The actor talks about the necessity of mystery, Christopher Nolan, and James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma
Christian Bale seems like one of those actors who was born to be a movie star. Starring in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun at the age of 13, Bale went on to tackle interesting roles in a host of other films before eventually solidifying his box office bankability in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. The success of that project brought Bale and Nolan together again for the highly anticipated, magic themed thriller, The Prestige.
The Prestige is a movie woven out of the stuff of illusions and co-stars Hugh Jackman. In this twisting, turning tale of urgent mystery, two Victorian-era magicians (Bale and Jackman) spark a powerful rivalry that builds into an escalating battle of tricks and an unquenchable thirst to uncover the other's trade secrets. As these two remarkable men pit daring against desire, showmanship against science and ambition against friendship, the results are dangerous, deadly and definitely deceptive.
Did you come away from this movie as an accomplished magician?
Christian Bale: No, I thought I would but I'd be the crappiest party entertainer you could ever believe. I can start a few tricks and I can end a few, but I can't take any right through. I like very much that our advisers on the film did that because a whole part of the movie is the necessity of mystery, and that's really been maintained. Their attitudes... they actually asked them, what did they think about those magicians who kind of exposed everything and they said they liked it because what it meant was anybody who was just imitating other people, their careers were finished. They said the true magicians are the ones who create their own tricks. It kind of sorts the men from the boys.
There's a line my character has in the movie where he says, "The mystery is everything. Once you tell people how it's done you mean nothing to them any longer." It's absolutely true. The tricks that I did learn, how they were done, it was so bloody annoying to find out how they were done. They're annoying because you're annoyed that you weren't able to work it out, because they tend to end up being incredibly simple. The ones I really loved... is the slight of hand because you know the commitment that that takes. You know the years of practice that that takes to do it just flawlessly, and with those tricks they're even more impressed when you know how they're done.
Christopher Nolan's films deal with perception and identity. Is that one of the things that draws you to them?
Christian Bale: He just finds so many interesting angles to things. I don't know if you've read the book to The Prestige, but this is considerably different. Personally, I just love what he's done with it. I love how he saw his material but he knows how to create a twist in it in terms, to me, to create more intrigue. He's such a sharp director. He really has thought every little thing through. I tend to be the same. I love analyzing it and trying to pick apart the problems, and well, maybe on the tenth viewing someone's gonna notice this and is that problem?
He has this incredible ability, which I don't have, to see things filmically. To understand that things don't matter. Logically and in life they can matter, but it is very true. A lot of times in movies there are times where it just doesn't matter. This whole thing is obviously to do with perception and the necessity of mystery, especially my character, not only for his livelihood but for his life.
Is it enough to have the characters you play or is there a magic trick saying you have to bring more to it?
Christian Bale: To me it's just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Is that necessary for me to do for a movie to work? You don't want to ruin the whole effect of the movie just because I'm insisting I don't need to bring that, or I do need to bring that. You do have to step back on occasions and ask a director, "Okay, look is this going to ruin the rhythm?" I feel you can't help but bring certain things to characters that maybe you didn't intend to. That also goes down to which takes are chosen. You can do so many different takes and so many different things in them, and never know which ones are going to be used for the movie.
I also don't object to having a character who does not have to be likable in the slightest. I don't feel that that's a necessity in the slightest for making a successful movie. With whatever you deem to be success.
Do you see a comparison between what your character does as a magician and what you do as an actor?
Christian Bale: I think that the mystery is something that really should be maintained with both. I think it's also boring as hell to hear an actor talk about how he acts. I don't really care, do you? I don't care if he turns up drunk on set and hasn't even read the script. If he does the job than that's fantastic. Or, if he has to go live in the 1700s for a few months to understand what it's like to walk out of the house for one scene, great as well. Whatever you need to do, you know? It's quite an eccentric job and you get to be able to do those things without people sticking you in an asylum or whatever.
My personal feelings, I don't like all these DVD extras and things you get nowadays. I feel like if people want to know they should have to search it out. Instead of having it handed to them on a plate, you know? I think it should be a smaller world of people who actually know the way things are done, because there's very few things in life where you actually more impressed by them once you discover the inner workings.
When doing a movie like The Prestige do you need a log to keep yourself oriented as an actor?
Christian Bale: Absolutely, I sat down with Chris beforehand and I created a chart. It was really just about clarity before we started filming, so that once we did do it we weren't going to have to sit there discussing certain details. That allowed for us to be able to plant little clues. Which would be irrelevant to anybody watching the first time, but could be very enjoyable for anybody watching the movie a second time. For me, all preparation is like that. With this one we needed to get a certain number of answers, to get some clarity at least between Chris and myself which was not needed for the audience to be clear about.
Who inspired you to be an actor?
Christian Bale: There was never any notion of it being something bigger. For me it was about going smaller and looking at real little details. Being very up close in your viewing of things. In the same way if you've lost a sense of purpose in life... it's the very small things that help you get up on your feet. It's not big grandiose notions. It was just discovering early on that I really liked this kind of dissection. I liked the empathy of putting yourself in other people's shoes. I found it interesting in all walks of life. Not just with acting but in anything.
On top of that, I did have an unconventional upbringing in that, things that other people thought to be pie in the sky dreams, in my household was thought to be absolutely realistic and why not go for it? Better to fail, really trying for something that you feel passionately about, than to settle for something that you can give or take.
What do you have coming up next?
Christian Bale: It's called 3:10 to Yuma. It's based on an Elmore Leonard short story. It's a remake but with many changes. In my opinion greatly improved. It's directed by James Mangold.
The Prestige opens nationwide on October 20 from Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros.