CHRISTIAN BALE, THE PRESTIGE
Is it true that your magic consultants would only give you what you needed for the role, so you did not come away from this experience as an accomplished magician?
No. I thought I would. But I’d be the crappiest party entertainer you could ever believe. I can start a few tricks and I can end a few, but I can’t take any right through at all. But I like very much that they did that because a whole part of the movie is the necessity of mystery. And with magic, that’s really been maintained. Actually, I asked them what did they think about the magicians who exposed everything. And they said they liked it. Because what it meant is that anybody who was just imitating other people, their careers were finished. But, they said the true magicians are the ones who create their own tricks. So, it separates the men from the boys with it. But, yeah, that having been said, they recognized that. There’s a line that my character has in the movie where he says something like, ‘The mystery is everything. Once you tell people how it’s done, you mean nothing to them any longer.’ And it’s absolutely true. The tricks which I did learn how they were done — for instance, the big mechanical set-ups – it was so bloody annoying to find out how they were done, and annoying because you weren’t able to work it out, because they tend to end up being incredibly simple. But the ones that I really loved – and which Ricky Jay and Michael Weber were fantastic at — they were our advisors — is the sleight-of-hand because you know the commitment that that takes. You know the hours, I mean years, really, of practice that that takes to do it just flawlessly. With those tricks, they’re actually even more impressive when you know how they’re done, because they did teach me a few of those. And it’s just stunning the dexterity that it requires. But I like that very much. I would really try to trick them into telling things, but they ain’t fools, you know.
Nolan’s films have that great thematic through-line of perception and identity. Is that one of the many reasons why you enjoy working with him as a storyteller?
Well, just as a storyteller, he finds so many interesting angles to things. I don’t know if you’ve read the book of The Prestige, but this is considerably different. Personally, I just love what he’s done with it. I love how he saw his material, but here’s how to really create a twist in it and the turns and, to me, more intrigue in it. He’s such a sharp director. He really has thought every little thing through. I really love that when you’re working with somebody like that, because I tend to be the same. I analyze it and try to pick apart the problems and, well, maybe on the tenth viewing, someone’s going to notice this and is that a problem here? And he’s really great at that, but has this incredible ability, which I don’t have, to be able to see things filmically, to understand that certain things don’t actually, matter. Logically and in life, they can matter; it is very true and very surprising at times. In movies, there are times when it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t come up at all. But, you know, this whole thing is obviously to do with perception and the necessity of mystery, especially with my character, the necessity of mystery, not only for his livelihood, but also for his life itself.
Were you into little magic tricks when you were a kid?
No more than anybody else. I bought a little magic box, was excited about it for a night, and then, that was it. Done. I never knew where it when to. What I did have, though: one of my grandfathers was a member of the magic circle in London. And I never got to see him perform. But, he would, on occasion, when I was small, drag down a chest from the attic, which had a lot of his old props and tricks in it, most of which were very aged by that time and not really working properly. But he would show me how he did certain things. So, it was nice to kind of rekindle memories of that in doing ‘The Prestige.’
Is it a balancing act to bringing heart and humanity to a character who is searching for his humanity?
To me, it’s just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Is that necessary for me to do for a movie to work? You don’t want to ruin the whole effect of the movie just because I’m insisting on whether I do not need to bring that, or I do need to bring it. You do have to step back on occasion and of the scene, ask the director, ‘Okay. Look. Is this going to ruin the rhythm, ruin what you’re going for here if I do maintain it?’ But I feel like you can’t help but bring certain things to characters that maybe you didn’t intend to. That also goes down to which takes are chosen. You can do so many different takes and do very different things in them. And you don’t know which one is going to end up being used for the movie. But I also don’t object to having a character who does not have to be likeable in the slightest. I don’t feel like that’s a necessity in the slightest for making successful movie with whatever you deem to be successful in your own head.
Do you see a similarity between your character and what he does as a magician and what seems to be almost like an alchemy that is acting?
I think that the mystery is something which really should be maintained with both. I think that it’s also boring as hell to hear an actor talking about how he acts. I don’t really care. Do you? I mean, just does it work or not? I don’t care if he turns up drunk on the set and has not even read the script. If he does the job, then that’s fantastic. Or if he has to go live in a sort of the 1700s for a few months to understand what it’s like to walk out the house for one scene, great, as well. Whatever you need to do. Different people have different abilities. Some people can turn it on like that (snap); other people need or enjoy a great amount of preparation beforehand. it’s quite an eccentric job, and you get to be able to do those things without people sticking you in an asylum or whatever. So, I say take full advantage of that. But, I think that mystery is a wonderful thing, not only for magic, but for movies as well. I think it would be nice if we clung onto the mystery as much as many magicians do. My personal feeling is I don’t like all of these DVD extras and things that you get nowadays. I feel like people — if they want to know — they should have to search it out instead of having it being handed to them on a plate. I think it should be a smaller world of people who actually know the way things are done because there are very few things in life where you’re actually more impressed by them once you discover the workings behind it.
Does that mean you don’t do commentary on DVDs?
No. I’ve never done anything like that. No.
They haven’t asked you, or you said no?
I’ve been asked, and I’m just not into doing that. I don’t really want to. I don’t see why. The movie is what I was aiming for, and that’s it. I don’t want to do any more than that.
One of the fascinating things to me about Chris Nolan is the challenge he gives to the audience of ‘You’ve got to stick with this because I’m jumping all around in time’; you also have characters who may not be what we think they are.
Yeah. It’s a magic trick in and of itself, the movie.
But how about when you’re doing it? Do you have to have some kind of log to say, ‘Okay. Here we are today.’
Absolutely. I sat down with Chris beforehand, and I created a chart. And it was really just about clarity before we started filming. So, once we did do it, we weren’t having to sit there discussing certain details which were essential. Also, that allowed for us to be able to plant little clues which would be absolutely irrelevant to anybody watching the first time, but could be very enjoyable for anybody watching the movie a second time. So, yeah, for me, all preparation is like that. It’s almost like you create a chart; you get it very clear in your head; and then you just tear all that up and throw it away and hopefully, you’re able just to do it without thinking about it so much. But, yeah, with this one certainly we needed to get a certain number of answers to get some clarity at least between Chris and myself, which was not needed for the audience to be clear about. But just, we both like the notion that on second and third viewings, people could see — yeah — it was there. You didn’t realize it was there on the first viewing, but everything was right there to be worked out.
Could you personally relate to Borden because his life is pretty much his work?
Well, you know, my work becomes my life, but for shorter terms — shorter periods of time than it is with Borden. I do like, and I can’t help but just respect immensely, people who have that level of obsession and enjoy that level of commitment. I just love that sense of purpose that you get. Mine, obviously, are much shorter terms of obsession. With Borden, it is a lifelong goal for one particular thing, which is an obsession that can truly send you mad. But I can see and admire him for that. I think I do it to a probably less extreme degree.
Christian, you started your work on screen fairly early. Who inspired you to reach for the stars or something or be something bigger than maybe what was going on in the moment. Was it something someone told you?
There was never any notion of it, being something bigger. In fact, for me, it was about going smaller and looking at just real little details and being very up close in your viewing of things. And it’s the same way if you’ve lost a sense of purpose sometimes in life or feeling numb for periods of life or whatever, it’s very small things that help you to get back up on your feet. It’s not big grandiose notions. It was just discovered early on that I really liked this dissection of other characters. I like the empathy of putting yourself in other people’s shoes and just enjoyed that. I found it interesting in all walks of life, not just with acting, but just in anything in trying to understand the situation better. Putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes just helps you to get that other point of view and become that more informed about anything. And on top of that, I did have an unconventional upbringing in that things which other people thought to be a pie in the sky dreams, in my household, was felt to be absolutely realistic and why not go for it. Why settle for something? You’re better to fail really trying for something that you feel passionately about than to settle for something that you could give or take?
You’re doing a western with James Mangold?
Yeah. I’m just starting that in a few days. Yeah.
What project is that, and who do you play?
It’s called ‘Three Ten to Yuma,’ and it’s based on an Elmore Leonard short story. Like you said, it’s a remake, but with many changes, and in my opinion, greatly improved.
Were you much of a horseman before?
I’ve actually been run over by a horse and had one tread on me, and I’ve been thrown off of them and enjoyed every second of it. So, the point is I’m not really a horseman, but I’m not really scared of them. I enjoy it. I like the best.