Inquirer (May 5th, 2007)

WATCH OUT, SPIDEY! CHRISTIAN BALE IS BACK AS CAPED CRUSADER

Los Angeles, California – Album listening sessions can be the loneliest activities one can engage in.

These sessions are staged by record companies for journalists so they will be familiar with artists’ new CDs before the interviews.

You sit in a drab hotel room with a view of the driveway’s gravel roof with several strangers, writers and the record company publicists or assistants, while listening to a CD. You try to avoid staring at your fellow listeners so, as you slouch on a chair, you contemplate your scruffy shoes, the stained carpet, or the ceiling. Or you stand up and, for the nth time, inspect the gravel roof. Out of boredom and desperation, you begin to see the roof as a Zen rock garden.

Amazing body

Hot on the heels of Tobey Maguire’s box office-shattering return as Spider-Man, Christian Bale is putting back his Bat-suit on in “The Dark Knight,” sequel to “Batman Begins.”

So Christian, who lost an alarming 100 pounds for 2005’s “The Machinist,” bulked up for his first Batman movie and lost weight again, is buff once more. He wore a short-sleeved black T-shirt that showed off his muscular biceps in a recent press con.

When a journalist prefaced her question with “You have an amazing body of work,” another lady reporter interrupted and said, “You have an amazing body. Period.”

Christian, low-key, a bit reserved, couldn’t help but smile and say, with a finger pointing at the admiring reporter, “Naughty, naughty. She’s getting saucy upfront.”

In “The Dark Knight,” which he is currently filming for a 2008 target release, Christian has some interesting new cast mates. Maggie Gyllenhaal has replaced Katie Holmes, aka Mrs. Tom Cruise, as Rachel Dawes. Heath Ledger has a lot to live up to as The Joker since Jack Nicholson went to town with the villain role in 1989’s “Batman.” Rounding up the cast are Gary Oldman (as Lt. James Gordon), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth) and Eric Roberts.

For now, this was what the entire Wales native wanted to say about his return as the Caped Crusader: “It’s the first time that I’ve reprised a role. And this is the third time that I’m making a movie with Chris Nolan. So there’s an easier feel for us, of knowing where we’re going with the movie. He has written a really brilliant script. We have the full support and backing of everybody involved with the movie because we’ve been tested. Whereas before, Chris and I were untested. I will otherwise maintain the mystery about the movie in the same way that Chris likes to keep around the project, which I like.”

High-minded Rambo

In the meantime, Christian has a new movie, the action-drama, “Rescue Dawn,” directed by acclaimed German director, Werner Herzog. He plays a true-to-life character, Dieter Dengler, an American pilot who escaped from a Laotian prison camp during the Vietnam War, only to face the challenges of surviving the jungle.

Since this is directed by Werner, the film, shot in Thailand with Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies, is being tagged as a “high-minded Rambo.” The project began as a critically praised documentary, “Little Dieter Needs To Fly,” about the real Dieter Dengler whom Werner knew.

Christian lost weight again for this movie but downplayed it at the interview. His emaciated look and how much weight he lost in “The Machinist” are still being talked about to this day.

“My weight loss (for this movie) really wasn’t as much,” explained the 33-year-old who was recently seen in “The Prestige.” “I wasn’t going to go there again. There were wonderful make-up artists, etcetera. What we did is, and I suggested this to Werner, ‘Let’s shoot the movie in reverse.’ So our very first day was the end of the scene. Then we just went backwards.

“So our last day of shooting was the first scene in the movie. There were a couple of years between ‘The Machinist’ and ‘Rescue Dawn.’ I did lose weight, yes. But I feel that it’s not a particularly important point. It’s something that’s good for showing a passage of time or an indication of the kind of suffering that they were going through. There’s so much more that’s interesting in the movie. I learned my lesson from ‘The Machinist’ so I prefer not to talk about the physical transformation because it becomes the focus.”

Perfect match

We asked him about his experience filming in the wilds of Thailand with a director as colorful as Werner. Among the anecdotes about the filmmaker behind the film, “Fitzcarraldo”: He walked from Munich to Paris to visit a gravely ill friend; cooked in and ate from a shoe to keep a bet.

“It’s a match made in heaven,” Christian answered. “When I first met Werner, the questions out of his mouth in the first five minutes were, ‘How did I feel about swimming in snake-infested waters? What did I think of sleeping in the jungle and waking up with leeches all over me? What did I think about biting the head off a snake?’ Various questions like those came from him. I never had to bite the head off a snake. There was never the intention of doing that but it was very much of Werner to probe. He wanted somebody to have a challenge as well.”

He added, “Werner is, by turns, a very warm and gentle person and then somebody who can be so focused and intense that his whole body is literally shaking. He likes to get his hands very dirty. He would often be almost right within the shot, getting trampled by extras who are literally walking all over him as is trying to direct from underneath (the cameras). He lost pretty much all of his toenails while we were filming. All these things Steve and I went through as well.

“The point was, Werner has no desire to be comfortable. There was no chair where he was reclining and he was being like a general, directing from the back lines. He’s on the front lines at all times. There wasn’t a day when he left the set without a cut, wound or bruise. That’s what making a movie with him is like. It’s real construction or like climbing a mountain. I like that very much.”

But not everyone shared Christian’s taste for gritty filmmaking. The man whose first starring role as a child actor was spectacular, in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” revealed, “In the midst of these dire circumstances, half of the crew quit one day. They just walked away.”

The father of a two-year-old daughter and husband of Sibi Blazic, a freelance producer, found humor in being handcuffed to Steve Zahn in most of their scenes in the jungle: “”You’ve got to confess to a certain amount of kinkiness if you did have the handcuffs handy, wouldn’t you?”

Better grip

He reveled in being in Thailand and being around many folks who didn’t speak English. “To have these bizarre conversations where nobody understands anything can be fantastic,” Christian stated. “Often you can get along with people much better when you don’t actually understand what they’re saying. It often ruins it when you do understand.”

Christian also enjoyed shucking his shoes in Thailand. “I walked around barefoot most of the time I was there,” he said. “They were always trying to get me to put on sandals. But you know, once you get these thick calluses on the bottom of your feet, you can walk over stones without pain. You have a better grip, too.”

Asked about his famous stepma, Gloria Steinem (the feminist that his father, David Bale, married in 2000), he replied, “She gives lectures and writes books, she’s still very much involved.” David died in 2003.

When asked if heíll ever do a comedy, the star of the film adaptation of “American Psycho,” Bret Easton Ellis’ novel with graphic violence and sexual content, quipped, “I kind of perversely believe that I have done a comedy with ‘American Psycho’ but not everybody agrees with me. But I find that film very funny.”

By Ruben V. Nepales.