“Jimi Hendrix was my role model!”

Christian Bale

Interview

  • INTERVIEW PATRICK HEIDMANN

Former child star, bat-eared hero, villain and agent, Christian Bale, talks about two Oscars, self-doubt, and what history teaches us.

You started making movies 30 years ago, when you were 12. Back then, did you think you’d still be working in front of the camera so many years later?

Never! I have enjoyed every film, every journey and every party assuming it would be my last. I had fun, and at times, my life was like a huge outing to Disneyland. But I didn’t really give any thought to the future back then. My father always advised me not to make too many plans because everything always turns out differently anyway. And I was a child! How can children have any idea what they want to do for the rest of their life?

At what point did you know?

Good question. Last year for a short time. When I was in my early twenties. Again and again as a teenager, and I definitely will again, in the future – all the time. But as fulfilling and satisfying as acting can be, it also has its disappointments. That’s why I often feel insecure.

Doesn’t winning an Oscar help?

Sure, it’s a wonderful experience. But you have to be careful about how you cope with all the award hype. If you’re ambitious, you begin to forget that filmmakers shouldn’t be undermining each other. There’s nothing worse than artists trying to undermine each other when they should really be giving each other support.

Bale in The Dark Night Rises

A hero one last time: Bale in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

© ddp

Mr. Bale, your latest movie, The Promise, deals with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century and the bloody expulsion of the Armenian people. Were you familiar with this murky chapter of human history?

No, I knew nothing at all about it, nor had anyone I spoke with before the shoot learned anything about it in school. When I came to read the script, the centennial of this atrocity was just approaching. Suddenly, politicians all over the world started talking about what had happened back then. And you can draw parallels with the present; just think of the thousands of Yazidis recently killed by the terror militia Islamic State in northern Iraq. I found the similarities with what I read about the fate of the Armenians in the script of The Promise quite shocking. It is just terrible the way history constantly repeats itself. If a film can go just a small way to making us all learn from our mistakes, we will have achieved a great deal.

Amid all the horror, the film is also the story of a love triangle, in which you and Oscar Isaac are in love with the same woman …

To be honest, I wasn’t sure why Terry George, our director and scriptwriter, felt it was so important to include that second storyline. But he explained that when we are dealing with such a little-known chapter of history, it’s important to try to attract the widest possible audience, especially a young audience.

Are you and Isaac really as different as portrayed in the film?

Oscar is great and he’s also one of the best actors of his generation. The difference between him and me is that he is a true actor, and somehow – and I’m not fishing for compliments here – I am not.

What do you mean by that?

I can tell you something about how I play a role, but I don’t actually know the slightest thing about acting as a craft or an art form. That’s why, unlike Oscar and many other colleagues of mine, I’m not particularly sociable on a shoot.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale is a calm but committed Greenpeace and WWF activist

© Peggy Sirota/Trunk Archive

You’re describing yourself as an amateur and loner? Please explain …

To me, acting is something I do instinctively. I have no technique that allows me to switch back into a role from one second to the next. So I usually keep to myself when I’m working and that creates a certain distance between me and my colleagues and the crew. But if I get to know them too well, I end up wanting to have fun with them and then I can’t concentrate on being someone else in front of the camera.

So in private you’re more sociable?

I’m sure there are far worse recluses out there than me. But I must admit that I often do feel more comfortable in the company of children and animals than a crowd of smart adults. Feeling I have to contribute something intelligent to a conversation is stressful for me.

My father advised me not to be make too many plans because things always turn out differently

You seem to cope well under pressure otherwise. Not many actors are willing to test their mental and physical limits so radically for a role. Would you call that an eccentricity?

Jimi Hendrix was always a role model. As a child, I saw him play guitar – probably on television – and I was thunderstruck. The way he looked at that moment! I wanted to feel that sometime in my life, too. The look on his face, totally oblivious of everything around him, the ecstasy, his fingers bloody from playing. In my work, I wanted to come at least somewhere close to that. And it’s not possible without dedication and sacrifice.

One last question – regarding your Batman past: Will we ever get to see you in another superhero film?

No, I’m done with the genre now. I am very proud of the three Batman films I made with Christopher Nolan. If you’re going to make comic adaptations, you should definitely do it with the very best people. We did. But Chris always insisted that three films were enough, and I think he’s right. So, the short answer is: I can practically rule out the likelihood of your ever seeing me climb into a superhero costume again.