Christian Bale walks in to our interview sporting a short-cropped haircut and trimmed beard, part of his look on the new “Terminator” film. Always serious and contemplative, it is clear that the British actor is impassioned about his latest incarnation as Gotham City’s Batman, in Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”.
This time, the film explores moral ambiguity as a theme, and it’s the film’s darker approach to the material that appealed to the actor as he reprised the iconic character given a darker twist this time around. “I met with Chris, I had read Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, I had read various other graphic novels, and for the first time I’d seen something interesting in Batman which I’d never seen before, and that was more the tone how I wished to portray him,” Bale explains as we chat in a Beverly Hills hotel room. “I expressed that to Chris, he told me how he wanted to make the movie, it seemed very compatible and so he decided, yes, he would cast me for it. To me, actually, I feel like we’ve kind of gone back to its roots, when I’ve spoken with friends of Bob Kane, relatives, they’ve said, ‘No, he meant this to be a very dark character.’ He always viewed what Adam West did so well, but he was spoofing Batman, he wasn’t really playing Batman then.”
In “The Dark Knight”, which pits him against Heath Ledger’s psychotic Joker, Bale agrees that he has made Batman about order and chaos. “I think though that Batman is having to maintain this discipline and a sense of order because he does have such a temptation for chaos, for disruption and for violence, because he has this great shadow side born of the pain of the death of his parents, born for a need for revenge. His creation of Batman is never been healthy for his own personal life, he has a great capability for violence and he’s given himself this one rule of he will not kill precisely because he can see how very easily he could cross that line. But because of his inherited altruism and philanthropy from his parents he does not wish to cross that line, but he’s always in conflict with himself about it, and the Joker is the person who has managed to have him questioning his own ethics, more so than anybody up until now, and tempting him to break his own rule because he knows if he can break his own rule, he can possibly prevent the deaths of many of many other people, and the question of, well, is it in that case selfish to hold on to his principles, should he break his own principles for that, and there is some wonderful ethical questions that come up in The Dark Knight.”
One of the most violent sequences in The Dark Knight has Batman interrogating The Joker, a scene that is violent and almost sadistic. It was the first scene that Bale and Ledger shot, and he recalls “it was a great way to start because we were also afforded the luxury for some part of that scene for being completely alone inside of a room with the cameras outside, and mirrors surrounding us so that the two of us [were] able to be eyeballing each other and then any way we looked we would just see reflections of two freaks sitting at the table together.”
It was here that Bale got a clear sense of the kind of gifted actor he was working with. “I was able to see for the first time how Heath was playing the Joker, and the complete commitment he had to it, and really enjoyed seeing that. Of course, what the scene reveals is that this is not going to be Batman’s ordinary foe who he is able to intimidate with violence, because the more he beats the Joker, the bigger the smile on the Joker’s face becomes, so he realizes he’s just satisfying the Joker with this violence. Heath, man, received some heavy bangs and bruises from that scene and he loved every second of it,” Bale recalls laughingly. “He just adored it, and he was egging me on for more as the walls were buckling in from doing that scene. He had total commitment to it, he created this really iconic villain, portrayed the Joker in a way that he’s never been portrayed before, far creepier, far more anarchic than anything we’ve seen, a Clockwork Orange style Joker, and it was a great scene to kick off with, literally.”
Bale agrees that working with the late Australian actor helped push his game in a way when working with someone like that. “What we do for a living is completely ridiculous, because we call ourselves grown men who are still pretending to be other people for a living. The more ridiculous I view what I do, the more I love it, and the more I appreciate that I’m able to do this as a living, and the more seriously I take it. It sound paradoxical, but I think that the more serious and the more dramatic any role gets in any genre, the more ridiculous you’ve made it. But I take this incredibly seriously and I recognize that in Heath as well, and so me sitting opposite [him], seeing him, I was getting real pleasure from seeing the satisfaction he was getting from it, because I recognized it was the same satisfaction that I get from acting as well, and absolutely when you have anybody as good as him, we’ve got a damn good cast straight throughout this movie, it becomes that much easier to create great scenes.”
As for a third Batman, nobody, Bale included, is giving anything away. “You’ve got to ask Chris that, but look, I see that in finishing the movie I want to know what happens, what is going to happen. It is completely in the hands of Chris, of whether he desires to do that or not. But I think that there’s a great challenge to it for two reasons, one is that there have been a number of sequels that have surpassed the first movie, such as Godfather 2, Empire Strikes Back, in my personal opinion, at least it surpassed the first. There’s not been many times where the third in a trilogy has managed to be the best, and I see that as a good enough reason to want to tackle it. There’s also another challenge which is Heath has done such a superb job with this, how do you create a superior villain to that?”.
And it’s unlikely he would a third film without director Chris Nolan. “I can’t imagine doing this without Chris, I don’t even want to consider that, because he’s created this. No matter how much there are great performances, and no matter how much there’s a great cast and everything, it all comes down to the director. He cast those people; he’s responsible for picking the right people for the right parts, he’s responsible for the whole damn thing, so if the movie works it’s all due to Chris. If the movie fails it’s all due to Chris, the director should take the credit and all the blame whether a movie works or not. Absolutely, he should, because he is the one that’s making all the decisions, I’m just providing the piece of the puzzle, but he’s picked me to provide that piece of the puzzle, so if I’m not doing it well, okay, I’m to blame for not bringing that up but he’s to blame for casting me in the first place.”
Bale is currently shooting the new Terminator film and laughs slightly when asked what it is about him and franchises. “That was actually something which I questioned greatly, I would say, ‘Do I want to do that again?’ But what I saw with Terminator was what I saw with Batman Begins. Now whilst Batman Begins was clearly an origin story, and we were in many ways ignoring any of the other movies that had come before, that won’t be the case with the Terminator – we are staying true to the mythology, certainly to one and two more so than three, but it’s the opportunity and the chance to reinvent and revitalize that, otherwise. And there’s no point in making it. So that is my aim, and that’s why I finally decided, because I took a long time to consider and why I finally decided yes, I wanted to try this, because that’s a responsibility that we have as filmmakers and that’s what I’m aiming to achieve.” He says he is pleased with the way Terminator is progressing. “It’s going well, but it’s a tall order, it really is, and I recognize that and we have a lot of work to do, and I’ve just begun on it, because I only just finished working on Public Enemies a couple of weeks back.”