SPOILER WARNING: This article contains mild spoilers for "The Dark Knight."
In preparing for the role of Batman, first in "Batman Begins" and now for this month's "The Dark Knight," actor Christian Bale was concerned with striking the right pitch for the character. "I met with [director] Chris [Nolan]. I had read Frank Miller's 'Batman: Year One,' I had read various other graphic novels," Bale told CBR News. "For the first time I'd seen something interesting in Batman which I'd never seen before, that was more the tone how I wished to portray him. I expressed that to Chris, he told me how he wanted to make the movie, it seemed very compatible and so he decided, yes, he would cast me for it," he recalled.
Bale believes he has stuck the correct truthful tone with his performance. "I feel like we've kind of gone back to its roots, when I've spoken with friends of Bob Kane, relatives, they've said, 'No, he meant this to be a very dark character.' He always viewed what Adam West did so well [positively], but he was spoofing Batman, he wasn't really playing Batman [in the 1960s television series]."
One aspect of the character that is toned down is Batman's borderline psychotic behavior. According to Bale, there is a powerful aspect of the character that keeps him in check. "Batman is having to maintain this discipline and a sense of order because he does have such a temptation for chaos, and for disruption and for violence, because he has this great shadow side born of the pain of the death of his parents, born for a need for revenge," the actor explained. "[Bruce Wayne's] creation of Batman has never been healthy for his own personal life."
In "The Dark Knight," this is expressed as "the one rule." Bale continued, "He has a great capability for violence and he's given himself this one rule [of not killing] precisely because he can see how very easily he could cross that line. Because of his inherited altruism and philanthropy from his parents he does not wish to cross that line, but he's always in conflict with himself about it."
The rule is put to the test by the presence of the Joker. "The Joker is the person who has managed to have him questioning his own ethics, more so than anybody up until now, and tempting him to break his own rule because he knows if he can break his own rule, he can possibly prevent the deaths of many of many other people," Bale said. "Is it in that case selfish to hold on to his principles? Should he break his own principles for that? And there are some wonderful ethical questions that come up in 'The Dark Knight.'"
Despite holding dangerous impulses in check, Batman is not above the application of force. In "The Dark Knight," one such scene features an interrogation between Batman and the Joker. "That was our very first scene [performed] together," Bale recalled. "It was a great way to start because also we were afforded the luxury for some part of that scene for being completely alone inside of that room with the cameras outside, with just mirrors surrounding us so that the two of us [were] able to be eyeballing each other and then any way we looked we would just see reflections of two freaks sitting at the table together."
Bale was impressed with seeing Heath Ledger's performance. "I was able to see for the first time how Heath was playing the Joker and in seeing Heath's commitment," Bale remembered. "Heath, man, he received some heavy bangs and bruises from that scene and he loved every second of it. He just adored it. He was egging me on for more. The walls were buckling in from doing that scene."
Director Christopher Nolan encouraged the actors to hit their limits. Bale, now a three-time veteran of Nolan productions (the two Batman films and 'The Prestige') continues to be a great admirer of the director's process. "I clearly have a great trust in his abilities and that he is going to be making a very smart and engaging movie," he said. Bale's admiration of Nolan is not blind, however. "It never stops me from questioning him, because everybody should have people questioning them around, nobody benefits from having yes-men around the place, but I've yet to come up with a question that he hasn't considered before I've asked it."
Bale also hopes that trust is mutual. "He does know that I'm the kind of actor that can arrive, and without him having to tell me anything, I will have my own opinion about how a scene should be shot and I will present it to him. And then the collaboration begins of him telling me, 'What the hell was that? What are you doing? You're missing the point' Or, 'Bang on! That was it. We got it, and we're moving on.' So I hope that he has the same trust in me that I do in him," Bale said.
That amount of trust allows Bale fun with the role; standing about Chicago, for instance. "How often am I going to get a chance to stand on the ledge of the Sears Tower, at a 110 stories down as Batman? It's unlikely that's going to happen again." Of course, Bale was harnessed securely to the building. "I don't exactly consider it a stunt, it was an experience," he said.
As for a third Batman film, the actor suggests he would be willing, but sees a great challenge set before them. "There have been a number of sequels that have surpassed the first movie. You look at 'Godfather Part II' and 'Empire Strikes Back,'" Bale said. "In my personal opinion, ['The Dark Knight'] passed the first [film.] There's not been many times where the third in a trilogy has managed to be the best, and I see that as a good enough reason to want to tackle it.
One aspect a potential third film Bale would require is the return of director Nolan. "I can't imagine doing this without Chris. I don't even want to consider that, because he's created this, this is his. No matter how much there are great performances, and no matter how much there's a great cast and everything, everything comes down to the director," Bale explained. "He cast those people; he's responsible for picking the right people for the right parts. He's responsible for the whole damn thing, if the movie works it's all due to Chris."
Now discuss this story in CBR's TV/Film forum.