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 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.
Q: Have you seen a rough cut of the film yet?
CB: Well, I've been told I would get shot or something if I said that. So I--.
CB: But, yeah, no—I expect very good things.
Q: Does it look like what you thought it would look like?
Q: How so?
CB: I'm not sure how much I should go into. Uh—.
Q: You can tell us the whole thing.
Q: Totally. Start with the opening credits.
CB: First of all, it is obviously the genesis, and it's not referring to any of the other movies. It's not—y'know, it's not a prequel, it's not a sequel, none of that. It is just the beginning. We weren't referring to any of the other movies whatsoever. It—it's far more human than any of the others. And then also, my feelings in the actual—you know, we're taking advantage of using the great story of how he came to invent Batman. So his early days and the beginnings of Bruce Wayne and, y'know, a very large part of the movie is taken up with that. Y'know, before you even see any ears at all. But then, also, I think that one very big difference in my eyes is just the way that we chose to portray the Batman, y'know, himself. Just because, y'know, I realize that the TV series was a spoof on what the original Bob Kane intentions had been. And I never felt that I'd seen it adequately done in any of the other movies either. In the—y'know, I really attempted to become a different creature. You know, that he kind of ceases to be human at that point. And frankly, I had to do that out of necessity just because I felt like an idiot when I was just standing in the Bat-suit and being a guy. You just can't. You can't hang out, you know? In that suit, you know? You have to be in control. You have to be focused. You kinda—I would always remember about the fact that this is somebody who is—who is fanatical. You know, I mean if you think about the obsession that somebody must have to retain the pain and the anger from an incident that happened, you know, twenty years previously, and it's still in the forefront of his mind—that's an incredible obsession, you know. I mean, that's an unhealthy obsession. And so concentrating on the fact that he's attempting to take his pain and his guilt and his anger and the rage and do something good with it even though his impulses are that he does just want to rage and break bones and do damage, you know? So there's always that conflict. And so for me, it was very much about remembering that. I would refer to the different graphic novels. I had them on the set with me all the time just 'cause I loved the imagery of it so much, and remembering that I never wanted to appear to be Bruce Wayne in a Bat-suit when I was playing the Batman. He just becomes it. It is an alter-ego, completely.
Q: Separate character?
Q: Did you see Batman as a separate character?
Q: Can you talk about your characters? Trevor, from The Machinist, is very obsessive. So is Patrick Bateman. What is your attraction to that kind of character?
CB: Y'know, I've done many other different characters that aren't so obsessive as well. But I think, you know, I would imagine to everybody here—I'd be very surprised if anybody here wouldn't say that an obsessive character is not illuminating in some way, y'know? That they are people who you wouldn't necessarily want to have in your life, but you certainly enjoy hearing about them. And watching them. I mean, pretty much anybody who you look at throughout history who's achieved great things: they were obsessive about it. And it also means that with characters who are as obsessive as that, you can kinda make up your own rules because they are not playing by society's rules that we all kinda know and acknowledge each and every day of how to get through life without upsetting everybody around you at any given moment, y'know? And you can kinda chuck all of that out of the window when you're playing those kind of characters. So they are enjoyable.
Q: There is a legacy that obviously you're aware of, of the Batman, people who played him. How did you approach it differently? I'm sure you wanted to bring something new that hasn't been seen before. Talk a little bit about that, about being more human. How did you approach Batman/Bruce Wayne? How was that different from how it's been done before?
CB: I think that, y'know, you have in the Tim Burton ones a great stylization. But, to me, whilst I enjoyed those ones, it was more the stylization of the villains than Batman himself. I didn't see a whole lot going on in Batman. The other ones just weren't my thing at all. And I just felt that it was—I wanted to attempt to base it in reality, the starting from a realistic point of view of the pain and the trauma that a child has been through. And really looking at it as that instead of just, you know, hey, this incredibly theatrical character that jumps around in a Bat-suit, which to me would be kind of stupid if I met him in the street. I don't think I would be intimidated, I would laugh at him. That you had to get to a point where the audience would be drawn in enough to believe that this guy has gone through so much pain and anger, and then we have a really nice backstory about how he creates the Batman. You know? And also, there's a very nice practical backstory to every gadget and to the Batsuit and everything. Everything is explained in the movie. Nothing was taken for granted at all. There's no assumptions that the audience would just understand it immediately. We wanted to show quite how did this happen, and why did he choose everything? And it's all explained very, very well and in detail. And in making that kind of approach, I think it couldn't help but appear different because you got a real character, y'know? And also, we were focusing on Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas what I would find in watching most of the other movies, and also the TV series and things: I always found the villains much more interesting. And that was the main revelation to me in reading one of the graphic novels. Batman's the most interesting of them all, y'know? I mean he's the really on-the-edge one. Y'know? Because he's the guy that—okay, he's doing good, but he's the Dark Knight, y'know? I mean a knight is meant to be in shining armor. He's a Dark Knight. He could do good things, but, man, he could just as easily flip over and become, y'know, like the ultimate villain. And hopefully, we've been able to portray that in a more character-based way than has been shown before.
Q: Other actors who've played Batman have expressed difficulty acting in the suit. How difficult was that for you?
CB: It wasn't. It was—I mean, I think some of them were talking about just the physical stamina that you kind of need for being in that. Y'know, when you first put it on, you feel like you're scuba diving or something, and it feels kinda claustrophobic. But you know, I just sat with it for a while, and like I said, I could not wear that suit without making myself feel like some kind of beast, you know? And so I found it just happened really kind of organically, and I just went with as much aggression and rage as I could, bordering on appearing like a bad guy when he's got the suit on. That you should be unsure when you're faced with him. First of all, that I wanted it to be that he was never somebody that kind of just stood still saying, "Hi, I'm Mr. Batman. How are you?" That it should always be almost as if you're witnessing a very rare and dangerous creature, you know, in the jungle or something. Like somebody that you just glimpse momentarily. And also I think that they made a lot of advances in the actual make-up of the suit. It was kind of like they cooked it, really. It was like a kitchen where they were boiling up all these different, y'know, ingredients to try and get just the perfect level of mobility and rigidity in certain areas, et cetera. So I think I, by far, have had the easiest time of anybody, short of probably Adam West who I think was trotting around in some kind of cotton get-up or something. They really came up with some good stuff. And it's much more mobile than any of the other suits have been.
Q: What do you think shooting some of the film in England brought to the production?
CB: You know, I mean, to be honest, we shot the exteriors in Chicago. And it wouldn't have mattered where we shot it, y'know? It really wouldn't have done. Being blunt, I think what it brought was a lot of tax rebates, y'know?
CB: I think that was it. That's the main reason. You know? Because obviously this is not England. And it should not be England. It's a very American mythology. Though it travels—everybody around the world knows it—y'know, it's quintessentially an American mythology.
Q: How heavy was the suit, and what was your first reaction when you saw yourself in it?
CB: Actual poundage, I'm not sure of how heavy it really was. And my first reaction in seeing it, I remember I tried on one of the old ones for the screen test I had to do, but, y'know, it didn't fit exactly. It hadn't been made for me. The first time I put on the one that actually was made for me, it was like I said. It was like looking at a creature. Y'know, it kind of wasn't me in there at all, and that's how I liked it. I didn't want to have any kind of recognition of myself or Bruce Wayne, once he's inside of it—at all. But it was a kick as well; it's a high. You're getting into that suit, and you're looking in the mirror and seeing it, and staring back at yourself, y'know? And, y'know, it's a long shoot. It was about seven months. You can start to get kind of blasé about it. "Well, you got the Batsuit on again." So that was why I kept the images around me all the time, to remind myself of that initial feeling. Because it was a very strong feeling when I first put that on, of feeling like a very dangerous creature to be around.
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.
Q: How many of these films are you signed for?
Q: Yeah, I've a question: Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and—
Q: George Clooney—was that your question?
Q: Adam West. Yeah, throw Adam West in there too.
Q: Well, I'm going to—and now, we've got Christian Bale. Which one of the three previous Batmans do you think added the most amount of credibility to the Batman role?
CB: You know, they did it in different ways. I think what Adam West did was great. I just didn't realize when I was watching it as a kid that it was a spoof, y'know? It was a very camp kind of thing, the performance that he was doing. And I like—after that, I would say Michael Keaton because of Tim Burton and the way that he approached the movie. However, we didn't want to do anything like that either. To me, that isn't what I was seeing in the graphic novels—at all. And I'd never really felt the danger of Batman that I felt should be appropriate. And it was also in reading a forward by Frank Miller that I believe is in Batman: Year One about when he first saw Batman, and how he says, to him, Batman was never funny, y'know? And I liked that because that's what I had always thought. That this should not be—that there can be a lot of comedy through it, but coming from other people—but the actual Batman himself, y'know, I think had gotten lost in a lot of little one-liners and quips that reduced—
Q: The edge.
CB: The edge, and the reason that he had become this Batman in the first place, which was this incredible pain, anger, guilt, y'know, and rage that he had within him.
Q: So it's a rougher Batman?
CB: Much more, yeah.
Q: Is he mentally ill?
CB: Mentally ill?
CB: I think probably some psychiatrists would say "Yeah!" y'know, for hangin' on to that pain intentionally, keeping hold of it, for letting it rule much of his life. I would say that, y'know, he's—I would say he's actually—I wouldn't say he's schizophrenic or something, like it's an actual—or multiple personality where he's unable to control it. He can control it, but it's intense discipline that he's learned to be able to function in everyday life. And in many ways, the Bruce Wayne character, the playboy, the cad, et cetera, the business man, he's actually the mask, y'know? He is the performance. And so I would say he's not—I would say it—nobody would say it would be a healthy state of mind to be in, but I'm not suggesting that he's actually got multiple personality disorder or anything like that. Although, y'know, personally, I think that'd be quite an interesting way to take it if you wanted to really go to extremes with him.
Q: Did you involve any of that in your character? Thinking like that?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: Batman is known for all these different weapons and cars and gadgets. Is there any one in this film that is your favorite?
CB: Which one do you think? Y'know?
Q: (Meekly) The car?
CB: Yeah, it has to be, y'know?
Q: The Batmobile?
CB: Yeah, because they've done such a radically different thing with it. And what I love about it is that aesthetically, y'know, it kicks ass. It looks fucking stunning. Y'know? I mean, there were a couple of times driving down the street in Chicago, and when—y'know, it was like, "We can load it on the truck or just drive five minutes down there—."
CB: And they just drove five minutes down there. And you see that thing just going down the street, and everybody's stopping and looking. "What the hell is this?" y'know? There was even this guy who crashed into it. This poor drunken guy who didn't have a license, who said he got so panicked when he saw the car, he thought aliens were landing.
Q: Were you in the car?
CB: And he put the pedal to the metal. I wasn't in it, no. It was the stunt driver driving it at the time. Put the pedal to the metal and sideswiped the Batmobile. So, you know, it has this effect upon people. And I just loved how—it's indicative of the way that we are making the movie as a whole. It looks nothing like any Batmobile that has come before it. And it completely has practical applications, which are explained and, y'know, are very smart and make complete sense. And that's indicative of what we've done with everything to do with the movie, including explanation of the suit, the cowl, y'know, all the different gadgets that he comes up with and where he comes to them.
Q: How did it handle...?
CB: Stunning. Fantastic, y'know? I wish I had gotten to drive it more, y'know? There was a—y'know, the guy with the coolest job on the set was the stunt driver. It didn't matter. I got a lot of attention the first few days I had the Batsuit on—everyone was "hhhuhh" and "uuuuhh." But then, after a while, y'know, you get used to me sitting around in the Batsuit. The stunt driver, every time he came on the set, everyone was just in awe. "Alright—."
CB: "...here comes the man," y'know? This is the guy that's really gonna make the movie. And it is stunning, the things that they did with it. The actual engineering of it is stunning. Y'know, it's apparently—I don't know an awful lot about cars, but it's apparently the first car ever designed without any kind of front axle. It really can do the things that you see in the movie. The actual cars really did do them. Y'know, they built like 12 or 13 of them.
Q: Who did the [design]?
CB: Uhhhhhh. Tony.
CB: He was the main designer. Y'know?
Q: Did you get to keep one?
CB: That was the first question. They looked at me, and they went, "You fucking kidding?"
CB: So, no. I didn't get to keep one of them. But it is a fantastic drive. Y'know, you get in it and—I've always been a fan of motorbikes and not so much of cars. You get in that and you just—you can't help but love cars because also you see all of the inner workings inside of it. You can see the functionality of everything that's going on. And it screams, y'know? When you get it up to a high speed. And it really flies. They actually—they couldn't keep up with it—the camera cars. They were having trouble keeping up with it. They were having to ask, "Can you please slow down a little bit? 'Cause we just can't keep up with the thing." But it screams in your ear. Y'know, and you got the smell and everything inside of it. It's elating. Y'know, my heart was pounding every time I'd step out of that thing.
[For Groucho's review of Batman Begins, click here.]