Without a doubt, there are some actors who, in interviews, seem to behave like a sort of caged animal: They're mellow and mostly accommodating because they know they're not going anywhere, but it's best not to provoke them any more than necessary because, well, they're formidable.
Although Christian Bale has sometimes been categorized as a "difficult" interview, it has been my experience that he is simply the tiger that doesn't like to be poked; it isn't that he won't answer tough questions, or offer real insights, it's simply that he likes doing better than discussing, and that he doesn't suffer fools (or foolish questions) easily.
Cinematical sat down with Bale at the recent Los Angeles press day for 'The Fighter,' David O. Russell's retelling of the real-life story of Micky Ward, a Boston pugilist who emerged from the shadow of his older brother Dicky to become a contender in his own right. In addition to discussing the challenges of playing Dicky Ward, a crack-addicted charmer, Bale examined his creative relationship with director Russell and his fellow collaborators, and explored the process of elevating material beyond its conventions in order to create something truly special.
You're kind of known for playing characters that are more brooding and intense. Was part of the appeal of playing Dicky the fact that he was maybe a little more flamboyant than some of the other characters you've taken on?
No, not really. I don't have acknowledged preferences of characters. Other people like to look at it and talk about that and figure that stuff out, and this was just another good character that I liked a lot and, yeah, he does end up being a lot more flamboyant. But I never look at it and go, what haven't I done? What do I need to do? I just read a part and go, right, good -- that's the part I want to do. I don't really analyze it as much as that. But yeah, there is a kind of great sort of lightness to Dicky, this sort of buoyancy, this bounciness that he has all of the time. He's good company, I like him, and you can't always understand what he's saying when you first meet him -- but he does that a little bit on purpose. But once I got my ear in, it was great, and he's such a fun character to play; he's kind of like a dog sort of hanging out the car window, with the ears flapping and the jowls going, and that was how I felt playing him -- that it was just right. But believe me, I take it down a fair bit from what the real Dicky is, because David [O. Russell] would go, "nobody's going to believe it -- no one would believe this guy really." So we had to reign it in a little bit, actually.
Was it time spent with Dicky or the physical transformation or what was the most integral part of tapping into the character?
It was time spent with him, absolutely, no doubt about it. Just getting to have that is wonderful, and I've never had that before -- I can't remember, but I don't think I've played a living character. Certainly nobody who's been present or been around and I've been able to hang out with them.
Except for Patrick Bateman (laughs).
Yeah, right. Certainly there's a number of them about -- and I did meet with a number of them (laughs). But that was just invaluable; I wish I could do that on every movie, have the real guy hanging about to meet with. So it all came from that.
You and David both are known for having a very sort of intense commitment to the artistic process. Did that respective commitment make it difficult to fall into lockstep with one another, or did that make your collaboration more comfortable?
He's one of the easiest guys to get along with. Like we were talking about Dicky, David's very silly in a good way, and we had so much fun on this. But you know, I mean, look -- people say "intense," there's never a point where anybody I'm aware of thinks to themselves, "I'm going to behave like I'm intense." You just -- things happen and you respond. But we had a great time on the set, you know; being in Lowell with the good atmosphere and the fact that the family was behind us so they were happy and therefore the people of Lowell were happy with us being there, because they probably could have just really easily made it just absolutely awful for us if they wanted to. Dicky and the family would be around or else would just come down at lunch time and hang out, and the style that David used for this movie was one where we wanted to have a sense of speed, you know? We didn't want to have a huge shooting schedule; there were financial limits, but I thought it was good as well because it needed that speed and that momentum and we improvised a whole lot. So there would be a lot of times where he would just be filming and I wouldn't be aware half the time -- "are we filming? Are we not filming? Oh, we are."
David was really great at rolling with the punches, and I think that it ended up being a real ideal blend of characters to make this movie and have it come out the right way. Because Mark [Wahlberg] and I, when I came on board, when we were talking and Darren Aronofsky had left at that point, we were talking about, what do you want to do? And the conversation was always, we don't want to do something which is kind of this over-fascination with drug addiction and all of that and taking us down that road. Because that's not what we see when we meet with Micky and Dicky, you know? Yeah, it happened, but that's not the story. It's the bond between the two of them and the chaos of life, and David really can bring that out where he can get the drama and the comedy going hand-in-hand.
At the same time, there's also a certain kind of sports movie convention that this sort of fits into. When you come into a project like this, is there any input or emphasis that you can contribute, or is it just the cumulative efforts of everyone involved that distinguishes a movie from those clichés? Is there something you can do to make a film, say, not like the same underdog story that's been told 150 times?
Yeah, of course. If you recognize that and you talk with people, yeah, it's going to change -- if people agree with you. But it's a team effort, and so maybe sometimes if you think something's not right, ultimately you've got to say, hey! And what's the point of having a director? The point of having a director is that they make the final decision; it's their point of view, they set the rhythm and they make the final decisions. So yeah, of course you can do that, but it's got to be their choice -- it has to be. A movie's only good if you've really ended up with -- well, I believe -- one point of view, the director's point of view. So yeah, a good director will be able to listen and hear everything, but have a confident vision of his own that he can say, "oh yeah -- that's a great point." And you never know; often you can help far more than you think you can, because there's so much more that he's juggling than an actor.
I think you've said as much in other interviews, but you seem more interested in doing this job than talking about it.
I think probably anybody is, right? It's like anything -- the watching of it rather than the analyzing it that's interesting. I also feel like there's that sort of "movie magic," and the magic sort of gets scrubbed away a little bit when you're talking about it too much.
Is there a part of the process that you're not asked about or that you do enjoy talking about?
No, listen, if anybody says to me, "I'm good -- I don't want to talk about it," there's nothing I ever want to add (laughs). And to me that's nothing to do with a lack of interest, it's purely about -- of course we're sitting here, because it's great to do a good movie. But it's even better to do a good movie that people know about and want to go see. But I guess it's also me personally; I like to sort of discover movies as I watch them, and if I hear too much about it beforehand, I never enjoy the movie as much, I just never do. If there's too much hype about it, or if I know too much, I go, "ah, don't tell me about it, just let me go watch it myself and I'll decide."
Do you feel the same way about the process of making them? Do you tend to be analytical, or are you more intuitive about developing your characters?
I wing it -- no, I really do wing it. It changes not just on every movie, it changes every day; we're all kind of different people morning, noon and night, and you've got to adjust how you're feeling, and the vibe, you've got to be aware of that on the set and picking up on that very much. Because -- and that's one thing I've got to say with 'The Fighter,' the producers, the line producer, Jeff Waxman, did a wonderful job, along with obviously David. It was a movie made for really not very much; everybody was not getting paid very much, and it was such a good spirit. Everyone was really behind the story; everybody really loved it and was laughing, enjoying it, following the story, no matter what job they had on the crew. You don't get that on every movie; some movies you can see people are just clocking in and they don't have a sense of connection, but on this one, everybody felt involved, and I think everybody felt like a filmmaker themselves rather than, oh, there's those *sshole filmmakers over there and the rest of us are just sort of going through the motions. This one was really a collective spirit, you know?