Loudly hallowed though he is by directors and fans alike, Christian Bale
is still one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets and has been since his epochal performance as J.G. Ballard’s young, WWII-embroiled alter ego in the still-underrated Empire of the Sun. His quiet, self-described “bumbling prat from Wales” profile is about to undergo a
stormy sea change–Bale has four movies coming out in the next six months: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two thorny indies–Metroland and All the Little Animals–and, of course, the Haynes glam-rock parade Velvet Goldmine, in which he plays the pivotal witness role.
“I was dying to get the hell out of costume drama, really,” Bale muses. “Anything with floppy hair.” No small period piece itself (with wigfuls of floppy hair), Goldmine is structured after Citizen Kane, and if Obi-Wan-to-be Ewan MacGregor and fey Bowie paradigm Jonathan Rhys-Meyers represent the titans of the glam dynamic, Bale embodies the fans as they were at the time and several disillusioned years later, when Bale’s reporter is asked to discover the whereabouts of Rhys-Meyers’s faded gardenia of a pop star. “I had more contact with Roxy Music and T. Rex, but still, I was born in ’74, and glam peaked between ’69 and ’73. It couldn’t help but be short-lived. It was such a sharp thing, it had to die.”
Bale was looking to shake up his career a few years back, and Haynes was exactly the sort of unique indie powerhouse a true shake-up called for. “I knew about Todd because I’d seen Safe; I saw Poison later because for some reason you couldn’t rent it in England. And then a friend showed me Superstar, which is a pretty amazing film–you do get to feel for these Barbie dolls.” Goldmine also constitutes Bale’s first visit to sexual territory that might make Louisa May Alcott blush. “There was only one sex scene; Ewan and I thought it was
going to be much more graphic than it was. There was this mattress on the rooftop, and we assumed we’d be totally naked, going at it. But it was more restrained in the end. I like being left alone a fair amount on a film, and Todd and I were on the same track together. For
several scenes he’d say, ‘I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do,’ because he didn’t know. I liked that.”
Haynes isn’t alone in his Bale superlatives: wherever he goes, Bale has an army of conscientious fans trailing behind him, constituting one of the most fervent Net cults in existence. When Entertainment Weekly innocently posted a who’s-the-greatest-actor poll on their Web site, De Niro, DiCaprio, and Damon were all buried by the stampede of Baleheads. When Lions Gate Films similarly polled the Web to win public interest in their finding a bigger name for American Psycho after Leonardo DiCaprio finally begged off, Bale garnered 93 percent of the vote. “Well, I’m not considered mainstream. It’s a cult following, isn’t it? Isn’t this what they mean when they say ‘cult’?” Bale asks, not even trying to hide his satisfaction. “I can’t explain it…”
Bale also plays Demetrius in a new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a project he took in part to salve the flesh wounds caused by the original American Psycho debacle. Bale had worked on the project for a year with writer-director Mary Harron, even pumping up for the lead role, when Lions Gate signed on and then abruptly announced at Cannes that Leonardo DiCaprio would play the lead, under a different director, for $21 million, more than twice the original budget. The flimflam continued for months until, finally, Bale was brought back into the fold, a move doubtlessly abetted by both popular opinion and Lions Gate’s plummeting stock value. “I cannot believe it’s not going to happen this time. I’m actually talking to everyone now, I’m inside this time, and I know what the hell’s going on.”
Playing Bret Easton Ellis’s bloodthirsty monster will without question transform Bale’s judiciously press-shy profile, though already, with Goldmine, Bale is making his first steps out of the shadows into the full-on glare of publicity. “The American Psycho thing changed my view on that–simply, it was offered to someone much better known. So, I’ll get better known. Really, I didn’t want to keep fucking around and getting fucked.”
One of three articles in our Velvet Goldmine feature.