Christian Bale: ‘I was asked to do a romantic slapstick. I thought they’d lost their minds’

The actor, famous for playing dwell, damaged men, is back playing, well, a brooding, damaged man in the gritty western Hostiles. He talks about why the film industry has to change, balding up to play Dick Cheney and why he will never, ever, do a romcom

The interview’s first astounds is that a chubby, grungy figure is occupying the Beverly Hills hotel sofa set aside for Christian Bale. The impostor sports a shaven head, heavy paunch, worn black T-shirt and khaki camouflage trousers. He looks like a bouncer, maybe, or a resting football rowdy, but certainly not the person who is pops up on listings of the sexiest superstars alive. But Bale it is, sunk into the seat, inhabiting his latest physical transformation.” I ate a lot of pies ,” he says.

The actor is well known for going to extremes- gorging, starving, bodybuilding- which reshape his physique from Olympian to emaciated to portly and back. He has just done it again, packing on the pounds and running near-bald to play Dick Cheney. At the age of 43, these transformations are not getting easier.” I’ve got to stop doing it. I suspect it’s going to take longer to get this off ,” he says, indicating the belly.

But the chances of Bale not going all the way for a role are, based on the results of the ensuing interview, negligible. He may be from the smaller Pembrokeshire town of Haverfordwest and speak with an emphatic , non-posh English accent, but he is America’s Zelig: a versatile talent who incarnates his adopted country’s dreams and nightmares with singular physicality and intensity.

A driving force, apparently, is insecurity.” The fact anybody hires me is surprising ,” says the Oscar-winner( for The Fighter in 2011) hired by Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and David O Russell. It could be false modesty, but Bale seems genuinely worried that someday the run- on average one or two movies a year over the past two decades- could dry up.” That could be really short-lived .”

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Bale reputedly has a temper. He was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister at the Dorchester hotel in London in 2008. The authorities did not press charges, quoting insufficient evidence. The same year, he launched an expletive-filled tirade against a director of photography on the set of Terminator: Redemption in 2009. A leaked audio recording zinged across the internet.

Both are ominous portents that set up the interview’s second amaze: today, Bale is affable, chatty, relaxed. He chortles. Maybe it is because of a cold- he is under the climate and sips lemon tea- but it comes out as a wheezing gurgle that for all the world sounds like Muttley, the cartoon dog.

Asked if the nearly decade-old on-set meltdown puppies him- it is the butt of gags and parodies- he shrugs.” People don’t mention it to me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t follow me around. I’m not well informed it if it does .”

Bale has brought glamours, angst and taut menace to memorable roles ranging from Batman to Patrick Bateman, the axe-wielding yuppie of American Psycho( 2000 ). He plays- spoiler alert- another brooding, injury, hyper-masculine character in the powerful cinema Hostiles . As a US army captain, he is tasked with escorting a Cheyenne chief through 1892 western badlands. Blood flows as Bale’s character shoots, stabs, suffers and mourns.

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Bale in American Psycho …’ I’d no idea people saw it as anything other than irony .’ Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd ./ Allstar

The actor challengers Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis for diving deep- physically and psychologically. He doesn’t do it for fun.” There is a much easier way, but I can’t do it. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have any develop. I watch performers who can merely be themselves and then switching and give these really incredible performances, and then switch back to being themselves. I find I start laughing because I’m too aware that it’s still me. So I try to get as remote as possible. Otherwise, I can’t do it .”

Hence the metamorphoses.” It’s helpful not to look like yourself. If I look in the mirror and run,’ Ah, that doesn’t look like me ,’ that’s helpful .” Bale vowed to not pack on weight again after playing a conman in American Hustle( 2013 ), only to bloat anew to play Cheney in the biopic Backseat( shot after Hostiles ), leaving him now, days after wrapping, facing another extreme diet.” These gasps are one of the few pairs I’ve got that have these straps on the side so I can still fit into’ em .” A fluctuating waistline, he tells, has consequences.” I’m not big on shopping, so you end up with a lot of elasticated things .”

He is calmest, he says, during extreme fasting, such as the time he lost 27 kg( 60 lb) for The Machinist in 2004 (” stimulates De Niro look like an uncommitted wuss “, Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardian’s review ).” It’s an astonishing experience doing that. When you’re so skinny that you can hardly walk up a flight of stairs … you’re, like, this being of pure believe. It’s like you’ve abandoned your body. That’s the most Zen-like state I’ve ever been in my life. Two hours sleep, reading a volume for 10 hours straight without stopping … unbelievable. You couldn’t rile me up. No rollercoaster of feelings .” Alas, it doesn’t last.” As soon as “youre starting” putting the food back in your stomach, the rollercoaster coming through .”

Sipping his tea, admiring the afternoon sunshine oozing through a canopy of palm trees, Bale ranges over a variety of topics: the US’s polarisation, Hollywood scandals, feminism, the horror of romantic comedies.

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Bale in the Machinist …’ It’s like you’ve abandoned your body .’ Photograph: Allstar/ Paramount

First, there is a movie to promote. Bale calls Hostiles a western with brutal, modern-day resonance. Based on an unpublished manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald Stewart, it is written, rendered and directed by Scott Cooper, who previously directed Black Mass, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace.

It opens with the carnage of a white household by Comanches, then changes to Captain Joe Blocker, a grizzled, racist veteran of the genocidal Indian wars who is forced by political masters to escort a former foe, a succumbing Cheyenne chief played by Wes Studi, on a 1,000 -mile odyssey to his tribal homeland.

The arc of polarisation and redemption grabbed Bale from the outset.” It was a gut feeling of reading it, wanting to read it again and thinking: there’s really something here that I can preoccupy with for a number of months. It’s an incredible story of American history from the point of view of a human who is absolutely eaten with bigotry and hatred, receiving his way back to being human .”

Speaking Cheyenne dialogue was nerve-racking, but uplifting, says Bale.” It’s a beautiful speech; very poetic, with a wonderful rhythm to it .” Chief Phillip Whiteman, a Cheyenne consultant who tutored Bale, says the actor nailed it:” The pleasure that it brought me to hear our language being preserved through a spirit such as Chris’s, this made me emotional. This is going to live on for ever, captured by this big screen .”

The film, shooting on locating in Colorado and New Mexico in the summer of 2016, aimed up reflecting Trump-era topics, says Bale.” We didn’t think that when we started it, but it only started becoming clear as we assured what was happening in America- seeing how comfy people were becoming in conveying disdain for the other .”

Revelations about sexual misconduct in Hollywood underscore the film’s observation that” everything is run by old white humen”, he tells.” The richness that we could all enjoy if we started embracing a much wider variety of sources of storytelling from females, from minorities .” Worthy hopes, but some critics complain that in Hostiles the native characters are ciphers.

Nonetheless, Bale reckons the cascade of post-Harvey Weinstein scandals will permanently change Hollywood.” I can’t see that this will become a footnote and be swept for the purposes of the carpet. It does feel like it will change .” Since moving to Los Angeles in the 90 s, he has worked on dozens of cinemas, indies such as Laurel Canyon, blockbusters such as Exodus: Deities and Kings, and garlanded fare such as The Big Short . But he says he was unaware of sex misconduct in the industry.

” Some people might call me nearly reclusive. Nobody rumor with me. I was clueless. If I’m not making a film, I don’t really socialise with that many people who stimulate cinemas. The casting couch, yes, I’d heard of that. But specifics? No , nothing at all. Do I believe that it has all been happening? Perfectly .”

Surprising Bale fact: he is Gloria Steinem‘s stepson. His now-deceased father wedded the feminist writer in 2000.” It was news to me; I was in Germany ,” says Bale, wheeze-chortling anew.” I found out about it afterwards .” He has not discussed Hollywood’s scandals with her, he tells, but considers himself a feminist.” If we’re talking equality, perfectly .”

Asked about Ridley Scott expunging Kevin Spacey from All the Money in the World, Bale pauses.” Ridley’s a very smart man, a friend of mine. I imagine he’s made exactly the right choice .” He says he has been too busy shooting Backseat to say more.” I don’t know if the allegations were so egregious that it was a moral option of Ridley’s or if it was a strictly business option .”

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In Empire of the Sun with John Malkovich. Photo: Everett Collection/ Rex Feature

In playing Cheney, Bale attempted “pathways to understanding” George W Bush’s vice-president.” What you detect when you start investigating any person is nobody is singularly bad or singularly good. He’s a wonderful family man, by all accounts. He didn’t hesitate for a second when his daughter Mary announced that she was a lesbian despite the fact that was complete anathema to his party at that time .”

Bale withheld his own views on Cheney’s politics.” I don’t want to do this as a’ nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ performance. I don’t want to be exposing my own political leanings and then making a little joke. It’s totally irrelevant what I suppose. I’m an actor, I’m a vessel of that character .”

Bale was born in 1974 to atypical parents. His mom, Jenny, was a circus musician and his father, David, an entrepreneur and talent manager. They moved frequently- Bale recollects an idyllic stint in Portugal. The future Batman broke into acting aged eight in a commercial for the fabric softener Lenor. Two year later, he was on the West End in London, playing opposite Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd. At 13, he landed the starring role in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s memoir Empire of the Sun.

Overnight, he became famous- and the family’s main earner, which inspired a love-hate relationship with acting.” There was nobody( else) to make any money. At that age, it was,’ Oh, Christ, I’ve got to be the breadwinner .’ That was no fun. So there’s always been a bit of loathing because of that .”

After his parents divorced, he moved with his father to Los Angeles. American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, established Bale as a leading man with a very sharp edge.” When I read the book, I was chuckling straight away. I’d no idea people watched it as anything other than irony .”

Then went acclaimed performances in Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, though Bale is self-critical. He wanted the superhero, for once, to be more interesting than the scoundrels. Then Heath Ledger turned in a sublime performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, leaving the caped crusader relatively vanilla by comparison.” I didn’t achieve what my scheme was there .”

Bale has admitted conflicted feelings over Ben Affleck inheriting the role , but withholds any verdict on Batman v Superman and Justice League, saying he hasn’t seen either.

His two children- an expression of the results of his wedding to Sandra Blazic- have not insured his own films, but taunt his thespian efforts during games at home, he says.” They suppose I’m the worst actor ever. My daughter can’t believe that anyone pays me .”

Time’s up, so a final topic: has he considered romantic slapstick?

Bale bats the question back with what sounds like a challenge.” Have you ever enjoyed a romantic comedy ?” I pause and he presses the point.” Have you ever enjoyed a romantic comedy ?”

A few, I say, but my mind blanks.

” Can you name’ em ?”

Er, When Harry Met Sally.

” That’s going back quite a routes, isn’t it? You’re hard pressed .” He shakes his head.” I was asked to do a romantic slapstick recently and I thought they’d lost their intellects. Cats have those insane half hours every evening. I think it must have been that for the production company. I don’t know why anyone would ever offer me a romantic slapstick. I find American Psycho very funny .”

Hostiles is released in the UK on 5 January 2018

Read more: www.theguardian.com