First he tackled the Batman franchise; now he’s taking on the Terminator series. Christian Bale recently took some time to sit down with Buzzine to divulge a bit about the pressures of a film this size, the differences between the two mega-movies, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s take on another Terminator film.
Emmanuel Itier: Were you into the Terminator films before getting cast?
Christian Bale: I loved the first one and the second one.
EI: What was it about them that you liked?
CB: Well, I didn’t see the first one when it came out; I saw it on video at a friend’s house in England. I enjoyed it. At that time, no one had ever seen someone like Schwarzenegger. He has had so many imitators since then that it’s ceased to become a novelty and has become a kind of cliché. Hence, you’ve got the likes of me being in Batman and now in Terminator – not exactly comparable to those ’80s stars. There was that real basic recognition of a nightmare that so many people have, and just that relentless pursuit by something that is so unstoppable, and then the very cool images, the fantasy and the escapism of those movies. And T2…I remember going to see that when it first opened in the States. It’s the most excitement I’ve been a part of in a movie. You could hardly hear anything throughout the movie because everyone was just screaming so loud through it! When I was first approached with this, I didn’t feel like it was really being reinvented in a good enough fashion, so I said “no” to it a number of times. But then, with the conversations about what could happen with the script and the potential of what we could do, I came around to thinking it was something I wanted to be involved with. As always is the case with me, a number of people told me, “Don’t bother, don’t do it, you don’t want to risk this kind of thing not working,” and that makes me want to do it even more. We were also up against the writer’s strike. What I dumbly hadn’t realized, with movies like these, is that it’s much like the country, with companies that keep the country afloat — these kinds of movies keep the company afloat, so they need them. We had to come up with something fast. That’s when I called Jonathan Nolan. He came up with something which was a very different concept to the other movies but respectful to the continuation of that mythology.
EI: Can you talk about the relationship you have with the Nolan brothers?
CB: It’s a great relationship. I’m sure they’re sick of looking at my mug! But I hope it will continue to be a good working relationship in the future with other projects. They’re fantastic, and because Chris is Anglo-American — he grew up in both countries — he has this wonderful understanding of both countries. He has a great knowledge for the movie language which I don’t. For me, I’m all about the real world logic and applying that to anything, and there are points when you have to trust a director, that within a movie, the real world logic will get removed. There are so many times I’ve been proven wrong, and Chris is always right with it. He understands it much better than I ever will, and I don’t wish to. I like to approach it very much from a real-world point of view, but I’m always picking it apart. I go to every director and say, “This doesn’t work, because this isn’t logical and he wouldn’t do that.” But mine is from a very real-world point of view and so I need somebody who understands movie language better to tell me that people are not going to be thinking that. But it’s been a wonderful relationship — probably more beneficial for me than it is for them.
EI: Can you talk about Sam Worthington (plays Marcus Wright in Terminator Salvation)?
CB: Sam is extraordinary. I had cast approval over who played Marcus, and there were a lot of names put out there. It wasn’t like anyone was looking at me for the answer, but I saw Sam in a couple of movies he’d made in Australia. I thought he was extraordinary. My friend Russell Crowe knows Sam. I spoke to Russell about Sam. He had very good things to say about him, and I respect his opinion greatly. I met with Sam and I just thought, “It’s got to be this guy.” I wasn’t interested in anybody else playing this role because he’s somebody who has experience but is not a known actor here in the States. I think anytime you can get an unknown but who is really sure of themselves and knows what they are doing in a movie, it’s just wonderful because all you see is the character. He’s done extraordinary work, and I said to the guys at Warner Bros. and (director) McG, “I’m telling you, this guy is not going to bloody stop working.” He’s done Avatar, but that’s not going to come out until after ours, and I think he’s onto his third movie since we finished Terminator. I haven’t done anything. I think he can do an awful lot of different roles. I was real happy we got him for this.
EI: You’ve had a lot of experience in the action genre. In what ways did Terminator push you even further?
CB: Physically, not at all. I was actually surprised at how easy this one was compared to some of the other movies I’ve made. It was far less physical exertion. By the time a Terminator comes to physically grapple with a human, you’re done, so it was primarily about weapons, which was a whole lot less exerting than the physical aspect of it. There are just elements of it naturally being futuristic and there had to be CGI, and it was the most CGI I have ever worked with — probably far less than many other actors have. There were certainly no days when we were just standing in front of the green screen, but more so than anything I’ve done before, and now, through seeing the gradual creation of the movie through the editing process, just how stunning that side of the movie is. When we were filming, we thought we were the leads in the movie! It ain’t so, once you get the CGI — the Terminators and everybody in there. Of course you have to have a solid story, because special FX and CGI don’t mean crap if you don’t have a good story in there as well. But the fact is, those guys are the stars of the movie — not us.
EI: How do you portray John Connor? What kind of guy is he?
CB: He’s a bit of a strange cat in that he’s somebody who has known his destiny for many years. There’s that famous quote by Sarah Connor: “There is no fate but what you make,” so he does understand that he can kind of sit back and this is all going to happen — a great struggle and things can still change, but it’s a strange thing to grow up knowing that you’re the heir to being the leader of the Resistance and therefore the savior of mankind. We meet him and he’s definitely someone who’s a survivor. He’s somebody who excels in times of crisis and in desperation. He’s the guy you want to go to. I’m not sure he’s the guy you’d want to hang out with; I don’t know if he’d know how to do that. His whole life, he’s dealt with being shot at, thinking that death is just around the corner.
EI: Do you take more responsibility for carrying this film than the other actors would?
CB: The movie should really be held on the director’s shoulders, but I have a certain way… I approach every character differently, and I will have a different code of conduct on each and every set. I do feel there is something to recognizing — which has taken me a long time to come around to — that I am the lead actor in a movie; that, in many ways, yeah, I can sort of set the tone for how I would desire for people to conduct themselves and the immersion that I think is important for movies. It’s always felt like a strange thing to me because I’ve never been anything like a born leader. I’m very much a loner and I can’t stand the responsibility of people looking to me for what to do next. I just put my head down and do my own thing, and if other people find that helpful, then that’s wonderful. I just don’t want to end up treading on anybody’s toes with the way I may or may not behave.
EI: The director, McG (Charlie’s Angels), is known for his bang, bang action sequences more than the story-telling. How do you think the audience will react to that?
CB: I think you have to recognize what is appropriate for each movie. McG, as he promised me beforehand, is attempting to create this movie into something he’s never done before. He’s very much somebody who has a great desire to move forward for himself. The bar has definitely been raised, by the likes of Chris Nolan with the Batman movies, of what is possible within these so-called action, sci-fi comic book movies. You can have a great, fantastic human story in the midst of it without compromising anything. In fact, it really makes it fly. Terminator is more of a guttural kind of a movie — always has been, versus Chris Nolan’s world of Batman, I think, so let’s stick to that. But absolutely it should go beyond bang, bang, flash, flash. That entertains me for ten minutes and then I’m done.
EI: How do you put yourself in such a character, thinking it’s the end of the world? You have to fight constantly. What do you do to put your mind there?
CB: I’m sure you’ve been in situations in which you initially find to be very obscure and things that you weren’t able to adjust to, whether it be some emotional things, changes in relationships, finding yourself in incredible hardship, in times which I have always found you adapt. We are human beings who are incredible surviving machines. They adapt to their new situation, so you cannot continually play that as something extraordinary and that something is a shock each day. Most people don’t last, but for John Connor, this is normal. Growing up thinking he might die tomorrow is something he’s become accustomed to. In a much smaller way, I’ve found that in my life. I’ve been surprised at how quickly you adapt to situations that you think are catastrophic and you couldn’t possibly live through. In a more appropriate example, for John Connor speaking with special forces guys and military advisors that we had on the movie, it’s exactly the same. It is just stunning! It is really incredible — the human ability to survive, no matter what. And these men in modern times had to deal with life and death every single day. Friends die. They get accustomed to it.
EI: Have you talked to Arnold Schwarzenegger about this?
CB: I bumped into him in a car-park, and we spoke about it a little bit. At that time, he hadn’t seen it. I understand he saw it a few days back. I haven’t spoken with him since then. The producers have a relationship with him. They’ve known him for many years. We chatted briefly about what we were up to with the new one and he was real curious about it, and rightly so — this is his thing. Who the hell are we? Who the hell do we think we are? [Laughs]
EI: Was he excited for you?
CB: Absolutely, but with a healthy amount of skepticism. Like, “What are you doing? Are you doing the right thing?”
EI: Do you still feel as passionate about every role you take on?
CB: Well certainly…not always. It is exciting because I recognize how many times I’ve messed up and how many times I’ve not. I have possibly believed that something is worthwhile and watched it and gone, “That’s awful!” So there is always that element of a leap of faith and the teamwork that’s involved. You are only as good as your weakest link with any movie. There’s always a huge risk that you’re taking, but I enjoy that. Absolutely, I’m just as passionate about it. I’m still really surprised when people call and say, “We want you to do a movie.” I never imagined I’d get in this kind of position. The logistics is in my nature. I’ve seen, growing up, how quickly fortune, in many ways, disappears very fast, and you never know what the hell is around the corner. So for me, yeah, I dig into it in a way that I often feel like this might be the last bloody time I get to ever do it. I mean, look at it — it happens to so many people. I’m sure you’ve found that in your own life. You’ve seen other people who seem to be going well, and as soon as they get comfortable, bang — they’re done. Something happens and their life changes. They are no longer desired or wanted. Nobody wants to touch them.
EI: Are you living between England and Los Angeles now?
CB: Not really, no. My family is here. I call America my home now; I recently became a citizen. I’m a citizen of both countries, obviously, but I’ve been over here for longer than I ever was in England now, and primarily with my family being here and having an extended family out here…