Some actors can adopt any number of accents. Others are comfortable under pounds of prosthetics. Yet more can slim down, bulk up, or stack on mountains of muscle. It takes someone very special to be able to manage all three. I would argue that one such actor is Mr Christian Bale.
To be honest, the temptation is to throw Christian Bale into the West Wales triangle of talent which I’ve already talked about with regards to Anthony Hopkins and Rhys Ifans. Perhaps there is something about being born in that area that indicates an astonishing level of acting talent. However, it’s nothing to do with actually being Welsh.
P-51! Cadillac of the sky!
While Hopkins and Ifans are proudly Welsh, Christian Bale is English. He just happened to be born in Wales; Haverfordwest to be precise. His English father was a commercial pilot which led to the Welsh birthplace; that just happened to be where they were based when the time came. Similarly, his father was born in South Africa due to his grandfather being an RAF pilot.
As a result of his father’s career, Christian was brought up living a peripatetic lifestyle driven by necessity rather than choice. He spent his childhood split between the UK, Portugal, and the USA. Whether that had an influence on his remarkable facility with accents I don’t know. But, let’s face it, it can’t have done any harm.
I Will Mangle Your Mind
Speaking, as we are, about accents, people are often surprised when they hear Christian Bale speaking with his natural voice. That’s partly because unlike, say, Gary Oldman, he is one of those actors whose commitment to the role is such that he stays in character for the duration of the project. He even maintains the character’s accent for interviews to prevent confusion. Incidentally, his natural accent is not that different from the aforementioned Mr Oldman.
Another thing that may have helped to nudge him towards performing as a career is his family background. One of his grandfathers was a stand-up comedian while another was a stand in for John Wayne. His mother was a circus performer and one of his older sisters performed in a West End musical. He is also, apparently, a distant relative of 19th century theatre star and mistress to Edward VII, Lillie Langtry. All in all, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd were not unknown in the Bale household.
Did You Know I’m Utterly Insane?
Unlike a lot of the acting profession, his first acting gig wasn’t in a school production of Macbeth or some other Shakespeare play. It was in 1982 that he was in an advert for Lenor fabric conditioner. The following year he was in another advert, this time for Pac-Man cereal…no, I’ve never heard of it either.
Another difference between Christian Bale and a lot of other actors is in training. As a child he took ballet lessons. As did Jean Claude Van Damme, Morgan Freeman, Freddie Mercury, and Jamie Bell. After all, it teaches poise, balance, and discipline. Trust me, if you can stick at any form of dance lessons for any length of time you have a rod of steel running right through you with will hold you in good stead.
He did think of taking acting lessons and auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and the Central School of Speech and Drama at age 20. Unsurprisingly he was offered places by all three; somewhat more surprisingly is that he refused them all and decided to learn is art by practising it. Obviously it hasn’t done him any harm.
Tetragrammaton. There’s Nothing We Can’t Do
He probably didn’t worry too much about formal acting lessons because, during his early years, he appeared in a couple of TV series, a play with Rowan Atkinson, and a film based on a lesser known novel by Astrid Lindgren. I say “lesser known” because it’s not Pippi Longstocking. One of the TV series he was in was called Anastasia: The Mystery Of Anna. The star was Amy Irving who, at the time, was married to Steven Spielberg and recommended for a part in his next film.
That film was Empire Of The Sun and he bested nearly four thousand other expectant auditionees. During that project he met Drew Barrymore, Spielberg’s goddaughter and someone with an eye on a cute publicity opportunity set them up on a date; he was thirteen and she was twelve. It didn’t work out and she didn’t call back afterwards.
Well, This Town’s Gone To Hell
Perhaps a bigger problem for Christian on that shoot was the treatment he got back in school. Thirteen year old schoolboys can be nasty little shits…I know, I was one. Anyway, in the perverse way that children can take something positive and turn it into something negative, he found that he was the object of a campaign of bullying that made him seriously consider giving up any thought of acting as a career.
However, the financial rewards meant that he had to keep going for the sake of his family. Also he was approached by Kenneth Branagh who persuaded him to take a part in his film version of Henry V in 1989. The following year he was playing Jim Hawkins in a TV film adaptation of Treasure Island opposite Charlton Heston as Long John Silver.
Stevie, I Haven’t Slept In A Year
From then on there were regular film outings for our Mr Bale. The next film of his that I saw was Velvet Goldmine, albeit several years after its release. I found it quite jolly as I do remember the era and the music that was played throughout. Mind you,I have to admit that I was too lazy to spend time faffing around with make up and too ugly to do without it! Ultimately, I ended up as a Prog Rock fan and still have a soft spot for Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, etc.
The first film of his that I remember is, probably, his most notorious…American Psycho. It was premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival when it was described as “the most hated film at the event” by Anthony Kaufman of Indiewire. On a more positive note, critic Roger Ebert wrote he “is heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor.”
Are You Watching Closely?
Interestingly though, director, Mary Harron, and Christian fell from favour with the film’s production and distribution company, Lionsgate. They wanted Oliver Stone to direct and, imagine this if you can, Leonardo DiCaprio to star. However, as history tells us, DiCaprio and Stone withdrew from the project and Harron and Bale were brought back on board. Looking back it’s hard to imagine whether it would have become the cult favourite with Leonardo in the lead.
One thing which, perhaps, showed how Christian would approach the rest of his career. He went from never having been in a gym before to exercising and tanning daily for months to achieve Bateman’s chiselled physique. He also had his teeth capped to assimilate with the character’s narcissistic nature. Compared with some of his later bodily transformations these were baby steps.
I Ain’t Never Been No Hero, Wade
He went some way to establishing himself as an action hero. First off was the post-apocalyptic, dragon based fantasy film Reign Of Fire. This was a bit of a disappointment for the studio barely scraping back the budget which led to the proposed sequel being cancelled. His next film was also set in a dystopian future, Equilibrium. This film actually lost money; it took in $5.3 million against the budget of $20 million.
So…a couple of disappointments, but his next film is the one that really opened people’s eyes to the extent Christian would go to for a part; The Machinist. This psychological thriller features Bale playing Trevor Reznik who has been suffering from insomnia for a year. The insomnia has led to him becoming emaciated.
You Have My Permission To Die!
In order to play the part, Christian went on a diet. By diet I mean DIET!!! He started off just living on whisky and cigarettes. He broadened out the range of his diet to include an apple, a cup of coffee, and a tin of tuna. After four months on 55-260 calories a day he lost twenty-eight kilos — or four and a half stone — for those still using the Imperial system. Again, The Machinist proved to be a good film that performed poorly.
When filming finished, Christian had a mere six weeks to not only put all the weight back on but also turn it into toned muscle. He had to do this for his next film; Batman Begins. As we all know, he achieved his target using a combination of weightlifting and a new diet of pizza and ice cream.
He eats that to become Batman; I eat that and get a bollocking from my Diabetes Nurse.
Lawrence, I Found Something Really Interesting
You’d think that there was some sort of multi-film contract which would have meant that Christian Bale was committed to the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. So many film franchises now shoot two or three episodes back to back that the cast and crew are, presumably, tied up until the films are all ready to roll.
However, not only was Christian Bale able to shoot other films in between the Batman episodes but he actually managed to squeeze one in with the Bat-trilogy director, Christopher Nolan! Between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale appeared in ten feature films. He ranged from a depression-era FBI investigator in Public Enemies, a Victorian-era stage magician in The Prestige, a cowboy in 3:10 To Yuma, and, of course, another outing as Batman in The Dark Knight.
I’m Having A Heart Attack, You Idiot
Following the third and final Batman performance, apparently he turned down a fourth film in that particular cycle, he made one of my favourite comfort films. One of those films you watch when you can’t be bothered trying to think of what to watch and just want something you know you’ll enjoy. It’s an unusual choice given that it is about the manipulation of the financial systems which lead to a global economic collapse. It’s The Big Short and I just find it a fascinating, amusing, and thoughtful film.
A few years later and we see Christian Bale making another foray into extreme body transformation for the multi-Oscar-nominated Vice. In this, he plays the part of Dick Cheney who became, probably, the the most powerful Vice President in US history, supporting the younger George Bush. His transformation involved a three-stone weight gain (over 20kgs for those who don’t use the Imperial system), a shaven head, dyed eyebrows, and an exercise regime to thicken his neck.
You’re Gonna Build A Car To Beat Ferrari With…A Ford
I remain spellbound as to how he can gain and lose weight so, seemingly, effortlessly. I have a constant fight to try and lose weight and that gives me some small yardstick as to his commitment to his work. The year after saw Christian slimmed back down to his figure like a racing snake, with an accent that came from the Midlands as Ken Miles in Le Mans ’66. The man is a true chameleon and I can’t wait to see how he treats the role of Gorr The God Butcher in Thor: Love And Thunder.
Come on Mr Waititi, get the editing done and get it in the cinemas…please!
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!