ExperiencesCharactersChristian Bale: From Batman to Gorr

Christian Bale: From Batman to Gorr

The villain of Thor: Love and Thunder talks about his profession and the beauty of the antihero.

By Daniel Domínguez
Photos: Disney Courtesy
Christian Bale, who won an Oscar for his role in The Fighter, talks about his work as an actor, the allure of antiheroes, and his most recent film, Thor: Love and Thunder
Christian Bale (Wales, 48 years old) had a bohemian childhood. The son of a pilot and a circus ballerina, he lived in England, Portugal, and the United States, changing homes frequently. 
He never planned on becoming an actor, although he enjoyed listening to anecdotes about his grandfather Rex, who was John Wayne’s double in many action scenes. It was his sister who encouraged him, at the age of eight, to audition for a Lenor fabric softener commercial (1982). By 1984, he was acting in the West End comedy The Nerd, in which he played an elusive child. 

Jim Graham

Steven Spielberg –anxious to prove that he was capable of directing movies that were about more than hungry sharks, enigmatic flying objects, and adventurous archaeologists– made Empire of the Sun in 1987.  
JG Ballard’s novel about World War II centers on a young English boy named Jim Graham. More than 4,000 children auditioned to play Graham in the film, including a young actor that Spielberg had seen in Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986, NBC) and whom he considered the reincarnation of Steve McQueen. It was Christian Bale, who Spielberg cast as the star of Empire of the Sun. 
“I’m grateful to do be doing what I do. Everyone likes to be challenged and I can’t say that I like it when a movie seems easy,” Bale tells me over Zoom on his promotional tour for Thor: Love and Thunder (2022).  


Bale makes masterful use of his body as a laboratory: he played a murderous psychopath in love with his sculpted physique in American Psycho (2000), went on to lose 63 pounds for The Machinist (2004), which led to months of severe insomnia, like that suffered by his character, Trevor Reznik. 
Eight months he later went to the other extreme, going from the 110 pounds he weighed in The Machinist to 220 pounds –and the body of a Greek god– for Batman Begins (2005). 
His role in The Fighter (2010), playing the alcoholic boxer Dicky Eklund, required him to shed weight yet again, and this time he was rewarded with an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor.” He went on to garner other Oscar nominations for Vice (2018), The Big Short (2015), and American Hustle (2013), for which he gained 43 pounds to play the miserable hustler Irving Rosenfeld. “It’s not just fun playing an antihero or villain, it’s easier than playing a hero. People always think that being a hero is sexier. But how do you make a hero seem interesting? Their motives are always sound and they’re always good. Villains, like humans, are more fascinating because they’re the bad boys. It’s kind of confusing to be a villain and arouse sympathy.” 
In the fourth installment of Thor Bale plays Gorr, The God Butcher, although his metamorphosis this time is the work of makeup artists. “My memory is pretty bad so my understanding of the film after I first met with the producers was that everything would be done with special effects. Then I found out we’d being using prosthetics, which took four hours a day to apply. That’s how Gorr was created. But it was a wonderful, creative experience and I passed the time listening to music and podcasts.” 
Gorr is strong. “I had to stay in good physical shape, unlike my preparation for The Machinist. It was interesting because I got to explore what I could and couldn’t do with Gorr, since Thor is a family comedy. I’d never been involved in anything like it before, being monstrous and also appealing to children.” 
Thor is pure fun, but Gorr is an extreme, brutal creature. “It’s nothing new. Tragedy and comedy always go hand in hand, as Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Love and Thunder) proved in JoJo Rabbit (2019), a film of absolute irony, but also great sincerity. That incredible combination is in Thor too. I recognized this and found the movie to be exciting and amazing.” 

Triumphs and Failures

Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, and Empire have all rated him “Sexiest Man on the Planet,” but Bale would rather be associated with the charities he supports, such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation. 
This self-taught actor who never finished high school has worked with Werner Herzog, Todd Haynes, Michael Mann, and Terrence Malick, to name only a few, and yet he doesn’t seem attached to these achievements; twice he’s been on the brink of leaving the profession, like Daniel Day Lewis. “A film will never be a solitary adventure. You rely on each of the team members, especially the director and cinematographer. It is a collaborative effort that leads to excellent results and makes you feel very proud.” 
Bale has looked failure in the eye, such as when he failed to land the leading roles in Titanic (1997), The Fast and the Furious (2001), Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), and Casino Royale (2006), and although the Batman trilogy (2005-2012) starring Bale was a global financial success, grossing 2.4 billion dollars, he’s also participated in less-than-successful productions, such as Reign of Fire (2002) and Terminator Salvation (2009). “I don’t think one movie is more important than the others. There are silly comedies that are fantastic,” he explains.  
The pandemic was responsible for closing many movie theaters. “Movies are a known quantity; we all go out to see them in theaters, but traditional viewing may be on the way out. There will always be room for streaming, but I hope we’ll still find ways to watch movies communally.” 

Gotham City

Bale was the first non-American actor to play the Caped Crusader on the big screen and the youngest-ever Defender of Gotham at 31 years old. 
He is the third Batman to obtain a coveted golden statuette, after Ben Affleck (Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, 1997) and George Clooney (Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, 2005). 
But a sea of differences separate Batman and Gorr. “They have different approaches. Besides, Thor is done with blue screen and digital cameras. A whole new experience for me.” 


Bale is a personal friend of Natalie Portman, with whom he worked on Knight of Cups in 2015, and then again on Thor: Love and Thunder. “I really enjoy working with imaginative dreamers. Natalie is incredibly talented; she directs herself and it was great to meet up with her again in a totally different environment. I probably would have avoided Thor, but my kids told me: ‘You’re going to make this movie,’ and I was with Natalie and Chris [Hemsworth], in really good company, so I was happy my kids ordered me to do it.” 

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