- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007


It’s not makeup that has Christian Bale looking dirty, wind-chapped and sunburned in “3:10 to Yuma.” He spent a month earning every bit of that cowboy grit by riding horses and firing revolvers in the sweltering New Mexico desert.

Mr. Bale plays weathered rancher Dan Evans in the remake of the 1957 Western film. And like every character he plays, the actor melts into the role, disappearing behind Dan Evans’ dirty fingernails and scruffy beard.

“So much is the dirt,” says Mr. Bale, 33. “Real sun, real wind, real dirt. And I think you needed that, to get out there and just get the feel of it.”

Mr. Bale is the chameleon of his generation, as convincing as a muscular cartoon hero as he is an emaciated insomniac or an obsessive young executive with a murderous streak. But he follows no formula or character-development ritual. In fact, he hardly follows film, saying he doesn’t “consider it to be necessary to have a great knowledge of movies to make them.”

“I would be troubled by knowledge of where I fit or where a movie fit in the pantheon of moviedom,” he says. “I prefer not knowing and making it for its own reasons and my own reasons.”

Mr. Bale’s reasons revolve around story and setting, the experience of making a film. He likes “sitting in mud or in tents all day” more than lounging in a plush trailer. Yet his real motivation is “putting myself in other people’s shoes and investigating what life is like looking through their eyes.”

Sometimes he does heaps of research, like learning magic tricks for his role in “The Prestige.” Other times he undergoes physical transformation, like losing more than 60 pounds to play the lead role in “The Machinist,” then gaining it all back — plus 40 more — to play the sturdy superhero and his alter ego in “Batman Begins.”

Sometimes Mr. Bale becomes so immersed in his characters that he can’t easily leave them behind.

“It’s almost like you want to go get a drink with them, get to know them a little bit,” he says.

Mr. Bale’s informal acting education began when he was a child. The youngest of four in a family that moved constantly, he says he “was acting somewhat in my own life in terms of adapting to the different kids in schools I had to go to all the time.”

After some TV work, at age 12 he landed his first film role, and it was a doozy: the lead in Steven Spielberg’s epic “Empire of the Sun.”

Despite a steady stream of roles, Mr. Bale stepped back, considering again and again if he really wanted acting as a career. Once he’d decided, somewhere around age 21, Mr. Bale devised his own acting-class curriculum — with real roles in real films — that culminated with 2004’s “The Machinist.”

“Before that, I would say that was kind of the equivalent of me doing my drama-school training, my film-school training,” he says. “I experimented with things, just wanting to see if it would work. Many times it didn’t.”

The Christian Bale film school included his breakthrough role in “American Psycho,” a bloody drama that he considers a black comedy. (“I have a twisted sense of humor,” he says.) His portrayal of an uptight psychiatrist in the dysfunctional-family tale “Laurel Canyon” and a futuristic fighter in the sci-fi thriller “Equilibrium” also came during this time.

Mr. Bale draws on his own creativity and life experiences, too, in becoming a character. But he says the “ideal actor” would have “no life whatsoever.”

“There would be an absolute void, so they could truly just study somebody without putting any of their own interpretations onto it,” he says, adding that “it’s obviously impossible.”

Mr. Bale can next be seen in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” playing one of the many Bob Dylans the film presents, and in Christopher Nolan’s anticipated sequel to “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight.” When he’s not working, he spends time with his wife and young daughter or exercising his most important acting muscle: imagination.

“I’ve always been too much of somebody who can sit there kind of thinking, daydreaming and doing stuff,” he says, “which I think has always been helpful for acting.”

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