Christian Bale is an intensely private man. But when GQ's Jonathan Heaf sat down with the Welsh-born 34-yr-old in LA this spring, nothing was off limits:
JF- How do you prepare for a role? Do you have particular rituals?
CB-I never enjoy breaking down my methodology. Sometimes it starts with a voice or an accent, but not always.
The difference between a Werner Herzog shoot, A Terrence Malick shoot & a Chris Nolan shoot are vast, & so I've never had just one method that has worked for me consistently. I start from scratch with each movie; I wipe the slate & I certainly don't rely on some bag of acting tricks I've amassed over the years. Sometimes you get directors who love the rigorous research, while others simply say to you, "Hey, you'll be fine, just turn up on set & wing it." Sometimes you don't need to toil over the minutiae.
CB- For me, just because you finish filming & the sets are dismantled & you go home, it can be a difficult, long process to find your normal self again. Will some part of you be altered indefinitely? Sure. And that just comes down to a way of working. Not all actors have this problem. Look, if I could switch it on & off like a lamp, that would be phenomenal. But I can't, I have to dig my way out of it.
JF- The atmosphere on the set of Rescue Dawn was described by some crew members as "toxic".
CB- It depends who you talk to. Some people might have thought of it that way, but personally I loved it. If it was toxic, then I loved the toxicity, it didn't affect me in any way. I was laughing my ass off most of the time. We had half the crew quit at one point. One day we had these heavies with machine guns turn up, dragging people off to court & threatening crew members with jail time... In the middle of all this chaos we were trying to make this wonderful movie. Walking barefoot through the jungle for hours on end, people cutting themselves, covered in band aids or cuts held together with Sellotape - I had a terrific time.
CB- It was certainly apparent that he (my father) was battling on two fronts - his instincts & his responsibility. He was trying to do the stable, family-guy thing, but you could tell something was dying within. There was definitely a restlessness to him, which I share.
Not that it's anything I see as a negative, just a desire to search himself & the earth for something else.
JF- Wasn't it Viggo Mortensen who worked for a year preparing for the part of Sgt Elias Grodin in Platoon, only for Oliver Stone to then hand it to Willem Dafoe?
CB- It's a blow when that happens. So much in life, for me, is about having a sense of purpose &, when someone pulls that belief from under you, it can be just horrible. The problem comes when the mental rot sets in & you start thinking, "Well, maybe I shouldn't give that sort of commitment to a part again." Then you end up unhappy & mediocre. Although you don't get into acting if you can't deal with rejection, right?
JF- Is it true that after DiCaprio, Ewan McGregor was offered the part of Patrick Bateman & you phoned him up & told him in no uncertain terms not to take the part?
CB- Absolutely. I phoned a few people & let them know my commitment, let me tell you! I called them all & told them it was my role. Don't touch. Step away. Or if you're not going to step away, understand what you're up against.
JF- Another character somewhat unbalanced psychologically was the cop you played in Harsh Times. You were named as executive producer in the credits - what does that mean exactly?
CB- It doesn't mean shit. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me what a producer actually does. What is the difference between a great producer & an awful one?
Essentially, it was a phone call I made to David Ayer [director of Harsh Times] to say, "Let's just get it done, let's make it happen." He was then able to go to financiers & say, "Look, Christian is on board." It was something David & I had been talking about doing for years. I actually called him up when we were making the first Batman film & begged him to get it together. I needed it - 20 days of running around & shooting every day was a godsend after that long Batman shoot. Dave, being the generous character that he is, & in lieu of payment, gave me a nod on the crew credits. No idea what it means. I just thought it sounded good.
JF- And perhaps "Christian Bale,director" would sound even better one day?
CB- I'm not sure about my ability to converse, be patient, be interested in a lot of people at the same time - to handle a team, if you like. What I love about my job is being able to focus on one thing very intensely. I do love having conversations with directors, but you can come up with the most wonderful ideas when it's not your responsibility. No, no plans whatsoever to direct.
JF- What about acknowledgement from the industry - the Oscars, for example. Do you give a damn?
CB- Look, I'm human, & I guess I can't help but like it when someone says they like my work. If someone wanted to jump up & down & go, "You nailed that part. You. Are. Fucking. Fantastic," of course I'd be riding high on that. But before that happens, I'll just have a couple of drinks with my pals.
Bring On The Crazy: Interview with Christian Bale
Conducted by Jonathan Heaf