There’s something going on with Christian Bale’s voice.
The mercurial star, who came in for criticism for giving Batman a gravelly growl, now gives interviews in a strong south London accent.
If you listen to Bale being interviewed way back as a 13-year-old after he starred in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, his voice is more Home Counties cricket club.
At other times, journalists who have interviewed him have been treated to accents, from broad Brooklyn to Smallville American.
And he delivered his infamous real-life rant on the set of Terminator Salvation in the same US accent of his character John Connor.
The changing accents is just one example of the fact Bale is an actor who loves the art of disguise.
His choice of roles has also borne that out.
He made his first indelible mark on the screen as Jim in 1987’s Empire Of The Sun, playing a fearless, ebullient British boy separated from his parents when the Japanese invaded Shanghai.
Even in that, it looked as if he lost weight to portray life in a prison camp – he got more and more gaunt and pale as the film went on.
As an adult, he stripped away his hard-earned muscle to play insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, shedding 63lbs (4 1⁄2 stone) by subsisting on coffee, water and an apple a day for four months.
He lost weight again playing a prisoner of war in the Vietnam drama Rescue Dawn – and he got seriously bulked up for his Batman roles.
In American Hustle, the real-life ballooning belly and man-tits his conman carries are real.
And they got so big Bale’s daughter started to tease him about having boobs.
For his role as Moses in Exodus: Gods And Kings, released on Boxing Day last year, you’d have thought Bale would have wanted to throw himself in at the deep end again in the physical department.
But for once, he decided to steer clear of any bodily transformation.
And – more significantly for method man Bale – he also decided not to stay in character on set.
It wasn’t because transforming himself into a bearded Biblical hero was too much effort.
It was because he was afraid that being as volcanic and furious as the Moses on screen off set would have been far too damaging to his relationships in reality.
Bale’s rants about how tempestuous he feels Moses was have been well-documented by now.
He provoked a tsunami of outrage from Christians by saying the Biblical prophet was one of the most “troubled, schizophrenic and barbaric” men he’d ever researched.
It’s a valid point – the boy in the basket who was Moses, who went on to free 400,000 slaves did use terror as a weapon of persuasion.
One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter after all – and Bale sees Moses as a terrorist.
He said in one Press conference after the movie was released that if Moses was around today “drones would be sent after him” by the US.
In the Bible, God hammers Egypt with 10 crippling plagues – including the killing of the firstborn in every Egyptian home – before Pharaoh relents to Moses’ demand to let his people go.
Critics have said Scott was referring to acts of terrorism committed by groups such as ISIS. Bale agrees.
Highlighting Moses’ slaughter of 3,000 of his own people (some were killed by pouring melted gold down their throats) and his keeping of virgin girls as soldiers, Bale has said, “Moses was sadistic in the extreme”.
Now, all the ire has died down over remarks like that, and it shows on Bale.
He seems more calm and comfortable than ever.
Bale turned 41 last month and these days he looks the part of a contented father-of-two – and seems too relaxed to embody pathologically determined men like Moses anymore.
“You know I played Patrick Bateman where I stayed in character?” he asks.
Yep. “Well, Moses was way more extreme than Patrick Bateman,” he adds.
Saying Moses was more psychopathic than an axe-wielding stockbroker who takes a chainsaw to hookers and stabs tramps is pretty dramatic.
No wonder Christians got cross with Christian over his pronouncements on Moses.
But Bale continues, “Moses is somebody who has led a very tumultuous life, who doubts himself extremely, who has raging tempers, who murders his own people and who then protects them from this mercurial god who wishes to destroy all of them. He is somebody who slaughters and executes prisoners of war and yet he’s the man who’s responsible for freeing 400,000 slaves and bringing them to a homeland where they can rule themselves. He is the most extreme character that I’ve ever played.”
It seems that to play Moses Bale followed Laurence Olivier’s famous advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man.
The legend goes that after Olivier heard Hoffman had stayed up for three nights to make his character look genuinely exhausted he sighed at the actor, “Try acting dear boy… it’s a lot easier.”
Bale told me of his choice not to go method with Moses, “I couldn’t maintain that character because he’s too much. He would have made it impossible for everyone else to work with and I recognised that early on. He’s not a tolerant man. I recognised the energy I would have been expending in sort of making and maintaining this character would have been counterproductive to the film completely. So it was one that I actually said, ‘This one, I’ve got to perform him – I’ve got to turn him on and off because he’s too much’.”
But Bale admits he didn’t completely reverse his reclusive method technique on set.
“I still kind of keep to myself somewhat,” he says. “I find it very difficult to get to know people too well and then play a character. My approach to any character is you don’t limit it to what you see on film.”
Not to do that for Moses was a dramatic change for Bale, who has possessed his characters with the same demonic energy as Daniel Day-Lewis.
He says for Moses, the first thing he told director Ridley Scott was that he didn’t care about transforming himself physically.
“When I met with Ridley I was shooting American Hustle, where I had a shaved bald head and a big gut,” he says. “So he looked at me and went, ‘Oh my God!’ He was thinking, ‘I’ve already committed to casting him without seeing him lately!’ Moses is an incredibly resonant and important character in history and therefore it was one of the few times it should be insignificant what he looks like. Except that in our story he was meant to be a general early on, so clearly for those parts he had to look capable, when generals were at the front and actually fighting.”
Bale wanted to avoid the pumped up action hero look.
“That’s absolutely not how I would want to play Moses, ever,” he says. “His violence and his passions should come from his heart and not from his physicality.”
Physically, cinema’s template for Moses is Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, all long hair and flailing wind-blown beard. But it’s what the character of Moses symbolises that Bale wanted to make his focus.
“This is one of the most important people, not only in all of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but in human history, regardless of whether he existed or not,” he says. “So we’re going to tell the story that has symbolically resonated for thousands of years. Are we really going to get hung up on hair? I said to Ridley, ‘Look, short hair or nothing – what does it matter really?’”
Bale’s also not big on any of the fake facial hair often found in biblical epics.
“I said no glue on the face because it makes it so you can’t move,” he says. “Aaron Paul (who plays Hebrew slave Joshua) had a glue moustache and beard and I would purposely make him laugh and his moustache would pop off.”
It’s maybe best Bale avoided staying in character while playing someone as extreme as Moses.
It was method acting that partly led to Bale’s most famous outburst – the one on the set of Terminator Salvation.
He was famously recorded ranting, (with shades of Patrick Bateman), at the director of photography on the set of the film, accusing him of interrupting him during a scene.
A snapshot of the tirade (which contains 49 variations on the word ‘fuck’) ran, “Am I going to walk around and rip your fucking lights down, in the middle of a scene? Then why the fuck are you walking right through? Ah-da-da- dah, like this in the background. What the fuck is it with you? What don’t you fucking understand? You got any fucking idea about, hey, it’s fucking distracting having somebody walking up behind Bryce in the middle of the fucking scene? Give me a fucking answer!”
After the outburst – or, rather, after the publicity over the outburst – came contrition.
But Bale hit headlines again in 2008 over claims he assaulted his mother and sister the day before the London premiere of his film The Dark Knight.
By one account, money was at the root of Bale’s altercation with his mother Jenny and sister Sharon, in his suite at the Dorchester hotel on Park Lane in London.
Legal “sources” were quoted as saying he had snubbed his sister’s request for a £100,000 loan to help to bring up her three children and, after insults were apparently slung about Bale’s wife, it was alleged he “pushed and shoved” the two women.
They were said to have accused him of assault, which he denied.
After answering questions at a police station, Bale was released without charge.
But perhaps we underestimate the pressure heaped on a lead actor when so much is at stake.
Bale tells me of the pressure of doing a blockbuster such as Moses, “We had a set that was one kilometre long – a gargantuan set, and this prat (meaning himself) is the lead in that film. I’ve got to walk down there knowing the months of work that have gone into this, and the hundreds of people who are on the crew who right at this moment are just waiting for me to arrive and do the scene and to know his shit well enough that he can actually, believably, have this set around him. I just crumble at that, I just go, ‘Oh my God, do they know what a complete fool I am? Do they know what an idiot I am?’
“You have to overcome yourself in order to be able to do it. You can’t be there going, ‘I am me’. If you do, you’re going to be one of the most intolerant, nauseating people in the world – which there are a lot of in this industry. But to actually manage it with a sensibility of, ‘Oh my God, I cannot live up to this’, you have to create a completely different character. And that’s acting.”
“To me, that’s the difference between acting and being a movie star. Thank God it’s an age where you don’t have to be a movie star because I wouldn’t have a bloody career otherwise. Those people have to be charismatic and everyone loves them all the time and all that kind of shit, and – fuck! – I can’t do that. So, it’s very intimidating. You drive down and you look at that kilometre of set and you’re going, ‘Aww…’. But you know you’ve gotta get there and you’ve got to instil confidence in the crew that you’re not going to go, ‘Ahhh!’ and lose it. So, on that drive you’ve got to become the character, and manage to achieve that.”
Listening to all that, Bale basically sounds at his most humble I’ve ever heard him.
Yet the stories of how difficult he is in interviews abound.
Bale has sneered that journalists’ questions sound childish.
He probably has a point.
Bale has seen a lot more than most who sit down to interview him.
His childhood road to success sounds like a movie script.
Born on January 30, 1974 in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, south Wales, he had a difficult relationship with his dad.
His father David had grown up in South Africa before he ran away to sea.
He later became a pilot stationed at RAF Brawdy near Haverfordwest.
Ill health grounded him when Bale was two years old and the family began a nomadic existence that took them to Oxfordshire, Portugal and Bournemouth.
Bale reckons by the time he was 15, he had lived in 15 different places.
Showbusiness runs in his blood – his grandfather played John Wayne’s double in the 1962 film Hatari!
Bale’s half-sister Erin became a musician and sister Louise is an actress and theatre director.
As a child, Bale took ballet lessons and learnt to play the guitar and his first job was in a breakfast cereal ad.
He enrolled at a Reading theatre group also attended by the young Kate Winslet, before he made his West End debut alongside Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd.
Even as a child star (after he rocketed to fame by acting up a storm in Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun) Bale proved temperamental.
Irritated by journalists’ repetitive questions on a promotional tour for Empire Of The Sun, Bale confused reporters by stabbing an orange with a pen and refusing to talk.
A series of dud films followed, which saw Bale sing in Disney musicals to taking a role in a version of Hamlet that had him barking like a dog.
Bale’s parents separated while his career looked as if it would end with him being another failed child star.
But, with his father acting as his manager, Bale moved to Los Angeles.
His dad married feminist Gloria Steinem, then died from a brain tumour in 2003 aged 62.
After his father’s death Bale’s career took an upturn.
Starring in Little Women turned him into a teenage heart-throb in 1994, and the rest – from playing Bateman to Batman – is history.
Bale refuses to discuss his current family life (he’s been married for 15 years to Sandra ‘Sibi’ Blažic – a 45-year-old Yugoslav former model, make-up artist and personal assistant to Winona Ryder and mother to their two kids.)
Bale’s colourful past is definitely not up for discussion.
He has said it will destroy his mystique onscreen if people “get to know” him.
Bale’s one-time assistant Harrison Cheung once said he was a troubled soul.
And his mother said about his Terminator rant, “People might now realise that is his temper: they might understand a bit more.”
Bale himself seems to live in the shadow of his father.
In a rare mention of his background, he once said, “My father admired troublemakers. He always said to me, ‘The greatest sin is being boring’.”
Boredom and Bale aren’t something anyone can link.
Despite not embodying Moses’ personality on the set of Scott’s movie, Bale says he still got to the root of what was known about the man.
He says, “We took out a lot of the moments we couldn’t truly comprehend. The staff to the serpent, you know, magician’s tricks. To me I’d say that he’s all too human. Because he’s so passionate, he’s so temperamental, he’s so prone to his own egotistical impulses. He makes so many mistakes in his life. He grew up in the most indulgent lifestyle you could ever imagine – he was second only to a God.”
“You can only imagine the temptations and the lifestyle that he had. And then once he gets it, whatever you want to call it, whether it’s the calling or whatever, he’s changed forever and he becomes a man of extreme contradictions at that point because he’s absolutely aware of injustice. But he is prepared to behave in an extremely unjust way in order to correct that.”
However content Bale may be these days, from the way he talks about Moses, playing the Biblical hero (and/or terrorist) sounds right up his street.
It’s because Bale says humanity is what interests him most of all in the movie-making process.
I wonder if – given Bale’s understanding of the bigger picture and the sense that his performance has to match the talents of those around him – he’d be happier behind the camera, directing?
His answer is surprising.
“I have to confess, I don’t really like films enough to be a director,” he says. “I like people. I like to study people and that’s what I enjoy with acting. For me music, art, literature, comedy – I’ll choose all of those before I’ll go see a film. I think in that case I’m not the right person for being a director. You should really love, love, love film in order to be a director. And for me, I really love studying people. So I think it’s alright that I’m an actor. But I don’t think I’m the right person for a director.”
Bale is a man steeped in performance, acting and inhabiting a role.
But there’s his answer – he basically doesn’t like the intricacies of actually making movie to want to spread his talents beyond acting.
Deep down, the thing that makes Bale tick is his obsession with being someone else.
The public don’t have much more to go on either.
He’s not the type who will ever end up on reality TV.
Beyond some gossip about his temper and family feuds, the fact that he loves being a chameleon on screen is the only thing the public know.
And that’s all anyone who doesn’t know him well can really say is the ‘real’ Christian Bale.