Christian Bale gains 40 lbs, shaves head, dyes eyebrows blond for new role
LOS ANGELES—He’s 40 pounds heavier, with a shaved head and his eyebrows dyed blonde. I would have never guessed that this man walking into a Four Seasons Hotel meeting room was Christian Bale. Only those expressive eyes made me recognize the actor.
“I am working on ‘Backseat’ with Adam McKay,” explained the actor, in a loose shirt and pants, about his look. He’s playing former US vice president Dick Cheney in the biographical drama described as “the story of the most powerful vice president in history, and how his policies changed the world as we know it.”
“I’m a canvas because they need to reshape my face and do my hair differently almost every single day,” he added about his look, which makes him almost unrecognizable. “We’re more than halfway through it already.”
In the meantime, Chris gives another riveting performance in Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles,” a drama set in 1892 about an army captain (Christian) who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal land in Omaha.
The movie, which reunites the actor with Q’orianka Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s “A New World,” also stars Rosamund Pike and Timothée Chalamet.
Scott talked about Christian’s willingness to transform himself in each role. “I wrote my second film, ‘Out of the Furnace,’ for Christian. I wrote ‘Hostiles’ with Christian in mind. He embodies characters in ways that most actors don’t. As you can see, Christian is a very vanity-free actor.”
The director commented about Christian’s preparation to play Cheney in the other movie, “Backseat.” “There aren’t many actors who will gain 40 pounds, shave their heads, and dye their eyebrows, and he’s impossibly handsome. A lot of actors and movie stars want to perpetuate that movie star persona.
“Christian can often be misunderstood. People think that he’s this brooding and intense actor. I know him as an incredible husband and father, someone who’s well-liked and can easily laugh.”
Yes, Christian also tended to be brooding at interviews many years ago. But in recent years, the man who started as a child actor in his native England has become an engaging and engaged interviewee, with eyes beaming with mirth most of the time.
Christian voices Bagheera in “The Jungle Book,” the live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel directed by Andy Serkis.
Excerpts from our chat:
In a previous interview, you said you turned down a role because you had health concerns about losing and gaining weight again, as you did in several roles. But you gained weight again for your Dick Cheney role. Did you find a healthier way to gain weight? I did. I educated myself. I had never gone to a doctor or a nutritionist about gaining or losing weight. Eventually, that caught up with me. When I did “The Machinist,” I came up with the absolutely brilliant method—which all doctors say is incredibly healthy (laughs)— by just smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey to lose weight.
Then, in the project that you’re talking about, I tried once again to do it my way. Now in my 40s, my way wasn’t working quite as well. I was waking up with heart palpitations and just not feeling right at all. So, I said I can’t [do that movie].
Finally, I decided that maybe somebody knows better than I do on how to do this.
What do your wife and daughter think of your weight gain? Oh, they’re just used to me all over the place. They don’t bat an eyelid anymore about it.
“Hostiles” reunites you with Q’orianka Kilcher since you costarred in “The New World.” I first met Q’orianka—actually, I didn’t meet her, she didn’t know—I watched her on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and she was a performer (a busker) there. It was before we made “The New World.” My wife and I would walk up there and watch her sing. We said that there’s this incredible girl who has the most amazing energy about her and voice.
Then, Terry (Terrence) Malick said they had an exhaustive search (for Pocahontas) and found this wonderful girl whose name is Q’orianka Kilcher. They showed me a picture and I went, I know her!
In making this film, what did you learn about the Native American way of life? There was one thing that I found almost offensive. Sometimes, there’s a patronizing attitude toward it. Almost as if it’s become a gimmick. It’s still eternally relevant in terms of understanding love, breaking down divides and everything we’re seeing so much of every day in the news which, I confess, completely blindsided me.
In that respect, it encompasses every walk of life, every race. I became familiar mostly with the Northern Cheyenne. But, no matter how skeptical you might be about it, there are practical elements to it that are essential in getting through your life day to day and in not losing hope in spite of all the bad news we’re surrounded by nowadays.
What’s it like for you to now have both a son and a daughter? They’ve both been absolutely wonderful. They are my life. I’m a little bit, though not intentionally, reclusive. My life is my family outside of work … they keep me very nicely grounded.
At this stage in your career, what do you love and hate about your job as an actor? What I love the most is being able to behave in an obsessive manner, but not get committed (laughs). You certainly get away with a lot in that respect. That is extraordinarily enlightening at times. It’s the highs and the lows of something that you are obsessed with, really.
Likewise with any obsession, I’m constantly debating, I never want to do this ever again.
The last time we talked, Chris Cornell was still with us. He wrote the theme song for your movie, “The Promise.” Music has been one of the most important parts of my life. I’m never not listening to it. Chris Cornell was someone who lived and breathed music. It was a great privilege to get to know him, albeit very briefly, before his tragic death.
What’s next for you? I like not knowing what’s next. I look back and there’s a lot of bad films in there, isn’t there? And there are some really good ones, as well. It’s a team effort.
I don’t regret any of that. Acting has given me an incredibly interesting life. I get to travel and meet wonderful people, compared to the life I would have had without that.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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