(August 25th, 2007)


“After all, what am I paid to do? I’m paid to essentially make an ass out of myself.” Christian Bale is one of the best actors working today and one of the few who has successfully bounced back and forth between critically acclaimed smaller films like The Machinist and Rescue Dawn to HUGE films like The Prestige and Batman Begins. Bale is hard at work on The Dark Knight, the follow-up to Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise, but you’ll see him a few times before then. First, he appears with Russell Crowe in the highly anticipated remake of 3:10 to Yuma, coming out September 7th. Then, this November, Bale, an actor who can seemingly do anything, plays Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Bale has had a run in the last couple years that’s simply remarkable and remains one of the few actors who elevates everything he touches. He sat down with us in Chicago to talk about Yuma, his incredible recent filmography, and even a bit about why crime fighters shouldn’t wear capes.

What led Christian Bale to Yuma:

“There was the hope for me following Batman Begins and The Machinist before that, where I felt that I was actually happy with the result. I kind of was hoping to continue that. I had a couple of projects which were things which I had been wanting to make before Batman Begins came along. One of them was Rescue Dawn, another was Harsh Times, and I also had spoken with Terry Malick about The New World. So, I felt, ‘I need to get these ones done.’ And then I decided instead of looking at a script and thinking, ‘Well, something could be made of this. There are many problems, but something could be made with the right people.’ I decided just to try and wait and hold out for a script that stayed fixed in my mind for some time after reading it. That’s what happened with The Prestige, which was a lucky thing because Chris [Nolan] was directing, so it just took a phone call, and then with 3:10 to Yuma, as well. It’s one of the only scripts that I read and I couldn’t stop thinking about.”

Why Yuma stuck with him:

“I think it’s a very interesting [script]. First of all, I wanted to make a western. Secondly, westerns can be great in their simplicity – here’s the bad guy, here’s the good guy. This one presented you with that but then kind of also showed that two plus two can equal five and showed you why that’s correct. These two, apparently, absolutely ethically opposed people had a great bond and similarity. They were both seeking truth 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 horse riding. It’s this land of lawlessness, where you truly did have to stand by a belief and, therefore, had to have a very strong belief. Nowadays, you can kind of get by without that. There’s so much structure and support. You can kind of just have vague opinions about everything and get through life. I think at that time that you had to have stronger opinions and beliefs.”

How Newsies influenced Yuma:

“When I first arrived in Santa Fe, I could not get the song from Newsies out of my head. Every time somebody said “Santa Fe” – if you’re familiar with Newsies there’s a song – it would just go off in my head. And it hadn’t gone off in my head in sixteen years or something. Dammit if every time I saw a sign or a road sign or somebody mentioned it… And it took a good month or so for that to quit, but I definitely kept that inside. I wasn’t going to let anyone know about it. That’s what the conflict is in [my character] in Yuma. [Laughs]”

On why he’s drawn to characters who push back:

“Doesn’t that interest you? There are circumstances that you can find yourself in and a whole different side comes out. The possibilities of who you could be with different circumstances. Everybody doesn’t have a predictable life. I think everybody has a question through out their lives of if they were really put to the test, could they stand up and be the person that they hoped they would be? Particularly with [my character] Dan – I’m a father now and I could see in myself that principles and ethics that applied when I was not a father change radically when I became one. I kind of have two different sets of principles about who I am. There are things that I will do for my daughter, which are pretty much limitless, versus what I could do for myself. And I could see Dan having to decide about the fact that he has a family. At what point are his own beliefs actually destroying his family? And wanting to set a great example of somebody who has conviction but having to question if his conviction has just become selfish pride. That’s actually something relevant and practical and that’s what I love about the character, the conflict within himself. He’s needing to prove to himself that he can be the man he aspires to be.”

If Bale considers his legacy as an actor:

“Absolutely. I’ve been able to work on movies which I like very much in the past few years. I think they’ve turned out how I’ve hoped that they would. I’m human. That makes me feel good. I like it when people like what I do. You don’t like it when people are laughing at you for what you do. I’d love to say that I was completely impervious to people’s opinions, but I’m not. Of course it matters. At the same time, there’s also a danger in playing it too safe. After all, what am I paid to do? I’m paid to essentially make an ass out of myself. And, occasionally, when you’re doing that, you’re going to fall flat on your face. What I have learned through doing that numerous times in my life is that there’s also a kind of enjoyment to what other people see as humiliation. You come to kind of thrive on it because, in a way, it kind of leads to a sort of fearlessness. The point is that you try. That really is the most important thing. If you start to get too comfortable, that would be to start to get boring.”

The turning point that led to his recent streak:

“It came from a year and a half before The Machinist where I didn’t work at all. Nobody wanted me for anything. Well, a couple of people did, but for pretty bad things. So, it was kind of realizing that I had to re-evaluate and reinvent at this point. I always have this feeling in the back of my head that I’ll be back there again. I’ll be sitting there, staring at the wall and saying, ‘How did this happen?’ I’ll have to reinvent myself again at some point.”

Pushing himself to the limits on a physical level:

“There’s something to taking yourself away from everyday life. I don’t mean my family, I bring them with me. Specifically talking about Rescue Dawn – being away in Thailand, you feel completely removed. You don’t even really have a sense that this is a movie that anyone’s ever going to see. I think that’s a very nice feeling. It’s the thing that you have to battle against with larger movies – to still have the balls to treat it like it’s not a movie that’s ever going to be seen. And, therefore, I think, to personally come up with something more interesting. For me, Rescue Dawn was just as much about the adventure of making the movie. Everything I did in that, I loved. Sure, there were bumps, cuts, bruises, headaches, and all sorts of things. But I found myself willing to put myself in places to get all of that. The only times that I’ve thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ are when you realize you’re working with people who aren’t dedicated to what they’re doing at all. They don’t really care that much. At that point, you start to feel like a fool. You’ve committed yourself. You’re thinking much more about it. You realize that they’re just kind of clocking in. Those are the times that I’ll sit back and think, ‘Who’s the idiot here? Am I the idiot? Are they the idiot? I’m not sure.'”

If he thinks his lack of formal training leaves him with something to prove:

“Not any more. I used to feel that way. There’s a lot of people who think you can go and study to do this and they have techniques that they use. And I thought maybe I should do that. But I don’t feel that any more. I spoke with a few people who did study and they’re some good actors. And, actually, after having the conversations with them, I felt like, ‘Allright, I don’t need to do that. I can quit with this guilt thing.’ At that age, most people I knew were heading to college and stuff and I wasn’t. I was working. What comes with that is bills to pay and responsibility and I thought, ‘Maybe I should just throw this in.’ There’s that temptation to be more normal. I think that, for me, there’s too much talking done about how people act and how to get there, as though it’s some mechanical skill that you have to acquire – ‘If you don’t have this certain knowledge, then there’s no way 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. All you’ve got to do is just watch people.”

On wearing a cape to fight crime:

“First of all, let me say, whichever superhero came up with the idea of wearing a cape, he wasn’t really on to anything. The number of times I’ve tripped on that damn thing. Or I throw a punch and it ends up covering my whole head. It’s really not practical as a superhero. I wouldn’t do it ever, myself. I’m wearing a cape every damn day. Practically, the situations where I wouldn’t wear a cape? Crime fighting.”

By Brian Tallerico.