The intense actor, who became a superstar playing Batman, makes chancy career choices on purpose.
“I like to think that as long as you continue choosing diverse roles, you can avoid becoming predictable,” he says.
He could make a life (and a fortune) playing square-jawed superheroes in action movies, but instead chooses to shake things up. Since his breakthrough performance in 1987’s Empire of the Sun he has been a chameleon, losing sixty pounds to play the skeletal lead in The Machinist and gaining a beer gut and a comb over for an upcoming role in American Hustle.
This weekend in Out of the Furnace he changes it up once again. He stars as a steel mill worker pushed to extremes when his Iraq war veteran brother (Casey Affleck) gets mixed up with the wrong people and disappears.
The vengeance angle sounds Batmanesque but Out of the Furnace is set far away from Gotham in the economically-depressed Rust Belt but there isn’t a cowl or a cape in sight and Bale has once again physically transformed himself.
Here’s a look at how Bale physically changes it up for his movie roles.
Creating the “Olympian physique” of serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho took some discipline. “I’m English,” he said, “and in England, we don’t have many gyms around. We’d rather go to a pub instead.” A trainer and a protein diet took off the pounds.
As boxer and former drug addict Dicky Ecklund in The Fighter he dropped thirty pounds and used make-up and prosthetics to age himself. How did he lose the weight? “Usually I always say, ‘Oh, I do a lot of coke whenever I lose weight.’ I’m not sure if it’s so funny for this movie, to say that.” In reality he trained with the real-life Ecklund and boxed the pounds off.
In Velvet Goldmine he plays a London journalist looking into the life and faked death of glam rock singer Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Once again he had to physically transform, but not in the traditional way.
When his mom saw that he was working out and running at 6 am she said, “Christian, what are you doing? You’re doing a film about sex drugs and rock and roll. Why don’t you do it the way they did it? They weren’t out running. They drank a helluva lot and lived unhealthily.”
“The Fighter,” a new film starring Mark Wahlberg about a real life welterweight named Micky Ward, plays like a mix of “Raging Bull” and “Rocky.” It borrows the tough street grit from the Scorsese classic and mixes in the heart of Stallone’s crowd-pleaser to create a movie that isn’t quite as satisfying as either of its inspirations, but should get some notice at Academy Awards time.
Directed by David O. Russell, “The Fighter,” is based on the true story of boxer, “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Dickie is a local legend in their rough neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts, having once knocked Sugar Ray Leonard to his knees during a high profile boxing match. But now his best days are behind him. Now he’s a crack head, a charming one, but a crack head nonetheless, who allows his addiction to get in the way of Micky’s training. To advance his career Micky must make some tough decisions; more brutal than anything he’s ever had to do in the ring. He must choose between his family and his career.
Wahlberg is at the heart of “The Fighter” and hands in a convincing performance, but it is Bale, in the showier role of the tormented and addicted Dickie who steals the movie. Pulling another of his amazing physical transformations—it can’t healthy to lose this much weight, but it is effective in the movie—he’s almost unrecognizable as the skeletal ex-boxer. It’s the first time in some while we’ve seen Bale really get under the skin of a character in a drama—forgive me, but the “Batman” and “Terminator” movies are more about the effects than nuance—that it is a treat to be reminded of how good and risk-taking an actor he really is.
The fight scenes in “The Fighter” are good, and the characters are compelling—Melissa Leo as the controlling mom is great and where did they find the seven harridans who play the sisters?—but the form is a bit too traditional to be really grabby. The underdog sports movie has been done to death and despite adding in a twist or two, like a crack head brother with a god complex, the movie pulls too many punches to be truly memorable.
When English boxer Bruno Frank said “Boxing is just show business with blood,” he was on to something. Ever since 1937’s Kid Galahad entertained depression era audiences, there has been a steady flow of films set inside the square circle. For generations, audiences have flocked to the intersection of showbiz and blood — the movie theatre — to see films like Gentleman Jim, Million Dollar Baby and, of course, Rocky.
This weekend, Mark Wahlberg adds to that list when he stars as pugilist Micky Ward in The Fighter, joining a long line of actors who have strapped on gloves to play real life boxers.
In Resurrecting the Champ, a sportswriter thinks a homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) might actually be a down-on-his-luck boxing legend. Loosely based on the story of Bob Satterfield, a fighter ranked in Ring magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time, it takes some liberties with the real story but makes up for inaccuracies with a great performance from Jackson.
Another flawed boxing movie saved by its performances is The Great White Hope, based on Jack Johnson, a boxer nicknamed the “Galveston Giant.” For some reason the names were changed for the movie, but the story of Johnson’s struggle with racism is brought to vivid life in a towering performance by James Earl Jones, who originated the part on Broadway. A 2005 documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson revisited the story, correcting many of the mistakes of the original film.
Somebody Up There Likes Me stars Paul Newman (replacing James Dean who died before filming) as world middleweight champion Rocky Graziano. The fighter is portrayed as a tough kid from New York’s “Lower East Side, where both sides of the tracks were wrong” whose violent and callous ways are changed by the love of a good woman.
As mushy as the love story is — it inspired Sylvester Stallone when he was writing the Adrian storyline in Rocky — the fight scenes are brutally authentic.
Probably the greatest boxing bio is Raging Bull, the story of Jake “Come on, hit me. Harder. Harder” LaMotta, which earned Robert De Niro a Best Actor Oscar. But Cinderella Man, the inspiring true story of James J. Braddock and Gentleman Jim (which sees Errol Flynn playing Jim Corbett, the first heavyweight champion of the world under the new Marquis of Queensberry) is also worth a look.