Christian Bale enters the room. Looking far removed from his decimated character in THE MACHINIST (Bale famously lost 60lbs for his role in that film – approx 1/3 of his body weight) he is an imposing figure even out of costume. But what drew Christian to play the Dark Knight?.
“I’m not somebody that comes from a real comic book-loving background” he says. “When I was thinking about Batman….I was thinking Why? Why would he dress like this? This is ridiculous! Either it has to be done like a spoof, like the tv series was, or else to me it had to go somewhere else we haven’t seen before. When I put everything on, it made me feel like a creature, and I didn’t feel ‘human’ anymore.” Bale said that he has read a few comics (‘Arkham Asylum’, ‘Batman: Year One’ and ‘The Long Halloween’) and they interested him even more in the character of Bruce Wayne. Although he had always heard that the villains were the most interesting characters in the Batman universe, Christian always felt that Bruce Wayne/Batman are by far the most interesting and challenging.
“In our story, it’s the early days. So you do see him has a very young boy. And then you see him at age 22. And then you see him again age 29-30. And for me it was, there was never any intention of this from a young age whatsoever. He was very much bent on enacting revenge. Of maintaining the promise he makes to his parents, but specifically I think that he kind of thought of it as a short term deal. Something that he would be able to complete. So at a young age, initially he wanted to just take revenge on the person that killed his parents, and that doesn’t go to plan and he has no other life really. He’s been kind of happy to be sent away, and so he hasn’t really planned anything whatsoever. In this story he disappears off on a journey. My take is that he never comprehends that this is going to be an ongoing thing. That he believes ‘[OK] I can do this once, and then I can kinda get on with my life’ and then it ends up consuming him and sucking him in. Not being something that he can avoid doing, and not really being the healthiest of endeavors “
So how about those weight issues? Bale responds, “I finished THE MACHINIST in July, and then we started filming on this at the end of February. But yeah I did have a lot of work to do just because it’s one of those parts were you have to be in decent shape for it visually but also I did need to be for what we were filming. Just dealing with being in the suit for 12 hours a day! Y’know, just eating like crazy, just trying to put on pounds and pounds and pounds. And I actually went way overboard. By the time I arrived in England, Chris kind of looked at me in shock and went ‘God, you’re like some grizzly bear’ cos I arrived with long hair and a beard and stuff and I was like, filling up the hallway. By that time I had put on exactly a hundred pounds from the day of finishing THE MACHINIST to arriving in January in England and it was not very healthy. It was not a healthy way to go. I could lift a lot of weights, but you ask me to run across the room and I would’ve been exhausted. So when I got here, that’s when I had to really start leaning up and doing a lot of running and all that stuff and brought my weight right back down again.”
Was Christian allowed to fulfill every boy’s fantasy of performing his own stunts, as Batman no less?? “I gotta tell you” he says, “I was up for doing a lot more stunts than they would ever let me do, and there are exceptional stuntmen here as well, that are obviously doing stuff that I could never do. We did a lot of wirework rehearsals before we started filming, and I think however, they got a bit of cold feet after the stuntman one day came down on the wire and just landed straight on his face. And so I think, at that point, they thought, ‘Ah, let’s rethink just how much we’re going to let Christian do this’. So with all the enthusiasm in the world, I haven’t actually done everything that I can do and that I learned to do in rehearsals. However…..Buster, the stuntman actually introduced us to this really great fighting style called Keysi, which has a very unique look to it. It’s a very brutal fighting style and it fits really well with the batsuit, and particularly with the ears and everything, just the way it goes. And it’s very savage, very fierce, and I had to learn that. We have a lot of different fight sequences. I did learn every single fight sequence that’s in the movie. I kind of tag-teamed with Buster, but I did have to do the whole thing. There’s nothing that I sat back and went ‘I’ll be back there having coffee’. And then a couple of times where I did manage to convince them to let me jump off a roof. They didn’t let me jump that high, but it was something. We were in Chicago outside and we were like six stories high and they let me jump off one roof just onto the next one down, but y’know it kinda looks like I’m doing a real high dive” he laughs.
Also due for an reworking with the new film was the ‘batsuit’ itself. We spent some in the Costume FX shop and got to see exactly what is involved when an actor dons the cape and cowl. Costume designer Day Murch has worked on all previous batsuits and as we meet him he jokes that “the challenge this time was to meet Christopher Nolan’s vision of how he could re-animate the series, principally to clear everyone’s memory of the last one we made”.
Whilst it seemed Adam West simply put on some tights and wore a cape and mask, this costume is complicated to say the least. Everything in this costume has a reason for being there, and there is a tangible explanation for every piece of equipment from the utility belt to the winged gloves. Christopher Nolan told designers that he wanted a matte suit this time. As Murch explains “I didn’t know what he was talking about. But it makes sense to me now. [If you’re] going out at night to fight crime, you don’t want to wear something shiny with a big yellow blob on it. So this guy is a human stealth machine.” The cape itself was made of specially developed material, which is a combination of fabric and is essentially ‘stealth material’. Over 900 square metres of fabric was ‘electro statically flocked’ taking advantage of a Ministry of Defense-approved process used when minimum night vision detection is required.” Basically as Murch explains, “they put this on things when to stop vision machines seeing them when it’s dark”. The cape now, really moves like it does in the comics, and has really become a character itself in this film.
How did Bale feel about the arduous task of getting in and out of costume? Day Murch says ” I have enormous respect for Christian, he’s a nice guy, he’s a fine actor and he takes on the challenges we’ve given him in an exciting way and he doesn’t make it a problem”. Bale says “I’m not going to bitch about the suit. There’s a quote from me that some of the people have on the back of their t-shirts that says ‘It’s hot, dark and sweaty and it give’s me a headache’, which is absolutely true, but there’s nothing more annoying than hearing actors bitch about their work and stuff like that.”
Bale sums it up for all of us when he says, “Y’know, I’m playing Batman for gods sake. That’s pretty fantastic. I’m not gonna complain about getting a little bit sweaty in the suit.” The costume department has apparently made quite a few amendments to the suit over the course of the film series to make it more comfortable. “I like to think during the course of making the movie we’ve improved the suit we offered him to start with, given him something you know, decent to wear” says Murch “We’ve reduced the weight of the suit by a quarter of the very first suit we ever made.” (mostly down to the lighter cape). The suit even has ‘plumbing’ which means that cold water can be pumped into it, which helps keep the actor inside cool with a minimum amount of fuss.
“Mr. Nolan had [some] major requirements with regards to the suit, one of them was the cape situation. And the other one was the dear old ‘Bat turn’. This refers to the lack of movement usually allowed in the neck of the batsuit, causing the actor to turn his head from the shoulders up. “Now some of you love that, but you have to admit it’s someone coming to terms with what is in fact a malfunction of costume practice.” So thanks to innovations in costume design, our 2005 caped crusader will be much more flexible and move more freely. Murch continues: “They were adamant that this was an action movie and it’s story based and we had to give the director what he wanted and I think it’s very important to give the actor a vocabulary he can work with. An awfully long time has past since the last Batman movie alone. Technology, working practice, the materials available to us have changed, the things that guys like to see when they go to the cinema they’ve changed. Whatever your particular allegiance is to whichever Batman you particularly like, you have to admit that any Batman that comes along now is going to be judged alongside a ‘Spider-man’ who’s leaps ahead of things we could do a short while ago.”
Describing his initial feeling when he donned the costume for the very first time, Bale says “It was great, it was a great feeling. We’d done a couple of camera tests beforehand, but it wasn’t the whole way. It was kinda just ‘Stand there. Turn around’ and everything, and inevitably after 6 months of being in it, you kinda get used to it. But I did, I felt like a panther the first day. You know I did feel like some kind of wild animal, I don’t know if anybody else was looking at me [in] that way. I don’t know if I appeared quite as ferocious as I felt that I did, but I really felt like everybody was kinda looking like ‘oooh’ (Laughs). And it does, it makes you feel like you want to kind of run and jump at people, and beat the crap out of them. And it just gives you this great neck and this physique that just looks intimidating. It’s all kind of aggressive, it’s all pointed forward, it’s very much like a predator. And that was a thrill, doing that.”
Bale found that his voice seemed to change into the character of Batman, once he was in the suit. “For me, I just felt that it was practical hat Bruce adopt a different voice when he’s in the batsuit. I just mean practical in terms of identity. But that also it was kind of, I just saw it as a way of him being able to channel the clarity of mind that he must have had as a young boy when he first declared that he would get revenge. It’s very difficult to maintain that throughout your life. It becomes a memory and it takes a great deal of energy to maintain that sharpness of emotion. So I just felt that everything about him should become different. The look, the voice and also so that he’s able to have his own life somewhat. Because it seemed to me that if he was just going to be Bruce Wayne in a batsuit, first of all that seemed a little bit ridiculous to me. It would have been as ridiculous as any of us getting in a batsuit and genuinely thinking we could go out on the town and intimidate people. I think most people would probably laugh y’know? So you have to kind of really go for it in everyway. And for me that kind of involved taking on a slightly ‘beastlike’ voice as I hear it.”
When asked how he felt about the pressures from the fans, particularly the online community, in bringing this character to the screen again, Bale seems reluctant to allow himself to worry too much. “I think probably it’s beyond anything that I’ve experienced before, but I don’t really want to know about it to be honest…..I purposely try to keep that out of my head”. Finally, we asked Bale what he does to unwind at the end of the day spent playing such a dark character. His response will bring a smile to any superhero fan, “I go out and kick the s**t out of criminals.”