San Francisco Chronicle (December 12th, 2010)

CHRISTIAN BALE HITS HIGHS, LOWS IN ‘THE FIGHTER’

Christian Bale looks the very picture of health. In fact, with his long, auburn hair and full beard framing his handsome, angular face, he could be the love child of Paul Weller and Jesus. Public Enemy No. 1 to the Jenny Craig Mafia has restored himself completely from what he estimates was his 30-pounds-less fighting weight as former welterweight Dicky Eklund, brother of Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward in “The Fighter,” going from gaunt and crack-addled to peachy and warm and from rough-even-for-Lowell, Mass. to his natural, mixed Welsh-British accent. The rehydrated Bale’s forearms flex as he glad-hands a reporter in a Four Seasons suite.

“I’m never going to get down to that level of weight and still move, because that’s in the 130s,” he says of playing someone who was once highly enough respected to get a fight with Sugar Ray Leonard but who by the time of the film’s story has visibly deteriorated. “I’m 185, 190 usually. But I just got down to what looked to be right for Dicky.”

There were limits to transformation, though, even for the actor who once dropped more than 60 pounds for “The Machinist.”

“We were considering re-enacting the Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match. But it’s just a little too weird for me to be pretending I was 21 anymore. No, those days are gone,” says the soon-to-be-37-year-old actor with a chuckle.

“The Fighter,” directed by David O. Russell, is inspired by the true stories of Ward and Eklund. Ward tries to follow in his big brother’s footsteps, guided – and misguided – by the effervescent but unreliable Eklund and their mother (played with the brio of a Brillo Pad by Melissa Leo).

“I think, from the get-go, this was never just a gig for Mark. It was always a passion for him. Local guy, knowing Micky, knowing Dicky, this was something that he had wanted to make for many years,” says Bale of co-star, producer and Boston native Wahlberg. “So I appreciated that he came to me after other actors had dropped out.”

Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were both reportedly attached to the movie previously. Bale’s is a warts-and-all portrayal of local hero Eklund, shot on location.

“Dicky had reservations to start with. A few times I had to kind of hold him back from going over and punching one right on David. … Just not understanding the process of, how do you take an entire life and put it into two hours, you know? He could have decided that he didn’t like me, he wanted nothing to do with the movie, and he could have caused us so much trouble with his lifelong connections in Lowell. He’s got power there. He can really mess you up if he wishes to,” Bale says.

“But we spent a lot of time together; he came to understand, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to show the lows. We can’t just show the highlights in everybody’s life; that’s not a movie.’ Very nicely, ever charmingly, he was always most concerned about his sisters and his mum. He knows he’s messed up and he’s happy to have people know that. But he was there when I wanted him to be, quite happy to step aside when I felt like I didn’t want him to be there. I wish I could have that on every movie.”

Even in the “Batman” series?

“I’d love it if Bruce Wayne walked in,” he says, laughing. “Hang out with him for a while. That would be a very different prep time than hanging out with Dicky.”

Among those lows were scenes of Eklund’s drug-induced failings.

“He would become a different animal. You can say that. Everything else was out the window. His whole life had been about boxing. He absolutely adores his kids, but you put the crack in there and he’s just gone. For somebody to be able to look back on their lives and see that’s the way they behaved is a very brave thing to be able to do, and to be accepting of people making a movie about that …”

Amy Adams undergoes quite a change herself from her nice-girl roles to Ward’s love interest, who gives as good as she gets from Ward and Eklund’s angry swarm of sisters. She was fascinated by Bale’s ability to maintain shades of his character even when the klieg lights weren’t on.

“He’s fantastic,” she says. “It was an interesting thing because he’s able to stay in Dicky as far as the accents and stuff like that, but he’s still really personable; you still feel like you’re getting to know him as a person. I think it’s because he has such a great work ethic and commitment.”

She cites several of Bale’s scenes among her favorites.

“I love when Melissa and Christian are singing in the car. Such a small moment, but it’s really beautiful,” she says. “I loved the scene on the porch (between Bale’s character and hers). Working with Christian is something I always wanted to do. So that was a great opportunity, a great moment for me.”

Apart from the transformations he and others underwent for their characters, the onscreen bond he forged with Wahlberg or the boxing training, Bale says one achievement particularly impressed him.

“I think managing to get through it without the whole town of Lowell erupting into a fistfight is something pretty good to accomplish, families going in and beating up the various actors portraying them,” he says with a wry grin through that holy beard. “And I’m very proud of the fact that me and Dicky talk all the time, that I managed to portray him, showing all the low points, and have him understand at the end of the day. We’re friends – I think that’s a great achievement.” {sbox}

The Fighter (R) opened this weekend at Bay Area theaters. […]

Christian Bale

Born: Jan. 30, 1974, in Haverfordwest, South Wales.

Personal: Is reportedly a relative of Lily Langtree; is definitely a relative by marriage of Gloria Steinem. Is a supporter of wildlife and animal-protection organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

Why we care: From his teen idol days after “Newsies,” he has become known for his total transformation for roles: his chilling turn in Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist,” for which he lost 60 pounds; and his buffed-to-the-extreme portrayal of Batman, for which he gained nearly 100 pounds. His extreme roles include his Vietnam POW in “Rescue Dawn” and his drug-fueled loose-cannon Afghan vet in the underrated “Harsh Times.”

Resume builders: Known as the best of the Batmans for “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” Since his first splash in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” his work has included period pieces (“The Portrait of a Lady,” “Little Women,” “The New World”), Shakespeare (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), animation (“Pocahontas,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”), indies (“Velvet Goldmine,” “I’m Not There,” “Laurel Canyon”), Hollywood vehicles (“Shaft,” “Reign of Fire”) and blockbusters (“Terminator Salvation,” “Public Enemies,” “The Prestige”). He was also in one of the best Westerns of the decade, “3:10 to Yuma.”

Quotable:

On boxing: “There’s a fitness level that is essential to achieve in boxing. … Beyond that, it becomes all mental. It becomes a question of, ‘Why is it that you’re still not achieving what you could?’ Because you’re capable of achieving it, so it’s your mind. There’s something there that’s stopping you. And it becomes almost like therapy, you know? And it’s also obviously with acting – at a certain point it’s about, ‘What are you doing up here (in the mind)? Why is it not working, or why is it working?’ And you can never stop learning from that and applying that in life.”

By Michael Ordoña.