Stanley Dock, Liverpool - save 54%
TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Christian Bale - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
When, in 2004, Christian Bale received a raft of glowing reviews for his shape-shifting efforts in The Machinist and then was announced as the next Batman, many of his compatriots wondered where this new British phenomenon had sprung from. Unlike most of his Brit film star peers, he had not served an apprenticeship in TV or on the stage, he was not a household name or face. His sudden rise to art-house and Hollywood prominence seemed oddly spectacular.
In fact, Bale, though still in his early thirties, was 18 years into his screen career. Chosen by Steven Spielberg to play the youngster battling to survive Japanese occupation in the epic Empire Of The Sun, he'd first hit the headlines back in 1987. Then, having shifted to Los Angeles when only 17, he'd undergone failure as an aging child actor, become a teen heart-throb due to Little Women and one of the original stars of the fledgling Internet, then gradually, through a series of risky challenges, moulded himself into a quite brilliant screen actor. Those few who witnessed his extraordinary work in 2000's controversial American Psycho knew he had arrived. The rest would remain in the dark till he emerged as the new Dark Knight. His journey, bumpy and fraught with artistic dangers, is well worth examining.
He was born Christian Charles Philip Bale on the 30th of January, 1974, in Haverfordwest, otherwise known as Hwlffordd, in the far west of south Wales. His father, David, was then a pilot, stationed at RAF Brawdy, but would soon have his career ended by illness. This would allow him to indulge a life-long penchant for travel. Having been born in South Africa, he'd run away to sea in his early teens and seen the world. Now, taking a variety of jobs, including financial advisor (the kids were often not sure what he did to bring food to the table), he moved the family all over the country and beyond. They left Wales when Christian was 2 and began a nomadic existence that took in Oxfordshire, Portugal (when he was 11) and Dorset, such that by the time he was 15 Christian reckoned he'd lived in 15 different places.
This unconventional life for a long while suited Christian's mother, Jenny, who worked as a clown and a dancer, riding elephants and introducing acts in the circus. Christian has recalled, at age 7, having a great time in a circus caravan surrounded by beautiful women wearing only fishnet stockings and peacock head-dresses. Indeed, his first kiss was with a young Polish trapeze artist called Barta.
Show-business actually ran deep in the Bale family. David's father, also a pilot, had retired to South Africa to work as a gamekeeper, and had played John Wayne's double in 1962's Hatari! David's uncle Rex, meanwhile, a cousin of Lillie Langtry, was a professional actor with 20 movies under his belt. Christian's maternal grandfather had trod the boards, too, as a stand-up comic, children's entertainer and member of the Magic Circle. The tradition would be continued by Christian's siblings, all girls and all older. Though Sharon would become a computer expert, Erin would become a musician and Louise an actress and award-winning theatre director. What was important, according to David and Jenny, was that their kids felt there was no limit to what they could achieve. Freedom was the key, and it made great sense that the family were passionate activists when it came to the environment and animal rights. As a kid, Christian would be taken to many conventions and, to this day, contributes heavily to many animal charities.
As a child, Christian would take ballet lessons and, for a while, obsessively practise guitar. Once the family landed in Reading, though, he was inspired to follow his sister Louise into acting. Louise had scored a part in a West End production of Bugsy Malone and 9-year-old Christian would hang backstage, wishing he was in on the action. And soon he was, scoring himself an agent and a part in a Pac-Man cereal commercial, and enrolling at a Reading theatre group that, for a while, also included a young Kate Winslet. The next year would bring yet more success with a Lenor ad (he used his '80 wages to buy some DMs and a Rubik snake)and a West End stage debut of his own, when he appeared alongside Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd.
The Bale family's final move within the UK would take them to Bournemouth, where Christian would be based for 4 years, the longest time he'd spent anywhere. He enrolled at Bournemouth School for Boys, took up rugby and settled down to an ordinary existence. It was not to be. Still attending theatre workshops and auditioning for roles, he'd already nabbed a part in Anastasia: The Mystery Of Anna, a lavish TV 2-parter that saw Amy Irving star as Anna Anderson, a young woman who excited high society by claiming to be the supposedly executed daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. The movie would place Bale on a credit-list with the luminous likes of Olivia de Havilland and Rex Harrison, the boy appearing in flashback scenes as Anastasia's haemophiliac brother Alexei, his parents Nicholas and Alexandra being played by heavyweights Omar Sharif and Claire Bloom.
In itself, Anatasia would not have proved a breakthrough for Bale. Lying around looking sickly as Alexei Romanov was perhaps not the most flamboyant way to impress casting directors. But Amy Irving had taken note of his efforts and, rather fortuitously for Bale, passed his name on to her husband, Steven Spielberg, who was then casting his latest epic, Empire Of The Sun, an epic requiring a young male lead. Spielberg, having seen Anastasia, had actually not thought much of Christian's Alexei but took note of his wife's advice and was himself impressed enough by Bale's readings for Empire Of The Sun that he cast him ahead of 4000 other hopefuls after a 7-month auditioning process.
In the movie, Christian would star as Jim (that is, the younger self of writer JG Ballard), a British kid separated from his rich parents when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in WW2. Obsessed with aeroplanes and for the most part enjoying the excitement of the war, the boy is taken under the wing of American King Rat-figure John Malkovich and learns to suvive in this hellish place, which serves him well when, along with Miranda Richardson and all the other suffering Brits, he winds up in a harsh POW camp. And Bale was excellent, his natural innocence and ebullience a fine foil for Malkovich's cynical survivalism and Richardson's dignified resignation.
By the time Empire Of The Sun was released (with all the fanfare you'd expect for a Spielberg epic), Christian had been seen in two other efforts. First came another major TV production, Heart Of The Country, a miniseries based on the book by Fay Weldon. Here Susan Penhaligon would play a well-off mother who's dumped by her hubbie and left penniless to fend for herself and her kids (her son being Christian). Plagued by predatory males and humiliated by indifferent bank managers and welfare officers, she's befriended and housed by a lower-class woman who shows her the ropes. It was a satire revealing the social vulnerability of women and exploding the notion that the suburbs are havens of serenity and neighbourly decency.
Also very moral, though very different in tone, would be The Land Of Faraway, Bale's first released movie. Based on Astrid Lindgren's children's fantasy, this would see Nick Pickard as Mio, a lonely kid with a disappeared dad, who's magically transported to the titular world of wonder, where his father (Timothy Bottoms) is the beloved king. Once there, he discovers that an evil Christopher Lee has been abducting kids and transforming them into birds doomed to screech their despair against the walls of his dark castle. Teaming up with Christian, playing his sidekick Jum-Jum, Mio embarks on a quest to find the Forger of Swords and arm himself for the struggle against the cruel Lee. It was fun-time fantasy stuff, though the actual shoot was infinitely more depressing. Filming took place just a few hundred miles from Chernobyl and had to be halted due to the infamous nuclear meltdown - and then they had to go back to finish.
These were both good experience but minor roles, not preparing Bale at all for what was to happen next. When Empire Of The Sun came out, everyone wanted a piece of him. On the promotional tour, frustrated by a constant barrage of the same questions over and over again, he first weirded-out journalists by repeatedly and silently stabbing an orange with a pen then, in Paris, he cracked completely, running out of his Champs Elysee hotel. Back in Bournemouth it was no better. Though he made a bit of pocket money selling signed photos of himself in the playground, the other boys' jealousy at his success and consequent female attention saw him constantly picked on and drawn into fights. Trying to withdraw from the press attention, he made the fatal error of refusing to open a fete and was mercilessly lambasted by the local papers. He'd enjoyed working with Spielberg, meeting Drew Barrymore (he'd tried to kiss her but, though a year younger, she was far more sophisticated than he and spurned his advances) and the Best Juvenile Performance award he'd received from America's National Board of Review (a category invented especially for him) but it wasn't worth this. He told his parents that he would never act again.
And he didn't. For a year or so. But he was drawn back in by Kenneth Branagh, then assembling the cream of the British crop for his Olivier-matching Henry V. Paul Schofield, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, all were there, and Christian would join them as the young sidekick of Robbie Coltrane's Falstaff, eventually being carried across the body-strewn fields of Agincourt by the heroic Branagh himself.
There'd be more big name co-stars to come. The next year, 1990, would see him take the lead as Jim Hawkins in a high-class TNT re-adaptation of Treasure Island, with Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, Oliver Reed as Billy Bones and, once again, Christopher Lee as Blind Pew. Then it would be back to TV for a production of John Le Carre's A Murder Of Quality. Here Denholm Elliott would play George Smiley, investigating murder, secret societies and sexual abuse at a boys' school, Christian playing the mysterious Tim Perkins, a pupil who seems to have more answers than he's willing or able to let on. Also in the cast would be Joss Ackland, Glenda Jackson and Billie Whitelaw, adding yet more gravitas to an already amazing CV of co-stars.
Having returned to the acting fold, Christian was now beginning to fret over the most advantageous career path. He was getting roles now, but would they dry up as he matured, when he was no longer "the kid from Empire Of The Sun"? Wouldn't it make sense to enter formal training? While on the set of Henry V he'd asked the advice of Kenneth Branagh's mentor Hugh Crutwell, former head of RADA, and was told to wait. At 14 he was still too young. He'd receive the same advice from Robert Duvall, the venerable co-star of his next movie, another Hollywood effort called Newsies.
At this stage, Bale's life was even more up-in-the-air than usual. His mother had decided that, after years on the road, she'd had enough and split from his dad. You could see her point. With David now acting as Christian's manager and the boy's career going international, the family clearly would not be putting down roots in the foreseeable future. For his part, Christian had a simple choice to make - continue with sixth form college in Bournemouth, or fly to Los Angeles to star alongside Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret. A tough one. Goodbye Bournemouth.
Bale had auditioned for the part in England, then been flown by Disney to LA for a screen test that had proved successful. When he'd first received the script it had been a straight drama concerning strike action taken by young New York paper-deliverers in 1899 when publisher Joseph Pulitzer decided to cut their take by 10%. Christian was to play Jack "Cowboy" Kelly, a kid with a troubled past who dreams of migrating to Santa Fe and leads the others in their industrial action. Now, though, things had changed. The movie had been turned into a musical, indeed it was an expensive attempt to rejuvenate the musical genre as a whole. The pressure was most certainly on. Christian, who had some experience in dance but next to none in singing, was initially fearful. But, as would be the case throughout his career, he took on the challenge and entered an intensive 10-week programme of dance, gymnastics, karate and accent training.
The movie, landing somewhere between Oliver! and West Side Story, was cute enough, with the street urchins, aided by faded dance hall star Ann-Margret, battling bravely against the tyrant Duvall. And Bale clearly worked hard to transform himself into an all-singing, all-dancing street kid. Unfortunately, the musical genre was apparently not ripe for rejuvenation (that wouldn't happen for another decade) and Newsies became the lowest-grossing Disney live action movie ever. Perhaps they should have instead released Blood Drips On Newsies Square, a spoof movie shot by the cast during filming that had a serial killer loose on the set. Soon, though, and under the strangest circumstances, Disney would find this financial blow lightened - and all thanks to their initial faith in Christian Bale.
Continuing to challenge himself both as an actor and performer, Christian now took on another musical movie, but this time with a far more dramatic bent. This was Swing Kids, concerning a zoot-suited group of German youths in 1939 who, though obsessed with the music of Benny Goodman and Count Basie and the dance styles of young America, are nevertheless drawn out of their little world to face the evils of the Third Reich. Robert Sean Leonard would have his sense of decency and justice challenged when his mother, Barbara Hershey, accepts the new order and even invites a Gestapo officer (Bale's old mucker Kenneth Branagh, in an uncredited role) around for dinner. Christian, meanwhile, would play Leonard's best friend, who tests him still further by entering wholeheartedly into the spirit of the Hitler Youth, baiting cripples and even grassing up his own father. It was another good role, involving fraught drama and hi-octane dance sequences, but this was a movie of dubious appeal to audiences both young and old and did not fare well.
In fact, on the face of it, things were not going too well at all. Christian and his father had now relocated to LA, with Christian thus losing his girlfriend of the last 5 years, who'd decided to attend a British university (Bale himself was now enrolled at an LA college). Newsies and Swing Kids had suffered at the box office, but were relative successes compared to Christian's next two projects. The first of these was Godmoney, a real change of pace that was to see Christian as a young New Yorker attempting to escape a life of crime and drugs by shifting to the LA suburbs. Problematically, here he would be befriended by another dealer who offers him a life-changing sum of money if he'll assassinate a rival dealer. So, what's the price of his soul? Sadly, during filming the producers ran out of cash and director Darren Doane was forced to abandon the project. It was a shame for Bale as this was his first opportunity to try the kind of tough street drama that had proven so fruitful for his latest screen hero Gary Oldman (earlier, he'd been an enthusiastic fan of Steve McQueen).
Christian's other movie of the time had been completed, but was struggling to find a release. This was Prince Of Jutland, another risky piece that recounted the original legend of Hamlet, or Amled, a brutal tale of murder and revenge set in the Danish outback. Here Bale would star as the young Amled, who feigns madness when his uncle Gabriel Byrne strings up his noble father Tom Wilkinson and lies his way into the bed of his mother, Helen Mirren. Sent to England to die at the hands of family friend Brian Cox, Amled instead turns the tables and returns to destroy his wicked uncle, marry Cox's daughter Kate Beckinsale, and rule the land with tolerance and honour. It really was an odd movie, a kind of low-budget mediaeval Death Wish with the cheapest of battle sequences. But it was marked by some fine performances from the renowned leads, and a terrifically courageous effort from Bale who had to keep up his pretence of insanity by barking like a dog and crowing like a cockerel. So few actors would have dared do this, yet for Christian, who'd already played a POW camp intern, a Nazi thug and a drug fiend, it really wasn't that extreme.
Despite his movies' lack of financial success, Christian was about to make a major breakthrough - with a little help from a secret admirer. Winona Ryder, a couple of years older than Bale, was well aware of the pressures that can build on young actors, having hit big with the likes of Beetlejuice, Heathers and Mermaids while still in her teens. She was also quick to recognise those who rose above it. Having a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of modern movies, she'd seen most of Bale's work and now recommended him, strongly recommended him for a part in her upcoming project, a new adaptation of Little Women. Such was her clout within the industry that her demands were met and Christian now became Laurie, young neighbour of the March family as they chat, weep and muddle their way through the American Civil War. Laurie's an honorary brother to the girls (including Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst and Claire Danes, with Susan Sarandon playing their mum), joining in with the plays penned by wannabe writer Jo (Ryder). Eventually, though, he falls heavily for Ryder and is disturbed when his tutor, Eric Stoltz, does too. When Ryder rejects him he finds solace in the arms of Mathis.
With such a strong young cast, and well directed by Gillian Armstrong, the movie was a hit, and saw Christian become a heart-throb for the more erudite young ladies of the world. In fact, he was becoming a very, very popular young actor, far more famous than he had any real right to be. Having been contacted by a Canadian fan with techie leanings, he'd OK'ed the lad's request to set up a new fan-site at www.christianbale.net. His main reason was that by placing information on the site he'd be able to avoid interviews, which he'd hated since the Empire Of The Sun publicity debacle. The real result was far more far-reaching. As so few were making proper use of the still fledgling Internet, Bale's hot new site stood out like a shining cyber-beacon, attracting thousands of new fans who, soon calling themselves Baleheads, got together in chat-rooms and shrines, spread information and made plans. They began to bombard Hollywood studios and magazines with letters lobbying for their hero, they turned Newsies into a thoroughly unexpected video hit, they even organised Bale conventions (often these would be Rocky Horror-style Newsies conventions, with participants in full costume). Soon Christian would be one of the Internet's biggest stars, bigger than Tom Cruise, bigger than Christian Slater - even though he'd never carried a hit movie. Incredible.
Bale's new position would be confirmed the following year, 1995, when he returned to Disney to lend his voice to Pocahontas, with Mel Gibson as the heroic adventurer John Smith. Christian would play Thomas, Smith's keen young friend, bewildered by the greed of the settlers and the nature-loving ways of the Algonquins, who shoots Gibson's love rival, inadvertently endangering his buddy. Next he'd audition for Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet, so successfully he almost caused Luhrmann to cast him in the role of Mercutio, a part intended for a black actor.
As it was, Bale would stick with the classics, taking a more testing role in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. Set in 1890s London, this would see Bob Hoskins as the agent of the title, a part-time pornographer paid by Tsarist Russians to infiltrate anarchist cells and reluctantly getting involved in a terrorist bombing. Hoskins' wife would be played by Patricia Arquette, a young girl who's attached herself to Hoskins purely to gain protection for Christian, playing her younger brother, a 19-year-old with a mental age of 8. Following Prince Of Jutland, this was more proof that Bale intended to push himself to the limit as an actor, gladly playing retarded or severely disturbed individuals. Also featured in the movie were Jim Broadbent, Robin Williams and Gerard Depardieu - surely Bale was now the best-connected 21-year-old in Hollywood.
Christian's status as the thinking girl's crumpet would not be harmed by his next outing, Portrait Of A Lady, written by Henry James and directed by Jane Campion. Here Nicole Kidman would star as a rich American travelling in Europe in the 1800s, who's tricked by one former Bale co-star - Barbara Hershey - into marrying another - John Malkovich - who only wants her for her money. Malkovich's daughter, meanwhile, has fallen for Bale's Edward Rosier, a fashionable fop and drama queen who daddy immediately rejects as a suitable suitor. Christian flies into an almighty strop and cannot hide behind his usual pretentious detachment as he's genuinely fallen in love. Once a twit, now he's desperate, passionate, and losing.
Interestingly, Bale's role in Portrait Of A Lady was fairly short, only four or five scenes, but his character's talked about so much by the leads that he seems more prominent. He would, though, be the main protagonist in his next film, an adaptation of Julian Barnes' Metroland. Here he played Chris, a former photographer who enjoyed affairs, drugs and revolution in Sixties Paris but is now settled in the London suburbs of the late Seventies with straight-laced Emily Watson. When an old friend shows up, asking him him to give up his cosy life and join him on the road, and undermining his marriage, he's forced to examine the choices he's made and still might make, and question his own notions of freedom and happiness. It was slow stuff, but thought-provoking, and well-played by Bale and the ever-excellent Watson.
Far faster, and much looser would be Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes' imaginative dive into the world of Seventies glam rock. Set up much like Citizen Kane, this saw Bale as an Eighties journalist conducting a series of interviews with friends, acquaintances and family to discover the truth about disappeared Bowie-style glam star Brian Slade, played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. At the same time the film would flash back to Bale's grim northern upbringing, and a sexual and social awakening brought about by Slade's taboo-busting antics. With Toni Collette as Slade's American catwoman of a wife and Ewan McGregor as an Iggy Pop-like rock wildman, Bale would dig beneath the mystique and make sense of his own past, a past including rampant rooftop buggery with McGregor. Clearly, Bale was still prepared to take risks - sadly, very, very few actors hoping for continued Hollywood success would take part in such a scene.
Christian's other release of 1998 would be yet another deliberately chosen test as he again took on the role of a mentally challenged youngster in All The Little Animals. Directed by Jeremy Thomas, a first-time helmsman though he'd produced projects by the likes of Roeg, Bertolucci and Cronenberg, this saw Bale as the slightly slow inheritor of a department store, a boy this time with a mental age of 12, fleeing from a cruel stepfather who's trying to have the boy committed, thus taking control of the business. Out in the countryside, Christian is taken in by oddball hermit John Hurt who spends his days burying roadkill and sabotaging those who would catch or kill wildlife (echoes of Bale's own environmentalist childhood here). As their relationship deepens, Hurt decides to adopt Bale, happiness beckons for both of them, but the step-father, a brilliantly brutal Daniel Benzali, has other ideas, cruelly decking the frail Hurt and threatening once more to have Bale incarcerated. It was a small film, but complex, fascinating and moving, dark but life-affirming. Interestingly, it was only the third time in 17 appearances to date that Christian was not in period costume.
But the costumes were out in full force for his next effort, Michael Hoffman's all-star adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This saw Michelle Pfeiffer's fairy queen Titania bewitched by Rupert Everett's Oberon into falling for Kevin Kline's Bottom, the mischief overseen by Stanley Tucci's naughty Puck. As Demetrius, Bale would take part in the parallel human confusion, where he's loved by Calista Flockhart but betrothed to Anna Friel, relationships that get ever more complicated as Oberon and Puck try to help out by squirting their love potion on all and sundry. Classic stuff, and Bale's first genuine comedy, very different from his next part when he braved the role of the Messiah in the TV film Mary, Mother Of Jesus. This would be a mum's eye view of the life of Jesus, with a modern take that saw Mary as an unwed mother in unforgiving times, witnessing her son's miracles, crucifixion and return from the dead. The risk here (with Bale, as already seen, there is usually a risk element) was that the film was originally set to star Madonna, a casting sure to provoke intense controversy. Madonna, however, would pull out late in proceedings, being replaced by Pernilla August, the Swedish art-house star who'd recently featured in the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace. Bale, too, might have appeared in that monster smash, but had been considered too old for the part of Anakin Skywalker.
For years now Bale had been delivering fine perfomances but, content to disappear into his characters and serve his films rather than promote himself, he was still not recognised as a major talent. What he needed was a showy starring role, and he certainly got that in his next movie - American Psycho. Based on Bret Easton Ellis's controversial best-seller, this concerned one Patrick Bateman, a New York yuppie obsessed with his body, clothes, gadgets, porn, top restaurants and the production quality of his business card. He also has a unusual hobby - murder - and he commits his crimes with no conscience at all, as if the selfishness of his lifestyle has pervaded every aspect of his being. It was an amazing role, and consequently of interest to most top-line stars. Though director Mary Harron had chosen Bale from the start and Christian was months into training, they were both bumped off the project when Oliver Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio (then, post-Titanic, the hottest property in the world) came calling. When their interest fizzled out (insanely, DiCaprio took The Beach instead) there was talk of David Cronenberg directing Brad Pitt, a delicious thought but one that came to nothing. So Harron was brought back and demanded her original Bateman be reinstated. When she was refused, Bale not being a big enough name, she threatened to walk and, finally, Christian got his job back. He would thus have been preparing for the role on and off for 18 months. And it showed.
What Harron wanted was a rare commodity, a young, good-looking actor who could disappear inside a character, however loathsome, and wouldn't mind being hated by the audience. After his risk-taking elsewhere, Bale was clearly her man, and he proved it with a performance of breathtaking brilliance, revealing Bateman to be a monster, a preening poseur and painfully vulnerable to boot. He was hilarious when in bed with two prostitutes and striking Tarzan poses in the bed-side mirrors. Even some of the killing was funny. And there was real menace as he circled the delicate likes of Cloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon and his former Little Women belle Samantha Mathis.
American Psycho was a hit, taking $34 million worldwide on a budget on $8 million. Bale's part in this was impossible to ignore and he zoomed up the Hollywood power-ladder. Things were changing. This was, after all, an actor who had never employed a publicist or indeed any other staff, other than his Canadian internet guy. And he got married, too, to Sandra Blazic, known as Sibi, a Chicago-born independent film producer of Yugoslav origins and a former model and make-up artist who'd worked as assistant to his close friend Winona Ryder (this is how they'd met, at one of Ryder's barbecues). Interestingly, Bale's father David also got married that year, 2000. And, considering the loud accusations of misogyny fired at Bret Easton Ellis on the release of American Psycho, it was incredible to think David's new wife was none other than arch-feminist Gloria Steinem.
Personally speaking it was looking good for Bale. Sibi would travel with him on location from now on, and the couple would be blessed with a baby girl, Emmaline, in 2005. But there would be one major note of sadness when David, just three years into his new marriage, would die of a brain lymphoma. He was only 62.
Career-wise, American Psycho would be the making of Christian Bale, in terms of finance and recognition, at least. Early footage from the movie had been seen by the producers of a new update of blaxploitation classic Shaft, and Bale was hired to play Walter Wade Jr, a smarmy rich man's son involved in drugs and vice, who murders a black kid and skips the country after gaining a dodgy bail, incensing Samuel L Jackson's titular tough cop. When Bale returns to America, Jackson comes after him and the action heats up. With Bale's Velvet Goldmine co-star Toni Collette as the waitress witness to his crime, and Jeffrey Wright as a drugs kingpin with whom Bale shared some memorable scenes, the movie was a sizeable hit. It would lead Christian into another major production, an adaptation of Louis De Bernieres bestseller Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Here he'd play Greek fisherman Mandras, engaged to local doctor's daughter Penelope Cruz (daddy being played by his former co-star John Hurt). As WW2 rages, Christian decides to join the Greek army and battle the invading Nazis, leaving Cruz to gradually fall for Nicolas Cage, the leader of an Italian holding force on their little island. Again he did a good job, as an ill-educated but passionate workman, but the movie lacked heart - many arguing that this was because much of the book's interest lay in the parallel tale of Mandras's war-time struggles and revelations, a tale the movie ignored completely.
2002 would be a busy year in terms of Bale releases. First would come Laurel Canyon, where Bale he'd play an uptight Harvard psychiatry student who takes his biologist girlfriend (Kate Beckinsale, his princess bride in Prince Of Jutland) to Hollywood, to stay at the home of his mother, Frances McDormand, a free and easy record producer. They arrive, however, to find McDormand still ensconced and enjoying top-notch nookie with a much younger British rock star, Alessandro Nivola. Naturally, they're horrified by the prevailing laissez-faire attitudes to pretty much everything, but Beckinsale is gradually seduced into joining McDormand and Nivola while Bale gets it on with a sensual Natascha McElhone, a colleague at the psychiatric hospital. It was interesting stuff, if a little over-written, and dominated by another exceptional performance by McDormand.
For the rest of the year it would be futuristic action all the way. Reign Of Fire, set in 2020, would see the Earth dominated by giant fire-breathing dragons, with Mankind driven underground. Christian would play Quinn Abercromby, reluctant leader of the resistance, who's tortured by the fact that it was he, years before, who inadvertently released the dragons from their subterranean cavern, causing the death of his mother (the wonderful Alice Krige) and the subjugation of Humanity. Desperate to preserve the lives of his people, he exercises caution in all things, thus coming into direct conflict with heroic dragon-slayer Matthew McConnaughey who just wants to get out there and kick scaly ass.
Where Reign Of Fire was an expensive B-movie, Equilibrium was like Brave New World choreographed by Jet Li. Set after WW3, this saw a society where, in order to end all wars, every citizen is taking the emotion-dampening drug Prozium. To ensure that no one gets excited, the people are watched over by a police group called the Clerics, empowered with the right to kill any Sense Offenders. Bale would play top Cleric John Preston, wholly dispassionate even when his own wife is incinerated. But he has a secret failing, he loves poetry, and his hidden feelings gush illegally forth when he meets and falls for Emily Watson (earlier his wife in Metroland). It was a fascinating premise, but the strong anti-totalitarian message got a tad buried under the weight of all the gunfights and martial arts extravaganzas. The bodycount was high at 236, with Christian singlehandedly accounting for 118 of them.
As Equilibrium, Reign Of Fire and Shaft all failed to reach massive audiences, Bale remained well-thought-of but was still not a household name. He also claimed to be depressed, feeling that in taking Reign Of Fire and Equilibrium he had somehow betrayed his thespian vocation. That would all change come 2004 when he stunned art-house crowds in The Machinist and was announced as the next Batman. The Machinist was a tough project, for which Bale rather dangerously dropped down to 120 pounds. Here he played an insomniac factory worker, disliked by his fellow workers for his rigid rule-following, horribly lonely and troubled by his own imaginings. He's drawn to two women, one a waitress at an all-night diner, the other a hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh, a good match for the intense Bale), both of whom show him kindness. But can they save him before his sense of reality totally deserts him?
The Machinist saw Bale, by now well-practised in the art of playing the oddball, victim or outsider, at his very best. Somehow he drew us into the dark and claustrophobic world of Trevor Reznik (named after Trent Reznor, of the supreme goth band Nine Inch Nails) and made us care. The press went crazy but Christian, still very, very keen to protect his anonymity, kept his interviews to a minimum.
After lending his voice to a sorceror in the animated fantasy Howl's Moving Castle, he at last hit the big time with Batman Begins, with which director Christopher Nolan hoped to breathe new life into the franchise. This would concentrate on the early years of Bruce Wayne, from the traumatic murder of his parents, though his far-Eastern schooling in the ways of war to his transformation into the Caped Crusader and return to a crime-plagued Gotham City. Liam Neeson would play his teacher, Katie Holmes his love interest and his old hero Gary Oldman would appear as his friend in justice, the young Commissioner Gordon.
2005 would bring more accolades for his efforts in Terrence Malick's The New World, where Bale visited the Pocahontas story for the second time. Here he'd play John Rolfe, the first man to successfully export tobacco from America, as he helped build up the Jamestown settlement and tried to come to acceptable terms with the native tribes of overlord Powhatan. The movie would deal primarily with the love story of Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas and John Smith, an adventurer played by Colin Farrell, but it would be Bale, dour but loyal and honest, who'd marry her, a marriage that would sadly crumble. Very different would be Bale's next effort, Harsh Times, written and directed by David Ayer, who'd hit big as the writer of Training Day. The two films would be quite similar in that both see a youngster being led astray by a knowing, psychotic partner, Harsh Times had Gulf War vet Bale, turned down for his dream job in the LAPD, take young Freddy Rodriguez on a bender of drugs and petty crime. The movie would be a study in mental disintegration, as well as exploring the effect of war on the human psyche, and the usefulness of psychotics in government agencies.
2006 would see Bale pushing himself yet further. For Rescue Dawn he'd join a tough jungle shoot organised by the renowned Werner Herzog, playing the real-life Navy pilot Dieter Dengler who was assigned to a secret and illegal bombing mission over Laos. Shot down, he was captured, tortured and then survived a terrifying escape through the jungle, Bale at one point being hung up by his heels with an ants' nest on his head. It was not a war movie, rather a psychological study of Dengler's struggle and increasing fear - impressive and testing stuff. Bale would bring a similar intensity to his next picture, The Prestige, a superior period thriller and a reunion with Christopher Nolan. Here Bale and Hugh Jackman would play competing stage magicians in Edwardian London, both dealing in faked human transportation and both seeking the ultimate trick. Eventually their rivalry spins off into sabotage and far darker crimes, as the twists keep twisting. As with most of Nolan's work, it was intriguing and thoroughly entertaining.
Bale would enter another rivalry of sorts in James Mangold's 3:10 To Yuma, a remake of the classic 1957 western. Here Bale would take the Van Heflin part, playing a farmer who's lost a leg in the Civil War and the respect of his wife and son as he's failing to make a go of agriculture. Seeking something - he's not sure what - he joins a posse to take notorious robber Russell Crowe to a nearby town for transportation and winds up in a hotel room with the criminal as, outside, men plot to either kill Crowe or rescue him. The tension ratchets up as the titular train approaches, with Bale and Crowe both brilliant in their ongoing conversations, Crowe being both a merciless killer and student of human nature and Bale both a hero and a victim, a good man finally making his stand. The movie was a real boost for the western genre and even outdid the renowned original.
Bale's other release of 2007 was also impressive. This was Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, a study of the life and various incarnations of Bob Dylan, Haynes' using six different actors to portray aspects of the musician, from a little black boy, through Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger to Richard Gere. Bale would actually play Dylan twice, first as the Greenwich Village firebrand, performing The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll to farm-workers and flitting idiot cards into the street as Subterranean Homesick Blues plays in the background, then appearing as the born-again Dylan, with a tight afro and a preacher's spiel, performing I'm Pressing On to churchgoers. Bale was excellent in both incarnations, at first surly, playful and intense, then full of God's own righteousness.
For Bale, like the world's box offices, 2008 would be dominated by one movie. This was The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins and a reunion with both Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger. Here Bale's Batman would take on a new villain, Ledger's extraordinary Joker, a sociopath with a major criminal advantage - he simply doesn't care. As the action explodes around him, Bale would also suffer his eternal internal dichotomy - is his vigilante violence as reprehensible as the criminals', and doesn't new DA Harvey Dent, a stickler for the law, have the right idea? It was powerful stuff, an action movie with real depth, much of the depth being provided by some top-line performances, and it took off at the box office, taking approximately one billion dollars worldwide.
Though he had just starred in one of the biggest movies of all time, Bale still managed to stay out of the limelight. Even when, after the London premiere of The Dark Knight, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister (no charges were made), the story quickly flared and died. Bale would push this situation further in 2009 by starring in Terminator: Salvation, a high-budget return to James Cameron's immensely popular series, where Bale would play John Connor. Set in 2018, post-nuclear holocaust, the film would see him attempt to lead humans against the ruling machines. Hopelessly outnumbered and scraping an existence in a blasted landscape, he must face a reality that's far from the one predicted by his mother. Following this, he'd be back in the public eye with Michael Mann's Public Enemies, playing FBI Special agent Melvin Purvis as he chases down Johnny Depp's John Dillinger, as well as Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, in the crime-ridden 1930s.
With Public Enemies and the Terminator and Batman films, Christian Bale can be said to have risen to the very top of the Hollywood tree. Harsh Times, Rescue Dawn and I'm Not There further prove that he continues to test himself as an actor. Two things are sure. One is that he will continue his tough and risk-laden struggle to be accepted as one of Britain's finest screen actors. The other is that he'll keep getting the roles to do it. The Baleheads just won't have it any other way.