Following triumphant performances in "American Psycho" -- in which he played a deeply disturbed and ultra-violent socialite -- and "Equilibrium" -- in which he played what can most easily be described as a super ninja -- Christian Bale was identified by clever DC Comics fans as the plainly obvious and best choice to portray on screen one of the publisher's most enduring icons, the Batman. Warner Bros. Pictures gave audiences their wish in 2005, when Bale along with writer-director Christopher Nolan rescued the Batman movie franchise from limbo with "Batman Begins."
The studied retelling of Batman's origin went on to be hugely successful both critically and commercially, and saw Bale depict a grim, brooding and vengeful Bruce Wayne who endeavored to save the city of Gotham from total destruction at all costs, no matter how radical. At the expense of his own identity, home and happiness, Wayne's creation of the Batman did succeed in rescuing Gotham City -- or did it?
In this second of a series of interviews with the cast and crew of the "Batman Begins" sequel "The Dark Knight," CBR News along with other members of the press asked Christian Bale that question and more, discussing with the actor the theme of escalation, the work of his co-stars, his new costume, and how much fun it is to be Batman and beat the hell out of a lot people.
"Batman Begins" dealt heavily with the idea of trying to find the balance between revenge and justice. Along those lines, what has Batman come to terms with in "The Dark Knight?"
Well, obviously I won't tell you everything, but it's an evolution. Again, with [Christopher Nolan], he manages to make a blockbuster-sized, entertaining movie but there's a whole lot of thought behind it as well. There's a lot to carry away, there's a lot involving ethics -- if you wish to think about that beyond all of the action. [Batman's] somebody who is a little older and is coming tor realize that maybe he's not quite as in control as he'd believed himself to be.
Nolan discussed with us the theme of escalation, and that Batman's acitivites come with consequences. Is this something that Batman has to reconcile in the film, his role in the emergence of the Joker and other violence? Is he doing more harm than good? Is that a theme of this film?
Yes. Batman is having to take a look at himself, and while he knows his motives are good, he's having to question if he's part of the problem and not the solution.
You're playing at least three characters -- you're Batman, you're millionaire Bruce Wayne and you're the real Bruce Wayne? How do you approach each of them and with which are you the most comfortable?
This is the first time I've ever had a chance to reprise a role, so I'm very comfortable with all of them. It keeps it much more interesting for me to have the different levels I can play, as do the conversations between Chris and I about which one is which and who is where and what we agree and disagree on.
Are we going to see more of Bruce Wayne, the playboy millionaire, in "The Dark Knight?"
Well, that's always his cover. It's something that has to be there to make people never suspect that he's somebody would ever have the desire, belief, passion intelligence and capability to be Batman. He has to be this kind of ridiculous cliche of a playboy.
When you played Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," you said that you and director Mary Harron always tried to find one thing about the character that was ridiculous. There seems to be a little of that approach in the way you play the playboy Bruce Wayne. How do you find the one little thing to throw off kilter to give that character what he needs?
I think that for me, I can't play a character like [playboy Wayne] without finding him ridiculous. And I think everybody does find him ridiculous. Bruce Wayne himself finds it ridiculous. He gets a kick out of it, it's his one entertainment that he has in his life, performing this cliched character. It just is innately ridiculous, I don't have to do anything for it. Obviously, I don't want to imitate Bateman as Bruce Wayne, but they're both socialite idiots, really. For me, you just find some kind of a word or something like that you kind of hook him to. It's very enjoyable playing somebody ridiculous like that.
Do you really think Bruce Wayne enjoys that role? It seems quite sad that he's really sacrificed his own identity for this decadent fool.
There's various layers. Yes, he has sacrificed his life but not to the playboy character -- that's just a necessity of the life he's chosen -- but for Batman.
Is Batman the real person?
That's how I've always played it, yeah. That is how I view it, yes. That's the real him. The one that the public knows is the charade. And then there's the other one he will show only to Alfred and Rachel and nobody else gets to see that side. He's always had issues, he's not a pinup of a healthy psyche in the slightest. But within that, I can afford to allow him to enjoy it a little bit at times. But you're quite right, it is also very sad as well on a different level and we explore all of these things in this movie.
What can you tell us about your working relationship with Christopher Nolan?
Well it's our third movie now [following "Batman Begins" and "The Prestige"] and I'm very bloody happy. I think we've made some terrific movies. It's never tricky, but when you know each other so well -- and this kind of includes other actors, obviously Gary [Oldman] and Michael [Caine] and Morgan [Freeman] and crew as well -- it is just this kind of shorthand that you get. Chris and I almost just sort of grunt at each other now. He looks a certain way and I know what he means, he doesn't have to explain himself a whole lot and neither do I.
What inspires you the most about coming back? Is it the script, the actors, the characters?
It should be the whole package. And now with it being the third movie with myself and Chris, I don't have any questions about his ability to make a great movie. He always casts really well and always puts an emphasis with going with a good actor rather with a flavor of the month. He has a lot of integrity. So it's about being able to reprise a role for the first time for me.
Were you emboldened at all by the enormous success of "Batman Begins" in terms of trying new things with the character in "The Dark Knight?"
I wasn't timid at all [on "Batman Begins"] because I had a very strong idea of what I wanted to do and I really wasn't interested in doing anything else. I knew that either we'd be laughed at or it would work. I think it's less that I have more confidence in what we're doing, although I can see how other people have more confidence in it.
Does that impact how you perform for the camera?
No. It doesn't make any difference to me, really. I still recognize that we've got to invent something; that we've got to come up with something new. I think the worst thing that can happen is to get too comfortable and think, "Well, hey, we're accepted now. We don't have to come up with as much." You do. If anything, with a sequel, usually the problem is people start getting a little complacent about it.
It's nice, the energy of having a lot of people thinking you're not going to succeed. I always enjoy that, when people think, "That movie's going to fail miserably." I get quite a kid out of that. It's tougher for me to deal with when everybody thinks it's going to be a home run from the get-go.
What was it like seeing Heath Ledger in the Joker makeup for the first time?
It was fantastic. It's this kind of anarchic, sort of punk rock, druggy take on the Joker, which I think is definitely the best one I've ever seen.
Does he ad-lib at all in character in an effort to throw you -- and your character -- off?
He's not making an effort to throw me off. I like that and he knows that, and we're both actors who aren't completely happy within ad-libbing, so those moments, throwing me off, I think those are usually the best in movies -- when accidents happen.
There are a number of new players in this film.
They're all very good actors that Chris has hired with Heath and with Aaron [Eckhart] and with Maggie [Gyllenhaal], and usually I've found in my experience with good actors that they don't waste a lot of time with nonsense. They get on with it and all of them are very into the movie. I've really enjoyed my experience so far working with the three.
How do you like the new Batman costume?
If you have had to wear the first costume, then you'd love the new one as much as I do. Just being able to turn your head is something else when you've spent seven months not being able to do that. It's also lighter. You can move a whole lot more in this one than the first -- a whole lot. And it's a whole lot less hot.
Obviously, the Batcave is gone, with the Wayne Manor having burned down in "Batman Begins." What can you tell us about Bruce Wayne's new digs in "The Dark Knight?"
They're digs that anybody would be jealous of and that only a billionaire could manage.
Did you drive the Batpod yourself or is that all stuntmen?
It's early days on the film yet. I haven't yet, but I will. I don't want to embarrass myself with having to admit that I never got on the thing. [laughs]
What's the single coolest thing about being Batman? Getting to break lots of people's arms?
Oh, yeah. I'm very used to [being Batman]. I wasn't a fan of the comic books growing up. [Batman] is just a character to me that I am playing -- although on occasions, I will take a look at the graphic novels or see how other people react to [Batman]. And in those instances, I kind of allow myself to get a kick out of the fact that he's such an iconic character.
If you're talking day to day, I do actually love the kind of hazardous situations that you can find yourself in and I try to do as much of the stunt work that I can myself. I've got a fantastic stunt double and I couldn't even begin to do the things that he can do, but if I can give it a shot, I always will. And that has been a great experience. Stung experiences, dangerous situations, I love. I do get a kick out of that, I love the adrenaline rush.
Do you have a favorite gadget to work with in the role?
I do love the gauntlets. Like you were saying, I love the fighting scenes and the beating the crap out of the people. And otherwise for me it's not so much the gadgets as the Batpod itself or the Batmobile itself. Anything involving speed.
Have you had any interesting encounters with Batman fans?
I've got to say, I really haven't had the reactions I was expecting. I honestly thought that my life was going to be full of bar fights and things after playing Batman. I really did. Before, when I was on "Batman Begins," I would say to the martial arts trainers, "I need to learn this for the movie but for my life as well, because I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who are going to get a kick out of saying, 'Yeah, I took Batman. '" And I've had nothing but people being very polite and saying nice things and flattering things. There must be people who don't, but everybody I've spoken with seems to really enjoy and appreciate ["Batman Begins"]. I was a little surprised at how few people believed that we were going to be able tor resurrect [the Batman film franchise] because I had complete confidence in it. Maybe it was just me being in complete denial; I refused to accept that we weren't going to do it very successfully. But there's a lot of people who do seem to be real happy that is has risen again. I've not had any crazies.
Do kids recognize you as Batman?
No. It's all in the mask. All that happens is they tend to look a little confused and disappointed when people say, "Oh, this is Batman." They look at me like, "No it's not!" They either think their mum or dad has gone nuts and that I'm some kind of a fraud.
Despite the great lengths you've gone to in order to create a realistic and believable world for Batman, would you be interested in appearing in a "Justice League" film, alongside Superman and other such fantastical characters?
Well, it's like I say to Chris: I'll probably be doing this in dinner theatre somewhere in my 50s, so I won't knock it because who knows where I'll end up? [laughs]