Christian Bale—Batman Begins—5/3/05 & 2/19/05

At 30, Christian Bale is already a nineteen-year veteran in the movie biz. After skyrocketing to prominence in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Bale next appeared in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (and later, as Demetrius, in Michael Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream). In 1992, he headlined the cult musical Newsies. A series of well-chosen adult roles followed, in prominent films: literary adaptations Little Women, The Secret Agent, The Portrait of a Lady, Metroland, All the Little Animals, and American Psycho; Hollywood fare (Disney's Pocahontas, Shaft, Reign of Fire, and Equilibrium); and independent dramas (Laurel Canyon and The Machinist, for which he infamously shed sixty pounds). Bale is now the seventh man to play Batman on camera (Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney are the others). He has completed the role of John Rolfe in reclusive director Terence Malick's historical drama The New World, to be followed by the crime drama Harsh Times, directed by David Ayer (Training Day), and a yet-to-be-named Werner Herzong picture. Bale sat down with the press on February 19, 2005, at San Francisco's WonderCon (in the Moscone Convention Center), and again on June 3, 2005, at the Los Angeles press junket for Batman Begins. Here are Groucho's questions, and Bale's answers.

Part One (February 19, 2005):

Groucho: Hello, Christian.

Christian Bale: Hello.

G: How did Christopher Nolan help to shepherd you through this role, and based on your mutual conception of Batman, can you give me your reading list essentials?

CB: Yeah, well, I mean Chris was really the reason that I wanted to do it. I had first read a graphic novel. I'm not a comic-book fan, at all. Y'know, I never have been, but had—I kind of forget how I actually ended up getting it, but somehow got Arkham Asylum and read it and was really intrigued by it because it was nothing like I'd seen in the Batman TV series, nothing like I'd seen in the Batman movies, either. Thought it was so much more interesting, and then read Batman: Year One and the Dark Victory and stuff, and I thought, "This is fucking good stuff." Y'know, "This is a really great character here, and it's—the way that they play it is fantastic. Why has there never been a movie done?" And I knew that—I had heard that Darren Aronofsky was planning on doing a version, which fell apart for reasons I'm not sure why. But then Chris Nolan coming on board—another really interesting director—somebody who, y'know—just the fact that they'd asked him to do it meant that they didn't want the same thing that we'd seen before, which is what I was interested in, creating something completely new. And we just had our first conversation, and really just—Chris very much wanted to focus on those graphic novels, on Batman: Year One, on The Longest Halloween [sic], et cetera. And he seemed to just like what I was comin' up with, y'know? Because it was a long shoot, but it was very rare that we kinda actually stopped and had to really work something out because it was going terribly wrong. He usually kinda enjoyed sitting back and seeing what I was gonna come up with. And generally, we communicated enough before-hand that he liked it, that he enjoyed it throughout. The main thing he had to guide me on was just about kinda physicality, because I was coming into the part being extremely scrawny, and skinny, and he was just kinda terrified that I wasn't going to be able to, y'know, look believable playing the Dark Knight, but we got that worked out—.

G: Batman and Bruce Wayne each have a number of interesting foils—Alfred, James Gordon, Lucius Fox, and, of course, the antagonists: Scarecrow and Ra's-Al-Ghul. Which character that you played off of told you the most about your own character?

CB: I think certainly the—Michael Caine as Alfred, y'know? In terms of the past. I think that he certainly is the most informative of the characters because, first of all, he plays it brilliantly; he's so good, y'know? He's funny, but—(exhales) you really get to feel and witness the pain that this guy has been through and that the ones who love [Bruce] have had to sit back and see him go through and being tortured through his teenage years and everything and not really know to reach out and help him. Everybody else kind of is controlled more by Batman, but whereas the Alfred character is the only one who's able to, y'know, get behind that mask. And know exactly who Bruce is and knows his weak points, and can push any button that he wants, because he's his surrogate father....

Part Two (June 3, 2005):

G: Christian, you've talked about the suspension of disbelief required to play the character and also the psychological landscape of the character. Was there a particular moment that you thought you connected with most genuinely, psychologically, and another one that was a really substantial imaginative leap for you?

CB: Ummm—. I'm trying to get my head around that question.

G: Sorry.

CB: Right now, I'm—. (Smiles.) It's been a long day. I think that—. (Pause.) I think that just the general notion of trying to attempt to use negative emotions—anger, resentment, whatever the hell it is that everybody feels—and trying to turn it into something positive is something that, you know, yeah, I can relate to. And what was the next bit?

G: Was there something that was really difficult to imagine for you?

CB: I guess just the—the thing is that his only real superpower is his wealth, y'know? And that's a pretty phenomenal thing to try to understand: growing up in that fashion. Having such access and such power is something that is quite unimaginable to almost anybody who's just never experienced that in their life. But then also very interesting to me that it actually became something that made him feel completely impotent at the end of the day, that he was kind of this little prince, y'know? Born with a silver spoon and just incapable of ever understanding desperation or need or any of that.

G: And what makes you angry and what do you fear?

CB: Oh, man. (Blows through his lips.) I dunno. I wish [many] less things made me angry. And what I fear: I don't know, man. I mean, my dad always just kind of said, "Oh, fear being born." Y'know, that that's the big thing to fear. I don't have any specific phobias or anything, like bats or whatever, like Bruce Wayne has. In fact, I liked the bats. I would go into the cages with the bats on the set....

G: What are some Batsuit no-nos? What can you not do in the suit?

CB: I could do a lot more than most people could. You can't raise your arms up (demonstrates) particularly high. You also, uh, (in hushed tones) need help when on the toilet.

[For the complete L.A. junket press conference transcript, click here.]

[For the complete WonderCon press conference transcript, click here.]

[For the complete WonderCon Batman Begins panel transcript, click here.]

[For Groucho's review of Batman Begins, click here.]

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