Mark Wahlberg (left) is boxer Micky Ward and Christian Bale is his
half-brother Dicky Eklund. (Jojo Whilden/Paramount Pictures)
The Dark Knight surprises: Will Christian Bale win a Golden Globe tonight for 'The Fighter'?
By Lynda Gorov
Boston Globe, January 16, 2011
LOS ANGELES — It’s a bit nerve-wracking waiting to see which Christian Bale will appear to chat about the movie that is garnering him exactly the sort of attention and award possibilities he claims to loathe. Onscreen, he’s impossible to pin down. Bone-snapping skinny in “The Machinist.’’ Slicked-back and super growly in “The Dark Knight.’’ So strung out on drugs and self-inflicted drama in his latest, “The Fighter,’’ that he seems stretched out physically, too.
Off screen, however, Bale is more consistent, or at least consistently known to dislike the part that comes after the acting, which is the selling. But today’s Bale isn’t the least bit cantankerous or contrary. Shaggy haired with a full reddish beard, he’s almost chatty. Some of Dicky “The Pride of Lowell’’ Eklund’s goofy gabbiness seems to have stuck with him.
“It’s so much fun playing a goofball guy,’’ Bale said. “Dicky is so flamboyant, but he has such substance, as well. You can’t play Dicky in a half-assed manner. I had an awful lot of fun.’’
Bale, 36, says all this in an English accent with a touch of his native Wales. Gone is any trace of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego, Batman, who Bale played to enthusiastic reviews and some criticism for the deep rasp he adopted for the part. There’s none of Eklund’s Lowell accent, either, which, along with the local scenery, helps set “The Fighter’’ and its boxing half-brothers squarely in the city circa 1990.
Bale felt a kinship with “The Fighter’’ that clearly has him talking, at least by his normally reticent standards. He says he recognized Lowell almost immediately from his own upbringing, its clannishness and working-class ethos.
“I said, ‘I know all these people. This is where I grew up.’ The houses look different, but the weather’s not so different.’’
The distinct accent was another issue.
“It’s bloody tough, the accent, but then the more you do it, the easier it gets,’’ Bale said. “You look back and it seems easier, but it’s bloody hard to get there. Dicky recorded conversations for me. I listened while driving. Eventually you get it. But once you get it it’s there and you don’t lose it.’’
There’s little talk of Bale losing this award season, though. His Eklund, a jumpy junkie who wants another shot at boxing, or at least brotherly redemption, starts off skin and bones and gains weight and muscle as “The Fighter’’ progresses and his character goes from addiction to prison to ringside trainer.
It’s the showy supporting role to Mark Wahlberg’s solid Micky Ward, and Oscar buzz gives Bale a lock on a nomination in that category. He’s already up for a Golden Globe tonight.
Insisting he’s not being difficult, Bale doesn’t have much to say on “The Dark Knight Rises,’’ the much-anticipated follow-up to “The Dark Knight.’’ He just doesn’t know what director Christopher Nolan has in store.
“Sure, I know a little more about it than is in the press, but Chris will tell me what I need to know when I need to know it,’’ he said. “It’s our fourth movie together. I’ve got faith in him.’’
Wahlberg says he had the same faith in Bale, whose young daughter attended the same school as his. The two got to talking in the parking lot and then to sparring in Wahlberg’s backyard, where he had built a boxing ring and brought the brothers they played.
“Christian has done similar things, in that he’s made the physical transformation,’’ Wahlberg said. “He seemed like a guy willing to go there, and he signed right up.’’
What it took to make that physical transformation astounded even Bale, who’s never been shy about going to extremes for movies. He took off the weight he needed to play a “slippery’’ welterweight by running and running, but says he never got down as low as he would have liked. To get the boxing down, he tried to ignore all his martial arts training and just observe the pros Wahlberg had gathered, the brothers they played among them.
“Getting in the ring with anyone, much less a pro, that’s a different kettle of fish,’’ Bale said of his newfound appreciation of boxing. “I’m never going to watch a boxing movie and sit there shouting, ‘Hit him back, hit him back’ again. Those guys have hearts like a bloody lion.’’
Later, describing the focus that boxing forced on him, he added, “The good moments in life are when you can’t think about anything else but what you’re doing. The rest of life is just waiting for that.’’
Bale’s acting life started early, along with his almost cult-like status. He beat out thousands of other kids to star in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 World War II epic, “Empire of the Sun.’’ He followed that up by singing and dancing his way through Disney’s “Newsies’’ in 1992. Eight years later, he was credible as the yuppie serial killer in “American Psycho.’’
Bale is as hard to pigeonhole outside the movies. He talks with a dad’s typical adoration of his daughter, who starts kindergarten this year, but refrains from using her name. In fact Bale is adamant about keeping his personal life private and often complains that actors who give away too much of themselves ruin themselves for the audience.
“I just don’t understand the point of all that,’’ he said.
For Bale, it’s about immersion and then moving on. He insists he has no plan beyond that. He’ll consider anything, even a full-fledged comedy, especially after playing the sadly amusing Eklund.
“I don’t look for any patterns, or for any counters to movies I’ve done before,’’ he said. “But, yeah, I do think, absolutely, I could do a comedy in a real sort of character-based sense. I’m not so good at wink wink, nod nod at the audience, but I’m laughing my [head] off most of my life because I find so many things ridiculous and situations where nobody else is laughing, I’m trying to stifle myself [from laughter]. But I just read them as they come in, see what I like, and go from there.’’
Lynda Gorov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.