Parade Magazine (June 2008)

IT’S ALL A HAPPY ACCIDENT

In this week’s issue of PARADE, Christian Bale talks to Jeanne Wolf about parenting, privacy and “kindred spirit” Heath Ledger. Below, the actor reveals what he’s learned from playing Batman and how he copes with success .

Christian Bale has had the talent and the luck to play a wide range of characters, both lovable and unfathomably despicable. The Dark Knight, the follow-up to the hugely successful Batman Begins, is his first sequel, and he surprised himself when he felt such enthusiasm to reprise his role as Gotham’s protector.

What have you learned about Bruce Wayne and about yourself in the years between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? 

“About myself, I always remain the last person to know. But with Bruce, what we have is no longer the angry, young man. We have somebody who now finds himself confronted with the responsibilities of power, not the pursuit of it.  He has been surprised by the fact that this is clearly not going to be an endeavor with a finite ending. What Batman is all about is a double-sided edge; there’s a duality to this character, which makes him still interesting to play in the sequel—I hope in a third. And I’m working with people who are going to inspire but also demand that I come up with something new. I do love the unknown, but there’s more to investigate in Bruce Wayne and Batman.”

Now you are not only going to be compared to every Batman that came before you, but with your own portrayal as well. 

“Right. I’ve always enjoyed that challenge, anyway. I don’t know if I will grow out of it one day. But I still have a love of just being perverse. I don’t mean to waste other people’s time by being perverse just for the sake of it. But it can be bloody enjoyable at times.”

Superheroes are on the scene in a big way. We seem to be in a time when we want some security, someone to save us. 

“I always feel completely oblivious to any Zeitgeist that’s coming on. Whenever people talk in those terms, I feel absolutely lost. I know certainly what intrigues me. Most of the time, I tend to think it’s complete coincidence if other people are interested in it as well. I do find the man that I play, although he’s certainly in the superhero pantheon, is the most questionable of superheroes as he doesn’t have special powers whatsoever. I think the others may well question his legitimacy to be a member of the club.”

Michael Caine is back as Alfred. How would you describe his influence on you? 

“Michael is grace under fire. When I think about him, I think about surfing, which is all effort for me, I get out and battle the waves and I’m exhausting myself. Then you see people who are riding multiple waves in the time it’s taken me to fight out there and feel like I’m drowning. Michael’s like that. He makes it look effortless.”

You can’t talk about Batman without discussing the famous suit, and you’ve been candid about your complaints. Have they done anything to make it more comfortable? 

“Thank God, yes, they have. I’m so appreciative of that. The first movie was like having a vice tightened around my skull for months on end. Which I convinced myself only helped me to portray the rage that this alter ego, Batman, felt. I thankfully discovered that I didn’t need that vice squeezing my head to portray that rage this time around. They were able to make that a whole lot more comfortable.”

So you have an air-conditioned Batsuit? 

“It was nothing so advanced as that. It was just material that was able to breathe a little, so that I wasn’t leaving the puddles of sweat behind me if I stood still for longer than 30 seconds.”

Is success hard to cope with for you as it is with so many stars? 

“I don’t feel qualified to talk about that yet — not in my professional life. I can’t say that I’ve completely experienced that feeling yet. I would hope that there would still be a fire if I did feel like I had achieved what I’d set out to. But maybe what helps is that I have no idea what I’ve set out to achieve, so I’ll never know when I’ve gotten there. And so I won’t have a sense of having conquered it.”

Tell me about agreeing to do the next Terminator. 

“I’ve always had two varying degrees of success, and I’m not talking about anything to do with box office. I’m talking about my own parameters. You know, an interest in attempting in a wide variety of stories. I never desired to be a big studio movie actor, action actor. I’ve never desired to be a serious independent movie actor. I enjoy all of those. It depends on what mood I’m in. And therefore, I will try to bend those stories into becoming something that I can enjoy myself, varying degrees of success with that. We have an opportunity with it for a continuation, but also a reinvention, and I have to say, much the same way in my mind as we have with Batman. And beyond that I won’t say anymore because we’re just starting.”

People take you very seriously because you’re such a good artist. Do you enjoy having some of the privileges that go with being a leading man? 

“Of course. And I never forget that. But that’s in keeping with the kind of ups and down that I was accustomed to in growing up, that I don’t take it for granted. And I don’t see it as something that I’m entitled to. I see myself as a lucky bastard. And for some reason, hey, I get to enjoy these things. Is that always going to last? I have no idea. And the day I start believing it’s always going to last will probably be the day it’s all gone. And, you know, that to me is the definition of a lucky bastard. Because there was no big plan here whatsoever. It’s all a happy accident.”

By Jeanne Wolf.