did let that one head off.
What about the maggots?
Oh yeah, those were real maggots. No, but listen, I didn’t mind eating the maggots. I just wanted to make sure about where the maggots were coming from. Where did they find those maggots?
When you come home on that day, does your wife make you brush your teeth a whole lot?
A couple of toothpicks, yeah.
What won’t you do?
Well, look, you put yourself in my position. You’re in Thailand, you got these crazy ass Thai chopper pilots who were willing to do anything. They all set up with the stunt guy. “Hold on, what the hell are you doing?” They said, “Well, a helicopter’s going to come in and he’s got to stumble out in the rapids. You’ll be falling over, going in there. You’ve got to grab a rope, you’ve got to hold on whilst they winch you up. You’ve got to hold on the railing, they’re going to go off at a clip because they’re really low over the trees. You want to be doing that?” I was like, “Fuck yes, I want to be doing that. I’m not letting anybody else do that.”
Do you have any limits?
No, look, I’ve done other things where people have had to be set on fire and jump three stories. I ain’t doing that. No, I’ve got limits. But I’ll tell you, it was fantastic dealing with the Thai air force guys. We would take off and they would take out half a tree with them. These weren’t guys who were all about the safety code, you know. They just kind of plowed their way through the jungle. I doubt I’m going to get a chance to do that again so I’m glad that I did.
Did your agent know you were doing all this crazy stuff?
Oh, I don’t tell him. We don’t even tell the producers most of the time. They’re not on the set, they don’t need to know. Insurance certainly, they don’t want to know.
Did you get to meet the real Dieter?
He died a couple of years before I met with Werner so no.
What do you think motivated him to get into this position and keep such optimism?
I think he’s a peculiar cat in the first place just because of the fact that he’s bombed by American bomber planes, his streets are strafed by the fighter pilots and he looks at that and he says, “I want to be that.” That’s not a normal reaction to people who are actually destroying your home. So he has this great, romantic notion of the US and this great dream, idealism of what it means to be a US citizen and what it means to be a pilot as well. And I truly think that he was just absolutely obsessed with the romanticism of the whole thing. And thankful on a personal level at what America had done for him. And that didn’t really mix with the missions that he was going on. He still maintained that romanticism and remember, this was his first mission. The poor bastard got shot down his first mission. So I really think that had a very unique outlook where he didn’t see them as the enemy. He saw them as just other people, which is why he seems such an unlikely military man, let alone somebody who actually is considered a hero. And so with those things, he was curious. He’s tied up, he’s been dragged along, he’s been beaten but he’s still interested in “I wonder what they’re cooking over there. Oh, she looks nice. She’s pretty, isn’t she? He looks like a nice guy. I could probably have a good conversation with him.” It’s just the most bizarre outlook on life, the absolute optimism and curiosity and interest that kept him going. And I think which disarmed so many people. Even with the guards because they’re torturing him and he’s still looking at them as people, not as monsters. And he’s still smiling at them. It must be the most disarming thing in the world to have that happen. And annoying as hell at times because he’s not behaving the way that you’re meant to behave. He’s not being scared when he’s meant to be scared. He’s not being depressed and giving up hope when he’s meant to be doing that. But he just was wired very differently.
What’s your process for building a character?
I really don’t know what it is. You have time and you just sort of sit and think about it, put it in the back of your head to think over and things certainly come to you. With this, I had a lot of material that I could read and look at and people to speak to as well. I really don’t feel like I’ve learned any more than the first time I ever did a movie. I don’t feel like I’ve got a technique now where I can kind of do a short cut or anything on it. It’s just thinking about it from as many angles as possible and knowing you’ll get there on the day and just probably throw everything out the window because it’s not going to work at that point. I really don’t have any consistent style and technique whatsoever. But I’m pretty happy with it that way.
This is the second time that you’ve lost an awful lot of weight in a very short amount of time and now you’ve had to gain it all back again to start the Batman movie. Is that a real problem for you? Is that healthy?
No, I really actually didn’t lose a whole lot of weight for this one. I know it look [like I did] but there’s a lot of good make-up and I just wanted to do enough to give kind of an indication of time and everything for it, but it really wasn’t anything on the scale of The Machinist. I wouldn’t do that again. I’ve kind of conquered that in my mind and don’t need to prove that to myself again.
By Fred Topel.