Meeting Christian Bale for the first time, you realize how much baggage you are bringing into the room. It’s because he has shown so much intensity, shape-shifting and commitment in a range of roles that are far more consistently memorable than most actors can claim over a long career, launched 26 years ago with Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun.” He doesn’t agree– a sign of the high standards to which he holds himself, which have served him well.
Clearly he knows how to pick roles– and deliver. Bale is pleasant and forthright as he talks about his latest performances in two excellent films hitting theaters during the height of award season. He’d rather talk, though, about hard-working factory welder Russell Baze, a good man trapped by an unforgiving world in Scott Cooper’s carefully structured rust-belt drama “Out of the Furnace” (December 6). That seems to have been a more pleasurable experience than the wildly improvisational set of David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” (December 13).
Bale should have known what he was getting into after his performance as a drug-addicted trainer in Russell’s “The Fighter” yielded a supporting actor Oscar. Bale’s wily Long Island con-man Irving Rosenfeld in “American Hustle” is an astonishing creation that has to be seen to be believed. This time the actor gained 50 pounds, perfected an elaborate comb-over, and is utterly, hilariously believable as the reluctant husband of blonde bombshell Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and ardent lover of fellow con-artist Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Who else could have pulled this off? (Bale clearly has little to say about the Russell film. When his raves come in, he may change his mind. Here’s my early take on the film.)
Anne Thompson: How do you make decisions about what you’re going to do and who you’re going to work with?
Christian Bale: Depends what your situation in life is. There are many films you look back on and you can say, “he didn’t think about the director at all.” You’re being very complimentary and presumably you’re talking about the better films. There might be a lot of good ones, but there’s a lot of bad ones. They’re there, ok? Obviously you’re not making the right choices all the time but you know what? Necessity. Sometimes this is how you make your living.
When you’re in a fortunate enough position which yes, I am now, where you can say, “you know what? Finish the film. I don’t have to be working within another month.” I think, what a wonderful position to be in, that you’re not just desperately trying to keep yourself afloat but you actually say “wow, how did that happen?” There’s nobody who becomes an actor who’s a good businessman. It’s just total bloody luck. You suddenly find yourself going “what? I just did something I like doing?” And I’m actually now in a position where I don’t have to work for a little while, and in that case yeah, you’ve got a responsibility, you best be doing something that’s really good! At those moments you are declaring who you are and what films you want to make.
In a weird way not doing Batman anymore makes you free to be you.
I didn’t really want to be me anyway. You have different characters, you get movie stars who are wonderful at being themselves, who are charismatic and charming. And that’s not me. And you get people who just want to create absolute other inventions alien to themselves and that’s what I enjoy. Yes, there’s an element of course of the director and his reputation but you also want to take a chance on somebody who’s never done anything.
Such as Scott Cooper?
Well he did “Crazy Heart,” which was wonderful but there are times when you just say, “everything is a leap of faith.” “Harsh Times” is an example. I really enjoyed that. I don’t think hardly anybody saw it. David [Ayer] hadn’t been able to get the financing for it and I was making “Batman” and called him up and said, “Look, we might be able to get financing together now that I’m doing this.” Wanna do it? And he said “great, okay.” He remortgaged his own house for it and paid for it all himself and we shot it. I’ll never stop wanting to take a chance. I didn’t get into this to be making solid, safe movies. Continue Reading