Never miss an interview with our app
Download the free app
Continue to the website

Christian Bale: “I like being responsible for myself”

TimekeeperRolex values your time and
knows how precious it is.
Read LaterSave this interview to read laterRead LaterSave this interview to read later
 Listen to Audio Excerpt Listen to Audio Excerpt
Christian Bale
Photo by Getty Images
Short Profile

Name: Christian Charles Philip Bale
DOB: 30 January 1974
Place of Birth: Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Bale, what is the most fun you’ve ever had making a movie?

I can’t help but immediately think of various experiences with Werner Herzog on Rescue Dawn. With us, Werner included, doing things that everyone was looking at saying, “But guys, you’re going to die! What are you doing? You’re going to really catch a wild snake and maybe get bitten by it!” Those are great times. These crazy helicopter pilots in Thailand taking off the tops of trees as we were flying so low over the jungle; those times were great for me. I just enjoy them monumentally.

Is it the danger that appeals to you?

I like when you can make it a little bit more extreme. Often I have found that movies are actually disappointingly sterile environments. The more you get away from the studio lot, the better. The further away from the location you get the more you stop making the movie as an answer to other movies. You don’t think of it in a comparison, you’re just doing your own thing, you’re on your own adventure, you’re on your own mission. That’s when I really feel like you start getting into some good, nice, dangerous situations. Whether they are dangerous in terms of where you’re going mentally or physically - I do enjoy that. I’d get bored if I didn’t have the prospect of knowing that I’ll get to work with people in the future who are like-minded and who really want to push it.

Do you like doing smaller indie films more than blockbusters because of that?

With the bigger movies you have hesitation because there are many more people involved in what will eventually come out on the screen. With a smaller movie you have less people being nervous about investments, so less people are trying to steer the movie in a certain way. I feel that with the bigger movies you have to generally sit back and assess it more. You have to try and work out what point you will able to achieve.

The trailer to Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn (2006), starring Christian Bale. The film is based on the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler.

In a smaller role I imagine you have to build the character and put more of yourself into it too.

Right and you don’t have all this nonsense of people calling you a movie star and stuff like that. I don’t feel like that at all. People started offering me these roles that are thought of as “movie star” roles, but I try to make a character out of it. I never felt myself to be that and I never really had any desire to be that.

You’re definitely a movie star though…

I am not in it because I like being the center of attention. In fact I can’t stand it, unless I am acting - then I can do anything, I don’t care. But as myself, I like to be very low key in my life. I’ve always really admired actors, but I don’t know the history of movies very well and I am not really a movie buff in the slightest. So I do just consider the bigger roles to be other acting jobs and then I am very surprised when people say, “Oh, you are a movie star now.” I really don’t think I’m cut from that cloth.

What makes you do the big movies then?

I like the emotion. That’s what I do. When I first read a script and decide that there’s something in it that I can try, I like to remember that feeling – and that’s not about hanging out on the set and socializing. I can do that in my own time. I very much enjoy trying to put myself in other people’s shoes.

When did that start for you?

Growing up I moved around a great deal. With seeing different people, I kind of tried to fit in very quickly into certain different towns and environments. I’ve just always had a real enjoyment of putting myself into other people’s shoes. I do that all the time. Right now I’m imagining what it would be like to be a journalist. I just can’t stop doing that constantly. So it’s that fascination that keeps me moving forward and interested.

Your mother was a dancer and your father was a pilot. Do you think their professions have had an influence on your career?

I think I’ll have to sit in a therapist’s chair for that answer. I know certainly with my father he had a very creative approach to life. He was not conventional at all and that set me up very nicely for this. I tend not to be surprised by the crazy characters you get involved with in this career. His motto was: being boring is a sin. It doesn’t matter if you mess up; at least you’re trying something different. He was always like that; he was a very big inspiration to me.

Steven Spielberg cast you in the lead role in his movie Empire of the Sun when you were only 13. How much did that influence your decision to become an actor?

He reversed that. He made me think, “I don’t ever want to do this again.” Not him personally, I had a wonderful time with him. But the experience of doing it at that age is not something I’d recommend it for anybody. You’re a teenager. You should be completely anonymous. I think it’s not really great for kids to go into such an adult profession at such a young age. It doesn’t matter how much you look at it as enjoyment, you’ll end up with responsibilities that you ideally shouldn’t have at that age. So that experience actually made me kind of think I did not want to be an actor. I didn’t really fully come back around until quite a few years later. I sort of dabbled, I did parts here and there but my heart wasn’t really in it for quite a long time after that.

A thirteen year-old Christian Bale interviewed for his part in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (1987)

So what made you finally decide to become an actor whole-hearted?

It’s the rollercoaster ride of doing something creative: when it goes well and you enjoy the process then it’s a high and you just want to keep on doing it. Then the alternative is when it’s just not satisfying at all and you’re just not working well with all the people that you’re with – that just makes you want to finish it and go find something else to do.

Is directing something that you would be interested in doing?

Directors tell me I should direct because the questions I am asking are the questions that they are asking rather than the questions that they expect to come from an actor. I do get that a lot. But there’s a great difference between being able to stand there and make suggestions when it ultimately doesn’t stop at you versus when it does. I think my issue with directing would probably be that I am kind of a loner. I like being responsible for myself.

Which is basically the opposite of directing…

Yeah, I am not sure how long I could last having to answer to so many different people. One director described to me that whenever he makes a movie it’s like he is holding the end of a paint brush, the brush is two blocks long, the camera’s are down there and he’s got every member of the crew and actors and everybody else pushing it in their own way and he is trying to get it back the way it’s supposed to. I don’t know if I would like doing that job. I like just being in charge of what I am doing and that’s it.