Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1974, Christian Bale caught the eye of then Spielberg’s wife Amy Irving, who saw him in NBC mini-series Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna in 1986, and recommended him for the role of “Jamie” in Spielberg’s ‘Empire of the Sun’, which earned him a special award by the National Board of Review for Best Performance by a Juvenile Actor.
Bale survived the transition from a child star to an adult actor, accepting roles in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Henry V’, Jane Campion’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, Todd Haynes’ ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and Gillian Armstrong’s ‘Little Women’.
But in the year 2000 he got the lead role Mary Harron’s ‘American Psycho’, based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis and he found his ticket to pop culture stardom, which would come with better offers and starring roles.
Soon, Bale would be known as a totally ‘immersive’ actor, going to the extreme of losing more than 60 pounds and looking alarmingly unhealthy for Brad Anderson’s dark indie ‘The Machinist’. From there on, he subjected his body to all sorts of changes: All muscled super hero for the Batman trilogy, ‘Terminator Salvation’ and Michael Mann’s ‘Public Enemy’, skinny guy for Werner Herzog’s ‘Rescue Dawn’, and his Oscar winning role in David O’ Russell’s ‘The Fighter’, the good and the bad guy in Terence Malick’s ‘The New World’, Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Prestige’ and James Mangold’s remake of ‘3:10 to Yuma’, and finally the overweight con man in ‘American Hustle’ also by O’Russell. To his mastery acting style, it is reported that co-star Robert De Niro di not recognize him when they were introduced on the set.
Because of his extreme immersion, Bale was involved in an incident in the set of ‘Terminator Salvation’ when the Director of Photography interrupted his concentration by walking onto the set during a scene. Bale was recorded directing profanities to the DP. Weeks later he was involved in a personal legal action that was eventually dropped.
His Oscar Nomination for ‘American Hustle’ confirms his status as an extraordinary actor, and his future projects for Todd Field, Ridley Scott and Terence Malick announce that he is not eager to stop anytime soon.
Here are some of his best performances in a long list of extraordinary characters and films.
(2010) Directed by David O’ Russell
As real life Dicky Eklund, the half-brother of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, Bale stole the film away from leading actor Mark Wahlberg. Director O’Russell remarked about Bale’s acting that it was much more than the observation and imitation of the real thing. “Dicky has a rhythm to him, a music. Christian had to understand how his mind works”. Because of this, Bale stayed in character on the set even when not filming, which secured one of his most devoted and intense perfromances, leading him to the Oscar podium.
(2013) Directed by David O’ Russell
Another performance in an O’Russell film and another Oscar nod now for Best Actor, Bale this time had to gain 40 pounds, which reportedly caused an hernia in two of his disks. Because he impressed the director in their previous collaboration, the character of con man Irving Rosenfeld was written expressly for Bale to play (in fact, most of the main characters were written for their actors to play). This led to a scheduling problem with Bale, who had to take the Cooper character. Only when his schedule cleared up, did he return to his original character. In a crowded “Best Actor” year, Bale’s performance proved strong enough to be in against competition from Robert Redford (‘All Is Lost’) and Tom Hanks (‘Captain Phillips’).
(2000) Directed by Mary Harron
Bale’s career was moving slow but strong with supporting performances in well-known productions, so when he was called to play psychotic Patrick Bateman, many view this as a career suicide, while he saw it was his big opportunity, after all, the role had been offered first to Leonardo DiCaprio and his fan base advised him not to take it. According Mary Harron, Bale used Tom Cruise’s appearance on a David Letterman show to build his character. Supposedly Bale saw “this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes”. In tune with his physical approach to the character, Bale acquired a buffed-up “body appearance” to go with his extremely cool presence and his violent acts. It is definitely a Once-in-a-lifetime role.
(2004) Directed by Brad Anderson
Do you want to see the extremes Christian Bale goes to create his character? Watch this one. As a machinist in a factory with an extreme case of insomnia and a proclivity to believe someone is out to get him. Losing a record of 63 pounds for his role, (surprising the director who had not requested such level of decay) Bale found that his weakened condition was influencing his more demanding action scenes. Once the shooting was over, Bale had to reverse his diet for his “in shape” role in “Batman Returns”.
(2006) Directed by Werner Herzog
Real life American US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler crashes in the jungle of Laos in 1965 and is taken prisoner and tortured by the Vietcong before he finds the way to escape. Yes, Christian Bale was again the “second” option after Matt Damon turned down the role. Yes, he lost 55 pound here again, and yes, he ate actual worms. It is also true that, in solidarity, most of the actors and even Herzog lost almost 30 pounds, as it is that most of Bale’s action scenes didn’t require a stunt.
Empire of the Sun
(1987) Directed by Steven Spielberg
A film that was originally in the radar of legendary director David Lean, Empire of the Sun tells the incredible story of how little Jim “Jamie” Graham survived the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1941, during World War II. Separated from his family, Jim’s fantastic imagination and spirit will raise him over the horror of war and the death of new friends. This was Bale’s first important role, at the age of 12 becoming one of the best-regarded child performances of all times and securing his future career in Hollywood.
Out of the Furnace
(2013) Directed by Scott Cooper
Cooper rewrote the character of Russell Blaze specifically for Bale, who after accepting, went on to learn the operation of a real furnace and didn’t require any double for his scenes inside the steel mill. Even when the film did not click with audiences and Bale’s performance was soon replaced by his more showy performance in ‘American Hustle’, this is another strong characterization in his cannon and it will grow in importance as part of his impressive body of work.
3:10 to Yuma
(2007) Directed by James Mangold
This neo-western remake is supported by the superb performances of Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Ben Foster. Here, Bale incarnates Dan Evans, a quiet and methodic rancher who is given the job of holding Ben Wade, a captured outlaw who is waiting for a train that will take him to court in Yuma. Wade stages his escape, which turns Evan’s balance around, sending him in a violent battle of wills. This is one of Bale’s more restrained performances.
(2009) Directed by Michael Mann
Notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) confronts FBI agent Melvin Purvis who resorts to street tactics to catch his man. In preparation for his role, Bale met with Purvis’ son and several close friends to get into his character’s frame of mind and physical demeanors.
The New World
(2005) Directed by Terence Malick
Christian Bale plays John Rolfe, the man who falls in love with Pocahontas when she arrives in England in this naturalistic revision of the classic story by legendary Terence Malick. Every actor knows that working with Malick is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and Bale was ready to experiment with it. In an interview, Bale said he wanted to test Malick’s eccentric directing style by moving out of specific cues and into the crew. To his surprise, the director respected the actor’s actions and his crew was ready to move out of Bale’s way. Once again, Bale was in character even when not filming.
Because of the mutual respect, Bale and Malick have agreed to work on two future projects, one of which is already in production.