The perfect ice-breaker when interviewing Christian Bale might be, “You’re strapped into that chair, right?” Paul Byrne interviews the Dark Knight for Terminator Salvation.
He may have starred in 2008’s finest blockbuster, The Dark Knight, he may be bravely attempting to resurrect another comatosed action franchise with Terminator: Salvation, and he is, undoubtedly, one of the finest actors working in and out of Hollywood today, but ask anyone what their first thought about Christian Bale is, and most will mention his barney with his mum and sister last July. That was just hours before the UK premiere of The Dark Knight, and, after a quick visit to a London police station, Bale pulled out of the rest of his European interviews.
And then there was that little outburst on the set of Terminator: Salvation, Bale’s tirade against a wandering director of photography who was disturbing his concentration spreading across the internet like wildfire when it was clandestinely leaked in February, resulting in parodies on the likes of Family Guy and The Colbert Report, and even a techno remix. It was a also tirade too X-rated to make it onto any God-fearing, censor-wary radio or TV stations. In just under four minutes, Bale managed an impressive 39 “f**k”s.
Which leads me to the question I would really, really love to open with when coming face-to-face with Christian Bale. Skipping London and hitting Paris instead this time round, on his press tour for Terminator: Salvation, once he’s sitting comfortably, I’m sure the perfect ice-breaker would be, “You’re strapped into that chair, right?”.
Then again, maybe not. I have to pay for my own dental work.
Truth be told, I have a lot of time for Christian Bale. He’s got every right to eff and blind his way through a bad day’s shoot when he delivers the kind of performances he’s delivered in such films as The Dark Knight, The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, The Prestige, I’m Not There, Harsh Times, and The New World. Jump back a few more years, as Bale began to finally make the transition away from child star, with the likes of Velvet Goldmine, Little Women and American Psycho, and the work had already begun to get interesting. Movies like these made you realise that the 13-year old who took the lead in Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun had managed to avoid the kind of growing pains that stifle many a child star’s post-acne careers.
“I think I knew early on that it was always going to stand in my favour if I chose work that was challenging, different, even difficult,” says Bale today, “as opposed to chasing after those movies that were designed purely to hit the no.1 spot at the box-office. Not that I didn’t make some stinkers along the way. And not to imply that every movie that tries to pull in a big audience need necessarily be dumb – I think Chris Nolan’s Batman movies prove that – but, it’s rare that commerce and art come together perfectly.”
Perhaps his love of work that’s challenging, different and difficult led Bale to Terminator: Salvation, the fourth in a much-loved franchise that most had written off as a lost cause after a particularly uninspired third outing, 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. Then again, everyone had pretty much written off the Caped Crusader after 1997’s hugely uninspired Batman & Robin.
“Maybe that’s the key to this franchise lark,” smiles Bale. “Only sign on when the expectations are really, really low. That way, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. I think the Terminator story is one that still fascinates, and, in many ways, it feels like it’s still only beginning. I certainly wouldn’t have signed on to this if I didn’t think we had something new to say, something to add to the mythology. And I think we do…”
It would seem Bale is in the minority though. The reviews for Terminator: Salvation have been largely harsh, and the all-important fanboys haven’t exactly been rushing to the film’s defense. Couple that with the fact that it was beaten to the no.1 spot in the U.S. box-office last week by Ben Stiller once again running around like a loon through the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in Night At The Museum: Battle of The Smithsonian, and the writing seems to be already on the wall. This time out, our beloved Terminator is far from all-conquering. People are more interested in seeing how Robin Williams as a lovelorn Teddy Roosevelt is getting on these days than following any hi-tech, kick-ass robot wars.
“This is the kind of film, I think, that people will revisit, again and again,” says Bale, perhaps sensing that the tide is against his latest offering. “For the first time, our story’s set in the future, and this saviour with the initials JC is struggling. There’s an attention to detail here, there are layers upon layers to be unravelled, and that to me is far more exciting than any wham-bam fix. I’m not really interesting in making wham-bam movies.”
That said, there’s undoubtedly going to be plenty of wham, and quite a few bams, in Bale’s next outing, Public Enemies. A retelling of the life and crimes of notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, Bale plays the top FBI agent Melvin Purvis who gets the legendary Depression-era bank robbers in his sights. Johnny Depp plays Dillinger, and Michael Mann directs and, along with Irishman Ronan Bennet, co-wrote the script. For this particular film, expectations are kinda high.
“There is a certain degree of expectation, absolutely,” nods Bale, “and that’s only right, when you’re dealing with someone like Michael Mann. There are only a handful of directors out there who can handle a story as iconic and epic as this, and Michael Mann is certainly one of them. For me, it’s all about the right director, the right script, the right cast, and all three are there in Public Enemies. Then again, all three have been there in pretty much every movie I’ve made in recent years, including Terminator: Salvation.”
Indeed, it could be said that, although it’s his face on the posters for Terminator: Salvation, Bale generously plays second fiddle to a show-stealing Sam Worthington, the 32-year old Australian actor walking away with the film just as the late Heath Ledger ended up walking away with The Dark Knight.
“What’s important is to serve the story,” says Bale, “not your ego. I love the work Sam does in this film, just as, like everyone else, I was blown away by Heath’s work in The Dark Knight. Making a film is all about teamwork – the last thing you want is for the whole thing to turn into some kind of stupid pissing contest.”
Christian Bale is just too great an actor to indulge in any kind of point-scoring, right?
Hmm, better finish on the Oirish angle. Which hasn’t been easy to find. There’s been 2,528 Bales born in Ireland, but none of them, from what I can tell, are connected to our boy. And I couldn’t find an O’Shaughnessy or McGilacuddy in Christian’s family tree either. But wait! What’s this I hear about a certain four-year old girl by the name of Emmaline Bale who’s nuts about The Pogues?
“Yeah, my daughter can’t get enough of Shane MacGowan and the boys,” laughs Bale. “I’m not really sure what’s she’s connecting with there. Maybe it’s the passion, the rage, the fire in the belly. I know that’s what I relate to. Of course…”