FROM BATMAN TO A CRACK-ADDICTED BOXER, CHRISTIAN BALE REVELS IN INTENSE ROLES
Christian Bale sounds quite pleasant and engaging as he explains why he thinks doing interviews lessens an actor’s impact.
“You see an unknown actor in a movie, what do you think? Nothing. You’re just watching the character, aren’t you? That’s perfect,” he says. “Hey, if I could do that all my life, that would be great. I’ve already blown it, but I’m blowing it even more talking with you.”
At that, he laughs heartily at himself. “But I understand it’s a balance,” he continues, allowing for the need to make people aware of his films. “You’ve got to work it out.”
The 36-year-old Bale does some knockout acting in “The Fighter,” which opens Friday in metro Detroit.
In the movie, which is based on a real story, the star of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” portrays Dicky Eklund, the crack-addicted half-brother of boxer Micky Ward, who’s played by Mark Wahlberg.
As Dicky, Bale is exuberant, boastful, self-deluded, charming, nervous, undependable and loyal. It’s being described as a magnetic performance and could earn the screen star his first Oscar nomination.
The story follows the somewhat “Rocky”-esque road of Micky, a journeyman fighter from Lowell, Mass., who is managed by his tough, brittle mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), and trained by Dicky, a former boxer who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard.
Seeing his chances for success in boxing disappearing, Micky is convinced by his new girlfriend (Amy Adams) to stop his family from running his career and to look to others for help. What happens next, as Micky gets a chance at a title fight, is a complex look at love, redemption and family bonds.
There’s been a flurry of Oscar buzz about Bale, who recently won a best supporting actor award from the National Board of Review. Does such talk have an impact on the actor? “It doesn’t affect me other than it’s very nice, it’s really flattering. Obviously, that’s really great,” he says by phone, his British lilt — he was born in Wales and grew up in England — a jarring switch from the American accents he often uses in movies.
“The movie already has gotten attention like I didn’t expect at all. We made a character drama piece and those don’t normally get a whole lot of attention.”
“The Fighter” wouldn’t be arriving in theaters without Wahlberg’s long, determined fight to bring it to the screen. At one point, the project was supposed to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, who instead made 2008?s “The Wrestler.” And Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were interested in playing Dicky.
The directing job went to David O. Russell, who’s done “I Heart Huckabees” and “Three Kings” with Wahlberg, and Bale was cast as Dicky. According to Bale, Wahlberg thought of him for the role in part because of a happy coincidence.
“Our kids ended up going to the same school just for a little brief period of time, so we bumped into each other on the first day of school and just said hi, chatted … and then, yeah, a few weeks later, I got the script,” he recalls.
Looking the part
While Wahlberg spent years training to look like a real boxer as he shepherded the movie through the Hollywood maze, Bale estimates it took him three months to achieve Dicky’s lean look. He lost about 30 pounds for the role to look like a welterweight — a tough enough task, but much less than the approximately 60 pounds he dropped to star in 2004?s “The Machinist.”
Although he’s known for physically transforming himself in movies, he doesn’t necessarily look for roles only for such challenges.
“It just happens that I’ve liked a few stories and then gone, alright, OK, this is going to be needed, but certainly don’t seek that out,” he says. So he gets hungry like the rest of us when he’s losing weight for a film and wishes he could have some dessert? “Oh absolutely, yeah, yeah. No, I don’t have any kind of different genetic makeup than you,” he says genially.
Bale did a lot of training for the movie, which was filmed in about a month in Lowell, and met the real Dicky. “I’ve never played anyone who’s alive and been able to just hang out with and spend a lot of time with (him) and be able to get down mannerisms and just a bloody encyclopedia of Dicky quotes and stories and things that I could go back to, because we improvised a fair amount on the movie, so I had all that sort of banked for me. That was really valuable.”
Costar Melissa Leo describes the casting of Bale and Wahlberg as a brilliant move. Although the two share many similarities — “They’re strong, charismatic, beautiful men,” Leo says — she thinks Bale and Wahlberg come from different schools of acting.
“Christian and I work in a very deep, immersed kind of way. … And with Mark, there was a distance to reach to him, in a way. Christian, whether he’s on camera, off camera, he gives you Dicky. And Mark … can spin on a dime and give you the happiest man that’s ever lived on Earth and the saddest, most depressed human being, all in a two-minute take.”
That difference works for the family dynamic portrayed in the movie, since Alice bonds easily with her older son, Dicky, and struggles to understand her younger son, Micky. “I had to reach further to get Mark, so then you see Alice have to reach further to get her younger boy,” she says.
Bale says he doesn’t analyze his own style, much less those of others. “For me, it’s either happening and it seems to be really working easily or it’s not. It just happened (with ‘The Fighter’). It worked nicely. We were all a good group, regardless of whatever different styles there were coming in.”
Bale has been in the public eye since he was a boy starring in 1987?s Steven Spielberg epic “Empire of the Sun.” He briefly became something of a teen idol in films like “Newsies,” “Swing Kids” and “Little Women,” but he gravitated quickly to eclectic and demanding roles in everything from the dragon fantasy “Reign of Fire” to the Vietnam War drama “Rescue Dawn.”
Although Bale is very serious about his work and behaves like the opposite of a publicity-loving celebrity, he has become an international star for his role as Batman in two films directed by Christopher Nolan. He also experienced much unwanted attention when a leaked recording of him yelling at a crew member during filming of 2009?s “Terminator: Salvation” went viral.
Bale quickly phoned a Los Angeles radio station to say he was sorry for the profanity-littered tirade, which he called inexcusable, and explained that he cares so much about his work that sometimes the enthusiasm goes awry. “I acted like a punk,” he told the station.
When asked if it’s easy to maintain his privacy or if it’s something he works at, he talks about his philosophy on publicity: Talk to the media some about a movie, but not so much that audiences can’t stop thinking about the actors and start believing in the characters.
“I always just stick to ‘I’ll do the minimum possible’ and obviously, if I’m not working, then I’ll have nothing to do with it, just because I have no attraction to it. I’m just not interested,” he says.
Bale leaves it to others to discuss his habit of staying in character on the set. “I just find that more fun,” he says. “I think the further you go with it, the less phony it is. I think it’s always good. It’s not absolutely on the whole time. I just think it makes life easier to have it at least hovering around there. Really, I hear this from other people. To me, it sort of just becomes normal and I can’t really see the wood for the trees.”
Normally known for his intense roles, Bale had to convey Dicky’s outgoing and funny nature in “The Fighter.” He’s the sort of character who always wants to be around people, who walks the streets of Lowell and knows everybody, “a real people person,” according to Bale. Despite the character’s struggles with addiction, there’s a buoyancy to Dicky that gives Bale a chance to show his comic flair. So what about starring in a comedy?
“Who knows? I just wait and see what good things come up that interest me. I do think that ‘American Psycho’ is a very funny movie, but it’s not everybody’s idea of a comedy,” he says of the violent 2000 satire. “But to me it’s bloody hilarious, because it’s so ridiculous, you know?”
Bale doesn’t have much to say yet about the status of the next Batman movie. “It’s in pre-production., but believe me, I’m as in the dark as anybody else right now. Chris (Nolan) will tell me what I need to know when I need to know it and I trust him on that, so it’s no problem.”
Right now, his job is to discuss “The Fighter,” which is looking like a winner. And, yes, the real Dicky Eklund has seen the movie. “I saw it with him,” says Bale, sounding playful. “He didn’t punch me. He’s still cool. I think he’s coming around to it.”