Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Understanding of Christian Bale

Christian Bale has become a figure of some scorn, lately, likely stemming from the on-set rant that was recorded and leaked to the internet. I confess, I never saw it as so much of a breach of etiquette as others did. It seemed like an emotional explosion, yes, but I also understood how it feels to be an actor, trying to perform, and having someone, anyone in eyeline, or earshot, doing things that are distracting.

I can't tell you what it's like to have someone walk into a theatre late, while I'm in the middle of a scene, or open an annoyingly loud candy wrapper. Obviously, the latter is totally unconscious, no one expects such a small thing to make a sound that carries everywhere in the space, but it does.

The former, however? It's rude.

My understanding of the scene with Bale was that this DP was prone to walking into his eyeline to move lights constantly. Bale had spoken to the director about this, and yet it continued. Was he over the top? Hell, yes, but there is a certain amount of disrespect for an actor's work in what was happening. At the time, I didn't even think Bale should apologize, but my feeling there softened.

The thing about Bale, the one thing that comes across is that he is uncompromising. It's what makes his performances great, but it's also what would instigate the kind of reaction we all heard in that tape.

Thing is, I admire the hell out of that.

I just read this interview for Esquire magazine. You should really go check it out, because a lot of what I'm going to talk about is based on comments he makes in that interview.

I'm sure it'll stir up a few more calls of "Bale is an asshole." I think that's being pretty closed off to what the man is saying, and the stand he is taking about himself as a "celebrity" or "personality," and how that relates to his work as an actor.

As I read it, I completely understood his desire to control the way he's presented to the public, and how much of himself he allows us to see. To him, creating a character isn't about showing parts of himself, it's about building a false persona to fulfill the needs of the story being told. In his mind, he's not here to get the audience to react to "Christian Bale," but to "Bruce Wayne," or "Dickie Eklund," or "Dan Evans." Who Bale is isn't even an issue, because, in his mind, he's never shown us anything of himself.

Now, I think that's an extreme, and I also think it's a false assumption. I don't think it's possible for an actor to completely divorce himself from the role he is playing. You're building this person from the building blocks you have available, which is your own life and personality. You can place yourself in completely alien physical and emotional environments, but it's still you making the choices. No matter how much effort you expend to take yourself out of the picture...the judgments you make are still from your experiences.

It's a bit of a rabbit-hole, I know. I'm sure even Bale, outside of a public interview, would have to admit that there is something of himself in the roles he plays. The point he makes, however, and I really agree, is that acting is not psychotherapy, and far too many people try to act like it is. Frankly I think actors sometimes get so wrapped up in themselves and their own emotions, they lose the track on simply playing the damn part.

I love this bit from the interview;
I'm not on a couch having therapy. And it's very limiting if I have to be able to relate every damn thing in somebody else's life to something that's happened in mine. At the end of the day, I'm faking it. Pure imagination, and it's only phony if you don't go far enough with it. You can become obsessive and it can get to the point where you're almost losing yourself. You've become a vessel. And holy shit, things start happening. And I'm hating the way I'm sounding right now, because I sound like a tosser, but that's my secret ambition.
 I completely understand what he's getting at, and I do, truly, share that ambition. The feeling that happens when you've given so much of yourself to the character, and the character has given so much to you, that the choices and reactions are all immediate and effortless. "Taking flight" as my old teacher Jeff Green used to call it.
The whole interview is full of ridiculously wonderful bon mots about his work, if you look. For one, I found the multiple attempts to get the interviewer to call the real Dickie Ecklund, and make the interview about him, to be hilarious, and revealing. Bale is supposed to sell the movie, he makes it clear in the interview that it's happening because of a commitment to the studio;
No, it's simpler than that. I want to be able to just act and never do any interview, but I don't have the balls to stand up to the studio and say, "I'm never doing another interview in my life!" So I tip my hat and go, "Okay mister! All right mister! I'll go do the salesman job!"
 I'm sure, in Bale's mind, an interview with Dickie would be much more about the character and the film than anything Bale could say. It's also right in line with his philosophy of shifting things away from "Christian Bale," and to the character. Here, playing a real, living person, he has a perfect target to shift the attention to, the actual fucking guy. The character, the work, is important, not what kind of beer Bale likes to drink.

By far the most amusing thing to me was the interviewer's (John H. Richardson) grousing about Bale's insistence that the interview be published as a Q & A, rather than a prose piece. I honestly found this to make Richardson look worse than Bale. He seems so fixated on it, so angry or upset that he doesn't get to interpret Bale's answers for his readers. It almost makes you feel Bale's resistance is justified. 

But the best bit? The thing that really makes me smile? There's Bale, in reference to yet another snarky remark about having to write in Q & A form, and he says;
You don't feel like I'm allowing you to do a good story? I'm inhibiting your process? I'm inhibiting your talents? 
It's such a nice little comment, because, you see, in submitting to the interview, Bale feels the same way.

1 comment:

  1. I will never call Christian Bale an asshole. Even if he is. But ... I've read all of these articles, listened to the DP rant, etc, etc, and I still feel warm and fuzzy towards him. Why? I love him. I love him so. This love has been unconditional and has been going on since 6th grade when I first saw Empire of the Sun, continued on through Newsies, and was firmly cemented with American Psycho. *sighing and swooning* So handsome, that man. So. Handsome.