Hours before he was arrested, we met Christian Bale in his London hotel suite to learn more about his Dark Knight alter ego.
Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, has been dogged by tragedy and controversy.
First came the high-profile death of Heath Ledger shortly after completing filming and then came news of the death of a member of the production team, during preparation for a stunt that went wrong.
Then, just as the film should have been celebrating its worldwide premiere in London, Batman himself, star Christian Bale, stole the headlines for his arrest following an alleged violent outburst involving his mother and sister in his suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
It is at this same hotel that I meet the former pupil of Hurst’s Dolphin School the day following the alleged incident, but before news of the supposed bust-up has leaked.
Tellingly, I find him a man distracted, whose gaze constantly shifts; he is unable or unwilling to maintain eye contact. In short, he seems uncomfortable. I put it down to the fact that he would rather not be here and is deeply affected by the loss of his friend Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker, rather than an indicator that something may have happened that he’d rather not talk about.
With Ledger’s performance being tipped for a posthumous Oscar, I wondered whether Christian had any sense on set that Ledger’s performance was something special and if Heath had shared with Christian anything about his approach to the role.
Christian, who counted Heath as a close friend, says: “I’d done one other movie with Heath before called I’m Not There [a Bob Dylan biopic] and, you know, he did an incredible job with The Joker, giving a portrayal that exceeds anything that has been done before with that character. [He took] an anarchic ‘Clockwork Orange’, punk rock approach to it.”
As for the Oscar buzz, Christian says: “You know, I just feel like an ass if I try to predict anything … things like awards are out of my hands, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with me. But I enjoyed watching him perform and I enjoyed seeing how much fun he had in his performance and how much he enjoyed himself during production.”
Christian is famous for his talent with accents and having been born in Wales, living in Bournemouth, Portugal and California along the way, it comes as no surprise that the British actor who started his career with a breakthrough starring role in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, adopts a different accent for nearly every role he plays.
During the interview, Christian’s voice veers from a well-spoken English accent with a hint of Welsh to an American lilt and finally a broad Cockney tone, possibly influenced by working with Sir Michael Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight.
Ah yes, Sir Michael Caine. So what was it like having a real knight wait on him on set? “He doesn’t make for a bad butler,” Christian jokes.
Although Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s butler, he is also almost like a father for Wayne and according to Christian, this “duality” is a theme that echoes throughout the film.
“It’s in keeping with the rest of the movie where there are some very interesting characters,” he says. “There’s a duality I think, to a degree, to Alfred’s role. He is Bruce’s butler but he is his transferred father figure at the same time so there [are] some very positive roles that he is playing there.
“You know, Bruce no longer has an older male figure to look up to for advice except for Alfred and possibly Lucius Fox [Morgan Freeman’s character in the film].”
Returning to the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman marks the first time that Bale has ever reprised a role and apart from the chance to work once again with the likes of Michael Caine and the film’s director Christopher Nolan, there was plenty that appealed to Christian about taking on the role again, not least the chance to get involved in some truly spectacular stunts.
Christian says: “We had this great fighting method – the Keysi fighting method – which I already knew very well [from the first film] so I was able to do much more of the fighting myself even though I got a phenomenal stunt double. “I’m more than happy to let him jump off five-storey buildings and land on cars and smash into concrete pillars and get burned and things like that [but I got to] go up the top of the Sears Tower and stand in a Batsuit and look down on Chicago and having a helicopter coming very close – two inches might be an exaggeration on my part – but how often am I going to get a chance to do that again? Probably never.”
With a reputation for being a little difficult sitting alongside the recent allegations about what may or may not have happened in that hotel room, the duality in Bruce Wayne and the internal struggles he faces are quite possibly mirrored in Bale and you might speculate that this is one of the reasons Christian was keen to portray Batman.
Indeed, he is so drawn to the character that the rumour mills are buzzing with talk of him returning for a third turn as the Caped Crusader. He also speaks about the character in some depth and with what you might interpret as something akin to reverence, or at the very least, fascination.
Talking about the balance of good and evil in Bruce Wayne, Christian says: “He has this inherited altruism which he wants to uphold but blended with the pain that we saw in Batman Begins, you know, the origins of the story; this angry young man, very naïve, trying to effect some good and realising that he’s absolutely useless in doing so.”
For Bale, it is this aspect of Batman that has always been interesting for him, compared to other superheroes. He explains: “He has no superpowers, unless you include money as being a super power. He’s very human, he’s at war with himself. He has this altruistic side and then he has this really shadowy side as well which is very violent, very bent on revenge and which he has to keep in check. "
"This is why he has this rule he will not kill which, to me, he has because he is very, very tempted to break that rule especially when he comes across an adversary like The Joker. He is tempting him to break that rule and show everybody that at some point, everybody’s principles mean nothing. And Batman is having to evaluate; is it a selfish principle? By killing this man he could be saving many others.
[He examines] the ethics of: ‘Am I being selfish or am I doing good?’” Struggling to describe his captivation with the character of Batman, Christian adds: “Chris [Nolan] has been able to make a movie that is at once very entertaining and a blockbuster movie but that also has all these ethical questions and it makes you feel very humble.”
A good proportion of the millions of people worldwide that have felt compelled to see The Dark Knight for Heath Ledger’s much-discussed Oscar-tipped performance would do well to also take note of Christian’s tortured turn. A more subtle performance than Ledger’s flamboyant villain and drawn perhaps from his own personal and internal conflicts, his role as The Dark Knight underlines the supreme talent of the Welsh-born actor with no formal training and has propelled him, not before time, to A-List status and mainstream success.