An Interview with Christian Bale
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November 8, 2006
Talk about having a stellar year! Not only is he currently starring in “The Prestige”, but Christian Bale turns about that performance with his role in “Harsh Times: where he plays Jim Davis, an ex-marine back in the streets of LA looking to get work yet hasn’t been able to forget the war he left. He’s a time bomb ready to explode and has Freddy Rodriguez as his sidekick to keep the sanity in him alive. After that, he has a couple of more independent films yet to play in theaters before he dons on the caped crusader outfit again for “The Dark Knight”, the next installment of the Batman franchise. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Bale talks about his role in “Harsh Times” and working with Freddy Rodriguez.
You look like director David Ayer in this movie. Was it on purpose?
Christian Bale: Well, I haven’t seen Dave for a couple of months. We’ve been speaking a lot but does he have a fade? People called us brothers whilst we were making the movie because whilst we were making the movie, he had the same haircut as me.
How can you be so intense with an American accent?
Christian Bale: I’ve been living it for a number of years. If I hadn’t gotten it down, it would be a little bit questionable by now. I’ve been living here for almost 14 years. The new thing for me on this one was obviously getting the military lingo down and getting the Chicano lingo down as well. And finding a happy blend of the two.
What kind of research did you do?
Christian Bale: I had the best kind of research. First of all, Dave himself. This is inspired by his own stories all I had to do was say to Dave, ‘Bring ‘em all on.’ Bring all your friends in. Bring the military guys in. Bring the gang member guys in. bring everybody in. Let’s just sit and I spent three weeks hanging out. We went on tour, policemen as well. It was funny because one day we’d be hanging out with an ex-gang member. He’d be telling us all stories about what he did down that street there, and then we go get a drink in a bar somewhere and we’d be chatting and he’d be helping me out talking about Chicano lifestyle, vernacular, lingo and everything. And the next day we’d be going on a drive-around with a policeman who was showing us the same streets and telling us stories about what he did down there. I could see in both sides of the fence and how they actually intersect an awful lot. On top of that, the military. Military personnel people who were good enough and I’m really appreciative to them for being good enough to come spend some time with me, for allowing me to pick their brains, for some who divulged and this goes for some ex-gang members, people I spoke with, the policemen included, military, people who told me very personal stories, very tragic stories. The military war’s going on and there’s wars right in the streets of LA as well. And stories that I would not repeat to anybody just because these are personal stories that they offered to me with the understanding that it was just between the two of us. It was a fascinating thing. Many of the military personnel, even though we’re not trying to suggest that this is a generic experience of soldiers. Not everybody comes back and suffers from some kind of PTSD. Many do. It’s not a rare case and almost everybody knows somebody who has been affected. With Jim, however, the problem is he won’t admit it. He is in denial about that and that’s what really sends him on his downward spiral because he believes himself to be invincible, to be self-sufficient and so how could he ever need help from anybody else? He’s this unstoppable force.
Have you gotten backlash from any soldiers who say it portrays them like psychos?
Christian Bale: See, I don't believe it portrays them like that in the slightest. To me, it’s a very honorable thing. Dave would not be like that towards the military. He comes from the military himself. But like many military people, you know what? They ain’t brainless. They are allowed to question what is going on. Sure, you have to be there for the person right next to you and that is what everybody says. That’s why they fight. Because you stand back and look at the bigger picture, for God’s sake if they don’t have t he right to stand back and question what the hell is going on, who does? And so I don’t believe that anybody could look at this and say that we’re pointing fingers at anybody whatsoever. It’s a complex movie. That’s what I saw in it. That’s what I enjoy about it. It can be- - I hate to use the word enjoy because I could say that for maybe the first half, excluding the very beginning of the movie. But it’s kind of a joyride of a couple of old buddies, basically one of whom who is with Mike’s character, whose movie I believe it truly is. It’s kind of seen through his eyes. It’s kind of his story of having to let go of a friend who was not fitting into the puzzle of his life any longer. But somebody who has moved on, who is constructing a life, who has committed to a long term relationship with the character Sylvia played by Eva. Then you’ve got Jim returning, who basically has seen so much trauma that he truly can’t share with Mike. Mike is a brother to him, but he’s probably been through- - probably become closer to the people that he lost abroad. But he comes back and man, he is just looking for the days of their teenage years when they could just kick back, smoke out, drink, go driving, get into trouble and it was relatively harmless. They were allowed to do that. You get a pass to do that at a certain age. The problem is he’s past that age but more importantly, he’s past that capability. He’s a killing machine now. He ain’t just somebody with a penchant for violence. He’s somebody with which it’s an art form. He is just not somebody to mess with in the slightest.
Is the ending a suicide or just a bad choice?
Christian Bale: He was looking for it. He was looking for it. Like he said, it’s mercy, dawg. He says put me out of it. He’s past the point of redemption. It’s a morality tale very much. It doesn’t start off that way. You don’t know that that’s the movie you’re going to be seeing. I feel like you start the movie and you’re going to be seeing a good time couple of folks just going around LA getting into trouble. Then suddenly you’re faced with the abyss and it becomes almost physically uncomfortable to sit and watch. Personally, I like Jim very much in spite of himself. He’s a prick beyond belief but you know that there’s a good side to him. You know that he’s also been through one hell of a lot. And you know that he has potential. He just keeps on denying it to himself. But certainly the way that he knows best how to deal with situations is with violence. And so he truly loves his fiancé, Marta. He won’t confess to his buddies back in LA about this kind of romance and poetry that she embodies for him, that he adores. It’s just too soft for him to ever admit to, but the fact is he’s sincere about it but the irony is, whereas in his job he is able to take life or give life, with his own life he’s completely out of control and he can’t even choose his own wife. There’s a lot of self-loathing that comes out of that and a lot of resentment of the military. I think it was cut but there was one piece where we had me actually kind of talking about my government and he’s genuflecting as he’s saying it. It’s just like you don’t question it. But the fact is, when it delves into your personal life that much, you can’t help but be affected by it in some way. So for him, the way to end that relationship with Marta is to say in his eyes, you’ve got to be cruel to be kind. With him, that’s an extreme measure. So he really puts it on her in the hope that, and I believe genuinely, she will never look back and regret not having anything to do with him. And that kills him inside but again, he can’t show that. It’s all about being stoic. So ultimately, yes, he’s asking for it. It ends up, the guy’s giving biblical quotes by the end of the movie. The guy’s asking, put me out of my misery. Please, God, somebody put me out of my misery.
Coming off of Batman?
Christian Bale: Perfect because seven months shooting straight on Batman, the movie obviously was very much helped by the fact that I had gotten that role in between first meeting Dave and then actually making it. I called Dave whilst I was shooting Batman and said, “What’s going on about Harsh Times? Let’s get this thing done. I’m still thinking about it.” He said, “Oh, I thought you would have forgotten about me a long time back.” I said, “No, I want to be doing this one. Is it still studio?” No, he said, “I’m going to finance it totally myself.” I said, “Great, you’re crazy for doing that but it makes me want to believe in it even more.” And within six months we had it up and running and going and we shot it in 24 days and it was perfect to go from one style of filmmaking to the total opposite. It’s as independent as you can get. You can’t get more independent than somebody taking the money out of their own back pocket, remortgaging their house.
Did you get trouble from your handlers?
Christian Bale: Not at all, not at all. I’d kept on saying to them about Harsh Times, keep your ear to the ground. I don’t want to lose track of that one. They also knew that I like Batman immensely. That was one I’d been chasing in and of itself but that I had always maintained, I’m doing this. In no way does this mean I’m going to keep on doing big budget movies. Big budget has nothing to do with whether it’s a good movie or not. Everybody knows that. And necessity is the mother of invention in many cases as well. Not having a huge budget for this movie meant that we got true believers working on this movie and you can see that.
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