Since his much-ballyhooed debut at the age of thirteen in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Christian Bale has produced consistently solid work in films like Henry V, Swing Kids and Velvet Goldmine. Earlier in 2000, he drew rave reviews for his portrayal of Yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman in the long-awaited adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. He again plays a murderous Yuppie in Shaft.
Shaft is Christian Bale’s first big budget studio pic, but the young actor already has a huge cult following. He is one of the most downloaded male celebrities on the Internet and has garnered praise as one of the “Most Creative People in Entertainment” by Entertainment Weekly and one of the “Hottest Leading Men Under 30" by Premiere.
Bale joined us to discuss Shaft, American Psycho and working with Steven Spielberg.
What sort of impact did the original Shaft have on you?
I was born in 1974 in Wales, so there was not a lot of cultural impact… or video stores. I really knew the theme tune before I knew much about the movie. Most of my friends in Europe have probably heard the theme tune, but have never seen the movie. I knew who Richard Roundtree was, but I didn’t see the original movie until a week before we started filming this one.
I thought Shaft was a nutcase in the movie. You have to question his sanity throughout the movie. I mean, the way he goes, ”Ha, Ha, Ha.” He calls up his girlfriend and the middle of the night and says, “I was born poor, and I was born black.” And slams the phone down. You think “Who the f*ck is this guy?!” It is a really entertaining movie. I looked at it and thought it was pretty cliché. It has really become cliched because it has had so many imitators. It was sort of the inventor of that style of movie. I thought it was hilarious. I think this Shaft has a lot of tongue-in-cheek throughout it.
So, how do you prepare to go toe-to-toe with Sam Jackson?
There’s sort of an intensity that you allow yourself to have in action movies where there is a bit more energy that you have for a dramatic role. Subtleties are not required too much. You can get away with more of a “performance,” which is actually good for it. That’s really necessary because Sam’s a big guy and quite an imposing guy and as Shaft he becomes even more so. I had to look like someone who could be a worthy adversary to him, so there was really a challenge for that.
Can you comment on John Singleton as a director?
John has been wanting to do this for a long time, and he was very enthusiastic about it. For me, it was simple because the more of a prick I was the bigger the smile on John’s face. It was very clear to me what my job was. For me, I am use to doing much smaller budget movies. This was really quite a monster movie compared to what I am used to in every way. I think the director has much more to deal with in terms of pressure. You have to really have your head on straight.
How difficult is it to maintain an American accent throughout the movie?
I’ve had to do a different accent for every movie that I’ve ever done. I find that maintaining it puts me more at ease and it makes it easier for it to be second nature. It helps to define the performance depending upon how you sound. I just enjoy maintaining it on set, so that I am not having to think about it when we’re actually filming.
Were there any scenes that you were disappointed didn’t make the final cut?
There were a lot of different changes made with my character -- in editing as well. There was going to be a big showdown scene with Shaft, and me, which we actually filmed with the two of us beating the crap out of each other. That was actually my favorite day of filming. For whatever reason, it was left out. It didn’t make the cut.
You’ve done two violence-themed movies--Shaft and American Psycho--back-to-back. ..
Well, these are two very different movies. There is actually much more violence in Shaft than there is in American Psycho, which is a much creepier movie. Everybody talked about American Psycho as though it was this incredibly violent movie, but what actually was onscreen was not at all. It was more insinuated. I’ve never done an action movie before, but you certainly get a lot people getting shot. It’s more like a comic book really. Good or bad, it’s not something that you stop to think about, whether or not these people are being shot. It has kind of a Batman BAM! POW! nature to it.
Shaft’s practically a vigilante. You can’t deny that I’m a prick in this movie. I show no sign of remorse. I don’t think the movie is saying, “Hey everybody go out and shoot somebody if you don’t like them.” I don’t think the movie is saying that. The system is not always going to be there, and I think it’s sort of a “wishful” film. Everybody wishes there were things they could do where the bad guys get theirs. That doesn’t always happen.
Speaking of wish fulfillment, do you entertain the idea of working with Spielberg again, a decade or more since Empire of the Sun?
That would be something that I would love to do. I’d be interested to see if he has seen American Psycho because I believe that would change his viewpoint. I can’t help but feel that Steven is always shocked that I’m not wearing shorts and a school cap, and I’m not thirteen anymore. It’s a bizarre thing because I’ve grown up a fair amount.
So you still talk with Spielberg?
Oh yes. We always keep in touch, like Christmas and birthdays. I recently spoke to him at the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award. It was for his anniversary for 30 years in film. He had a dinner for that. He’s always kept in touch.
Until Spielberg comes calling, what are you working on?
I’m making a movie over in Cafalonia, Greece called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin with Nicholas Cage. It’s based on a book by Louie Deburnea. It was a bestselling book, a love story set during WWII in Greece. I play this character called Mandras. He’s a Greek fisherman. He’s a local boy who gets caught up in the whole war and it basically ruins his life.
Did you develop a Greek accent?
Actually, I was told to say clear of Zorba dialect coaches and just being out there helped a lot.
Do you get recognized more since American Psycho?
I’m recognized more, but it’s less enthusiastic.
And with Shaft, you’ll be recognized even more…
I certainly hope so. This is a much more mainstream kind of a movie than American Psycho. If it means that I will get more scripts and offers, then fantastic. I’ve been doing this for sixteen years.
So, you’re looking forward to doing more big budget action flicks?
I got to spend four months in New York and hardly work at all and get paid very nicely. NO! I would never do another movie like that! (laughs). Of course, I would love to do this. I’m not snobbish about doing action movies. I love action movies. I absolutely want to do as many different type movies as possible.