Pushing the Limits: Christian Bale

Conducting an interview with Christian Bale is a contradictory experience - and a way of gaining a good understanding of the Brit. Bale doesn't like such compulsory exercises - for reasons that he is happy to explain. On his 50th birthday, we remember a special conversation with the actor.

  • Text
    Rüdiger Sturm
  • Photos
    Trunk Archive
You had your breakthrough role when you were still a child and have since become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, even winning an Oscar. Does acting give you a sense of purpose in life?

That would be going too far. And I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting it that way either. My purpose in life is with the people that I choose to spend my life with. Acting is not my purpose. It is something that I do, and I enjoy it. Often it is a great deal of fun.

But acting isn’t a job like any other. After all, you have to put your heart and soul into your roles. Isn’t acting a part of who you are?

You are absolutely right. I don’t know what I would do otherwise. I love this job. It’s a fascinating thing I’m allowed to do. But I don’t want to sound pretentious. And for the important people in my life, it doesn’t matter what I do.

But we’re talking about you. What do you get from acting?

There are a few different things. I have always enjoyed observing people, and acting affords me the opportunity to do that and have a reason for doing it. So that way I don’t have people punching me because I’m staring at them or observing them so much. I have an explanation. I also like stories. I like telling stories and I found that I enjoy telling stories through film. Though I must admit I don’t know much about film. I don’t watch many films, but that’s for the director to understand and have knowledge of, not for the actor. And there is a certain enjoyment in potentially humiliating yourself. When that does happen, it’s quite informative to see how you deal with that. That sort of experience makes you feel alive.

But you’re also a master of understatement. And you’re known for going to extremes when it comes to slipping into your roles. You lost over sixty pounds for The Machinist and then had only six months to build up those muscles for Batman Begins.

I admit that wasn’t particularly healthy. But I like to push myself. And I want to give it my all. There’s a pleasure in that, too. And I believe in pushing yourself to the limit. My body is also the only thing in a film that I can control myself, everything else is guided by the director. Though in the end, it’s all illusion anyway. No matter how realistic you try to be, the acting is always fake. That’s why I don’t like it when actors talk about how real their acting was. When you jump around in a black rubber suit, how is that real?

You once let yourself be bitten by a snake for a film. Was that snake real?

The snake wasn’t venomous, and we had everything under control. So that’s not a good example. The only time where a role spilled over into reality was when I played Jesus for a TV movie several years ago.

"No matter how realistic you try to be, the acting is always fake. That’s why I don’t like it when actors talk about how real their acting was. When you jump around in a black rubber suit, how is that real?"
Christian Bale
Did you walk on water?

I had nightmares and hallucinations. One night I had this feeling as if something was dripping onto my palms. I woke up and looked at the ceiling to see if their was any water dripping down from there – but there was nothing. But then it started dripping again, and it only stopped when I put both hands under the blanket. Something like that has never happened to me since. Otherwise, I maintain a healthy distance from my job as an actor. Like my daughter. She used to make fun of me when she was a little kid. She would say, “Dad, you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again.”

What is a particular challenge for you as an actor? Apart from the challenge of playing the role itself?

Having to work with people I don’t get along with. Of course, I can’t just come out and say that, otherwise things would get out of control. I have to ask myself how to deal with the situation. Does everyone really need to know how I feel about this person? And the conclusion I come to is that the film is more important. We need to accept each other as we are and just avoid stepping on each other’s toes. Otherwise, we would end up destroying the whole project with our egos. Every film is a team effort. You have to be able to rely on each other and not get in each other’s way. Which isn’t always easy, because shooting a film is a very intense undertaking.

"We need to accept each other as we are and just avoid stepping on each other’s toes. Otherwise, we would end up destroying the whole project with our egos. Every film is a team effort."
Christian Bale
Are there times you absolutely hate your job? When a film flops, for example?

That is certainly unpleasant. I can’t say that I’ve never done a terrible film. Most of the time you notice that during the shoot. Perhaps there’s a breakdown in communication, or you realize that you’ve made a complete mistake in choosing the role in the first place. And then my acting becomes bad as well. The worst thing about it is that you’re actually just wasting your time and everyone else’s time with something like that. But on the other hand, it is particularly satisfying when you feel a sense of harmony in your interaction with others. Though that may not quite approach the experience of writing, composing or painting something. That’s a whole other level of artistic expression. Still, the worst thing about my job is something else entirely . . .

And that is?

I don’t naturally take to being the center of attention. I don’t like being in the public eye. I noticed that already as a child when I had my first roles. So actually, it’s quite a perverse profession to have chosen because acting involves being the center of attention. Because if you are somebody else, it’s the very definition of somebody not being comfortable in their own skin. It’s the byproduct afterwards that is the perversity . . .

Like this interview?

In a way, yeah. But I enjoy the irony of that.

Does acting give you insights that can help you grow as a person?

Absolutely. It helps you understand that people are quite radical creatures who behave in ways that can be extremely unpredictable. Understanding that means that fewer things will surprise you in life. Most people can understand that through their own family and friends. You may try to sit and work out why a friend behaved a certain way, why they did a certain thing, either negative or positive, or why you love someone the way you do. Most people do that for a few hours. I get to do it for a few months at a time. That’s very fascinating. If you are allowed to do it.

Why shouldn’t they let you?

Because there are some films that are made in a way that they are almost designed to prevent you from thinking like that. The technical aspect and the logistical aspect can be huge the bigger the film gets – it becomes like a small army. That can get in the way.

Many of your films confront you with life and death situations. Even if they aren’t real, what do you learn from them?

I know that I could kill, without hesitation, if my children were in danger. No question. As a parent, you come to understand the meaning of sacrifice. That’s the heart of life. And that means (…)

→ Read the whole interview with Christian Bale in rampstyle #23

Rüdiger Sturm

Rüdiger Sturm

Freelance Author
Rüdiger Sturm is a film critic living in Munich. As a film journalist, he researches the industry at home and abroad - and talks to Hollywood stars as well as all other interesting personalities.
rampstyle #23 Ich. Mal wieder.

rampstyle #23 Ich. Mal wieder.

Eine Ausgabe, die wir unserem Ich widmen. Uns. Mal wieder. Und nach unserer letzten rampstyle, die wir »Ich für mich« genannt hatten, schon wieder. Wunderbar. Wie wir uns diesem Ich ideal annähern? Wir empfehlen eine Kombination aus zwei Strategien.

Similar articles

Our Bestsellers

  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.
  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.