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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008


Christian Bale: A peek behind the Dark Knight's mask

Special to The Japan Times

Christian Bale, born in Wales in 1974 to an English family, is the seventh actor to portray Batman in a live-action film. The role of the Caped Crusader, whose everyday alter-ego is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, made Bale a superstar with the 2005 international hit "Batman Begins." Ironically, 10 years before, the actor had auditioned for the secondary role of Robin the Boy Wonder in the more comic-book-oriented "Batman Forever." He didn't get that part — just as well.

Bale's Bruce Wayne
Conflicted crusader: Bale's Bruce Wayne faces an existential crisis in "The Dark Knight" © DC COMICS. © 2008 WARNER BROS. ENT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Some people think Bale is a relative newcomer, but think again. In 1987 the lad costarred in Steven Spielberg's flop "Empire of the Sun," set during World War II and featuring the Pacific Theatre of War. Looking back, Bale says, "It wasn't a very popular topic then. I doubt it would be much more popular now, either with American audiences or Japanese ones. But for me personally, it was a fascinating experience to get to make that movie and be directed by one of the all-time greats."

Another reason Bale is not widely remembered for past efforts — besides the fact that a number of the films he appeared in were specialized successes or not successful at all — is his diversity. He has played an amazing variety of roles, always convincingly. In "American Psycho" (2000) he was a psychotic murderer in a controversial film from an extremely controversial novel that was deemed hateful toward women — and so the producers cleverly (or cynically) hired a woman, Mary Harron, to direct it.

In the cult movie "Velvet Goldmine" (1998) from openly gay filmmaker Todd Haynes, Bale played a bisexual who lived and breathed the glam-rock world. Bale then did the voice of Howl in "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004, the English-language version of Ghibli's animated classic "Hauru no Ugoku Shiro").

Ledger as the maniacal Joker
Ledger as the maniacal Joker

Most impressively, the actor shed over 27 kg and became (temporarily) anorexic to portray the bizarre, emaciated loner in the Spanish-made "The Machinist" (2004). To view his body in that picture was painfully real and startling, and not just for audiences. He recalls, "I didn't go into it with any great anxiety. I thought and I knew I could lose the weight. It was a commitment I'd made. It was part of the assignment.

"I also didn't have any trepidations about being able to regain the weight. I did consult with a nutritionist, but to me it wasn't any particularly huge or scary undertaking. What I have to admit was rather . . . scary or offputting was viewing what I looked like, watching the movie as a third person. I looked dreadful. The look of anorexia is frightening, because it's based on unnatural deprivation. And of course it makes older people think of the concentration camps — of the innocent victims, that is — from the Nazi era."

By the time of such projects as "The Prestige" (2006) and "3:10 to Yuma" (2007, costarring Russell Crowe), Bale was back in hunk-shape.


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