Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier gets the lowdown from British star Christian Bale about the biggest film of the year – maybe the biggest hit of all time.
Emmanuel Itier: Will you be talking in your normal British accent today or will you be using your American, Batman accent for interviews like you did for Batman Begins?
Christian Bale: I haven’t heard myself speak in my own voice for coming on two years. Whenever I’m working on a project, I maintain that. I’ve been doing a character from South Carolina for awhile. I’m playing an American now. I just need to sound like myself. I need to give it a break.
EI: Can you talk about returning to Chicago and filming there?
CB: Look, they gave us the key to the city. We were racing up and down LaSalle, the business district, with helicopters flying just a matter of feet above the ground. We were blowing up trucks, flipping them. We were standing on the edge of the Sears Tower, jumping off of it. They gave us real freedom. Then I just finished doing another movie in Chicago since then, called Public Enemies.
EI: What was it like on top of the Sears Tower?
CB: Fantastic. That was not a stunt, but that was an experience. There was no way they were going to put me up there and allow me to plummet 110 stories. I had a cable. I could have fallen a short way and then banged against the side and gotten pulled up again. When am I going to get an opportunity to stand on top of the Sears Tower, looking down and out over Chicago again? So I was going to take advantage of that.
EI: Wearing the bat suit too?
EI: Do you keep your bat suits?
CB: I keep the cowls. I don’t have room for the whole thing.
CB: You found the first suit, for Batman Begins, claustrophobic. Was this one more comfortable?
CB: It was so much better, yeah. I don’t like whiners and complainers. I’m playing Batman, for God’s sake, just put up with it. But this was so much more of an advanced suit. In the way that the story has evolved, the suit should evolve as well. There were 110 parts to this suit, versus three. I could take the cowl off. I could move my head. In the previous one, for the fight sequences, I was having to fight against the bat suit because the fighting style we used, the bat suit was not conducive to whatsoever, whereas this one was designed to actually aid with the fighting style. It was heavier, but didn’t feel that way at all. I had so much more energy and it was so much easier to breathe inside this one than the previous one.
EI: How much darker is the character of Bruce Wayne in this movie?
CB: I don’t know about darker. I just think he’s more mature. It’s always the Dark Knight with Batman. He’s never a White Knight. Yes, he has altruism. He wants to affect good. That’s the Knight. But he’s not a White Knight because you look at him and he looks demonic. Bats are not associated with anything angelic. They’re associated with the devil, with Hell. And that’s his whole point. He wants to overcome his own fears and use those fears against his opponents. And he has this extreme shadow side of great capability and great love of violence, and this rage and this desire for revenge countered by his inherited philanthropy and altruism for his parents, which he wants to uphold and be true to as well.
EI: Can you talk about his dark mirror image with the Joker and the way he’s taunted by him?
CB: He’s provoked, more than ever, by the Joker into the temptation of breaking his one cardinal rule that he will not kill. I think it’s wonderful, the way Chris Nolan has managed to make a spectacular roller-coaster movie which also raises a great deal of ethical questions to do with power and the nature of terrorism. As a filmmaker, I don’t think we want to be telling people what it should be correlating to nowadays, but people can find that if they wish. And with the Joker, you have the arrival of the ultimate freak. Many people are accusing Batman of attracting that kind of persona to the city. He’s a formidable foe because he doesn’t seek money. He seeks no reward, other than the pleasure and being in the moment of chaos and destruction, even if that means self-destruction. He’s a very intelligent character. Clearly, Batman has the dilemma of, if he can break his one cardinal rule and potentially save many more lives, what is the right choice to make here?
EI: Were you surprised by the way Heath Ledger played the role?
CB: I wasn’t surprised by it. I worked on a movie with Heath called I’m Not There about a year before. I had spoken with him before we started Batman. I had spoken with Chris about Heath’s ideas and their collaboration on how the Joker was going to be portrayed, so I knew we were going to be getting this very different portrayal. Also, the tone of our movies and our Gotham is not, in any way, looking for caricatures. We’re not looking for actors to be giving a nod and a wink to the audience, and showing how much the actor is enjoying portraying this caricature. We want people to just stay underneath it and disappear inside the role. I can’t help but just be impressed, beyond belief, with what he did, because it’s such an iconic villain. I have no idea how, if Chris chooses to make a third movie, he’s going to improve and make a better villain than what Heath came up with there. But there’s this wonderful punk, Clockwork Orange-style anarchist who’s fiercely intelligent as well and despises hypocrisy, and is holding up a mirror to Gotham and declaring it to be utterly hypocritical.
EI: Do you remember the first time you saw Heath as the Joker? What was the first scene you shot with him?
CB: The first scene we shot was in the interrogation room with the two of us, and that was great because we were allowed to be by ourselves, without any crew inside the room. It was just us inside there, with just mirrors all the way around us. Everywhere we looked, there were these two freaks sitting at a table, eyeballing each other. I felt I was seeing, in Heath, somebody who got the same enjoyment from acting that I do, and just recognized the ridiculousness of what we do as grown men pretending to be other people but loving that ridiculousness and loving the job all the more for that, and taking it all the more seriously, precisely because of that, and staying in character whilst we were inside the garb. It was wonderful. You get to see, clearly, what an opponent this is going to be, when Batman beats the Joker and recognizes that, with every punch he’s landing, the Joker’s smile is getting bigger and bigger. How are you going to defeat somebody whose absolute nirvana would be being destroyed himself?
EI: When you play a dark character, is there a fine line where you could almost fall into being dark yourself and become too much of that character?
CB: Personally, I don’t find it so. The point I was making about recognizing the ridiculousness gives me the ability just to step away from it but truly enjoy it and embrace it whilst I’m in it.
EI: Do you still want to see an R-rated Batman?
CB: I was often misunderstood, in that some people seem to think I was suggesting that we should see Batman having sex. I was never suggesting that. I was talking about, if you look at the graphic novels, they’re very dark. They’re extremely violent as well. If it was to be portrayed on film in exactly that manner, then it would be nothing but an R. I’m happy with this. I don’t even know what rating this movie is. Chris has managed to make a superb movie, by any genre’s standards, and so, to me, that’s irrelevant. If you can make a better movie by making it an R, then fine, go ahead and do it. But if you can achieve it and still have a PG-13, and you haven’t been considering that whilst you’re working on it, then of course, go with that. You don’t need to add in a few swear words just for the hell of making it an R. It’s not making it more credible in any way.
EI: Have you talked about making a third film, and would you be up for that – since you are signed for it, right?
CB: Right, but I think that will very much depend upon Chris. That will really be his decision.
EI: Have you thrown any ideas back and forth?
CB: In a very casual manner. Chris, certainly, needs to finish this one completely and have this one done. I don’t know. Maybe he wants to go make something else. We did The Prestige in between the other two. Maybe he needs to take a break from it. I have no idea. I cannot speak for him about whether he has any interest in returning for a third. Clearly, I would hope that he would. I find that it’s a very intriguing ending, and I like the idea of the challenge of a third. There have been a number of sequels which have surpassed the original movie, but with my limited movie knowledge, I can’t think of many times that the third in a trilogy has ended up being the best of the three movies.
EI: What would you like to see in the next film?
CB: Chris is the mind behind what will happen; I trust him implicitly on that, and I trust that his answer will be leaps and bounds better than any answer that I’m going to be able to give you.
EI: What made you want to step into the Terminator franchise?
CB: Let’s compare it to Batman Begins. With Batman Begins, we were reinventing and breathing new life into the storyline. The difference, however, is that, with Batman Begins, we were given an origin story and actually separating ourselves from the previous movies. We’re not giving any concessions to them or recognizing them whatsoever. With Terminator, you have to recognize the mythology that has gone ahead of it with the first one and the second one, and maybe the third one. But we have an opportunity and, I believe, a responsibility to do the same thing in terms of reinvention, revitalizing, and breathing new life. Otherwise, there is no point in making it. And so that is my aim, and anything less will be a failure.
EI: You’re playing John Connor?
EI: When you do a movie like this, does it put you into a place where you get offered tons of horror and fantasy projects because you’ve been successful in the genre and you have a pre-sold audience?
CB: I don’t believe I ever have a pre-sold audience waiting for me. I don’t buy that for a second, ever. I feel like I’m having to prove myself for the first time, every time I’m making a movie.
EI: Are you still involved in the Pablo Escobar movie, Killing Pablo?
CB: Joe [Carnahan] and I are still talking about it. There are a lot of complications in getting any movie off the ground. It’s a wonderful script. He’s done a fantastic job with that. It’s a great story and I hope we can find the time to do that.
EI: What are your beard and mustache for?
CB: I’m filming Terminator.
EI: And what was that movie you filmed in Chicago?
CB: That was the Michael Mann movie, Public Enemies. It is the original story of the FBI and the hunt for John Dillinger.
EI: Are you John Dillinger?
CB: No, Johnny Depp is John Dillinger. I play Melvin Purvis, who was the Special Agent in charge.
EI: Was it weird to be in Chicago without your bat suit for that movie?
CB: It was very pleasant.
EI: When you look at The Dark Knight, what is your last thought about Heath Ledger? Does something stand out for you? Was there anything that you did together?
CB: There is an awful lot of that, but that’s stuff which I don’t want to talk about publicly. But I wish to God he was sitting here with us talking about it. I view this movie as an incredible celebration of his talent. It is absolutely tragic that it is the last complete work that he did. I have wonderful memories of working with him and of the great company that the man was himself.
Check out Roxanna Bina’s video interview with Christian Bale: