January 30, 1974- Christian Bale:
Well, it’s embarrassing to be a star.
Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are crazy about rewarding the makeup artists and hairstylists who transform famous faces into historical figures. Since the competitive category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling was introduced at the Academy Awards in 1982, eight films in which performers portray famous folks have won this Oscar. Vice, Adam McKay‘s sly satire on the life and times of Dick Cheney, looks like the obvious winner this year.
Christian Bale, an actor noted for transforming his body drastically for his roles, portrays Cheney from his early years in Wyoming to his eight years as vice president. Bale gained 40 plus pounds and shaved his head and bleached his eyebrows to look like the man who was responsible for some of the darkest days in American history.
I am rather certain that Bale will take home his second Academy Award for this one. Also nominated are Amy Adams, who portrays Cheney’s wife Lynn Cheney playing Lady Macbeth, and Sam Rockwell for taking on the role of George W. Bush. Others actors who underwent hours in the makeup chair include Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfield and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell.
Empire Of The Sun (1987) was a film that moved me deeply when I first saw it, and surprisingly, even more when I caught it again recently while channel hopping. It begins with a boy who dreams of flying. He knows the names of all the different airplanes and he can spot them by their silhouettes. He lives with his parents in Shanghai, and when the airplanes fly overhead just days before World War II breaks out, they may be an ominous omen, but for him they are wondrous soaring machines.
His parents are wealthy Brits who enjoy a luxurious life in Shanghai, riding through the crowded streets in a limousine, paying little notice to the ordinary people in those streets.
The most agonizing moment in Steven Spielberg‘s film comes near the start as the streets of Shanghai are filled with a panic-stricken mob and he is separated from his parents as they flee. One moment he is holding his mother’s hand, and the next he has dropped his toy airplane and bending over to pick it up, they are separated by thousands of frightened people. The boy is left behind and eventually placed in a Japanese POW camp. Empire Of The Sun is familiar Spielberg territory, with the theme of a child searching for his parents, and magic above reality, the escape mechanism to a better world, a world that is represented by visitors from another planet, or time travel, or hidden treasure. This one is the world of airplanes and air.
This was my introduction to Bale as an actor and his performance made quite the impression, in fact, I thought that despite first rate work from John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, and Ben Stiller, a tense screenplay by Tom Stoppard, gorgeous cinematography by Allen Daviau, and an evocative score by John Williams, I came away thinking it was Bale’s movie. He was just 12-years-old when it was filmed.
As a kid actor, he claims that he was bullied by jealous schoolmates and often found the pressures of film work unbearable. Around the time of Empire Of The Sun, his parents spit up. But, he has written warmly of his “roguish” father, who died in 2003, shortly after he began filming Batman Begins.
Bale was born in Wales, and his family moved to Portugal and then to England. After the divorce, Bale’s father moved to Los Angeles, where he married the feminist writer Gloria Steinem, and at 17-years-old, Bale chose to live with them there.
I have very strong opinions about why kids should not be working at such a young age. I think introducing children to a professional industry where they may not recognize the pressure is wrong. Very quickly they’re going to be under pressure. This is an adult industry. I would be very skeptical putting anybody I cared about, who was close to me, in this profession at a young age. I absolutely support it as a hobby and as an amateur pursuit, but to enter into it in a professional way is a whole different ball game.
He found film work right away, nabbing a good role in Disney‘s film musical Newsies (1992). He had been cast in the film about kids in the late 19th century who sold newspapers on the streets of NYC, before the musical numbers were added. I like it, but most people loathed it and it ended up as one of the lowest-grossing films ever made by Walt Disney Pictures. He was in a remake of Little Women (1994) which was a modest hit.
He was rather amazing as a gay journalist in a dystopian future in the Glam-Rock themed Velvet Goldmine (1998) and in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001), but it was his performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000) the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘s shock novel, which made him really famous. As always, Bale physically transformed himself for the role, developing a totally hot chiseled body to reflect his character’s obsession with his own appearance. He has stood up when controversy followed this film, stating:
I don’t understand anybody who can’t find the humor. It’s twisted and sick. But it’s so ridiculous.
Bale’s commitment to his art is unquestionable. He has taken dramatic steps to become his characters, like when he lost 63 pounds in just two months for his role in The Machinist (2004), where he plays an insomniac industrial worker. He did it with a diet of apples and coffee, admitting that his doctors had warned him against doing it. Then, he had just six months to get super-beefy to play Batman, which he did with lots of weightlifting and binging on pizza and ice cream.
His starring role as Batman in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins (2005) turned Bale into a major Hollywood power player (it made $80 million in its first week). It was followed by more Batman, with The Dark Knight (2005), which opened to enormous acclaim and was the top box-office success of the year, and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Hey, every actor wants a franchise!
The Dark Knight made more than $1 billion worldwide. Bale’s costar, Heath Ledger died tragically just before the film’s release. The two actors had drawn close during the making of the film and Bale was shocked by Ledger’s passing. Bale:
It takes a long time to accept that someone’s gone, when all body and mind are telling you that this is somebody you will know for a great deal of time. He was something of a kindred spirit. I hope in a small way that The Dark Knight is a celebration of his work.
Bale won an Academy Award for his performance in The Fighter (2010), learning how to box. And then an Academy Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe nominations for his work and his wigs and 40 extra pounds in American Hustle (2013); and another Oscar and Golden Globe nomination The Big Short (2015) for playing a fund manager with Asperger Syndrome.
Some of my favorite Bale performances include Edward Rosier in an adaptation of Henry James‘ The Portrait Of A Lady (1996) opposite Nicole Kidman, directed by Jane Campion, and as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), running around a forest with a bunch of fairies. I loved him opposite Hugh Jackman in The Prestige (2006), playing a pair of magicians who become rivals in London during the late 1800s, and in the classic Western, 3:10 to Yuma (2007), as a destitute farmer who agrees to take a murderous bank robber to jail in order to win back the respect of his family.
Bale was one of several actors, including Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, to play Bob Dylan in Todd Hayne‘s film experiment I’m Not There (2007).
Bale might prefer to keep his private life private, but in 2008, allegations that he assaulted his mother and sister were dropped for lack of evidence. But, the attention thrust Bale into the spotlight. That same month, it was reported that Bale had a meltdown on the set of Terminator Salvation. Audio of the incident was later released and widely published. Many friends and associates in the industry came to his defense, for a while it looked like Bale was venturing into Mel Gibson territory.
Bale seems at ease with his sexuality. In 2016, when Bale won a Golden Globe for The Big Short, he went on a sort of kissing rampage, including locking lips with the film’s director Adam McKay and screenwriter Charles Randolph.
When Bale picked up his Golden Globe earlier this month, he threw a jab at the real-life man he portrayed in Vice in his acceptance speech:
Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration on how to play this role…
He thanked director McKay for choosing him for the role, noting:
He said ‘I’ve got to find someone who can be absolutely charisma-free and reviled by everybody.’ So he went, ‘That’s gotta be Bale’. For all the competition, I will be cornering the market on charisma-free assholes. What do you think, Mitch McConnell next?
The crowd cheered.
Up next, Bale portrays race car driver Ken Miles in the biopic Ford v. Ferrari (2019), directed by James Mangold.
While filming a rooftop sex scene for Velvet Goldmine with cutie-pie Ewan McGregor, the actors got so into it that they continued even after director Todd Haynes yelled “cut”. McGregor:
I did have a sex scene with Christian Bale, which I did to the best of my ability. C’mon, it was great! I was playing an Iggy Pop-type rock star and we have a shag on top of a rooftop in Kings Cross but they wanted to shoot it from another rooftop. We heard, ‘Action!’ so we started to slowly go at it. Then it went on and on-we were really going at it. Then I thought, I would have cum by now so I went round to Christian’s ear and went, ‘I think I would have cum by now. I’m going to have a look’. I looked over and they were packing up the cameras! I think they thought it was a sensitive thing, they should just leave us to it.