Christian Bale interview: The Machinist (2004)

Interview by Stephen Applebaum; previously published on BBC Movies.

Last updated: 01 December 2008

Forget Robert De Niro piling on the pounds for Raging Bull or Renée Zellwegger getting curvy for Bridget Jones. If you want to see a really astonishing physical transformation, check out Christian Bale in The Machinist.

Having honed his body to taut perfection for American Psycho and Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the actor then shed a staggering 63 pounds to play an insomniac lathe operator who is literally wasting away from guilt in Brad Anderson's atmospheric thriller. Despite having as much muscle as The Simpsons' Montgomery Burns, Bale still managed to land the title role in Batman Begins.

The fact that you lost 63 pounds for this role suggests tremendous commitment. What drew you to it?

Well, I hadn't worked in a while - and I wanted to - but I just hadn't found scripts that I'd really been interested in. So I was really dying for something to arrive. Then when this one did, I just didn't want to put it down. I finished it and, upon the kind of revelation that you get at the end, I immediately wanted to go back and re-visit it, to take a look at what clues I could have gotten throughout.

There are an awful lot, but they're really nicely done because they're very, very subtle. Sometimes you get a really great character and the movie ain't so great; this one seemed to me to be a really great character and a potentially great movie as well.

Why did you decide to starve yourself?

It just didn't enter my head that it could be done any other way, really. I just realised, "Okay, I have to lose weight." I just had no idea how much I would have to lose in order to get the look that I was searching for.

I had a photograph of Hank Williams when he was only 29, but he was looking like he was coming on 50, I guess just from abuse. It was a photograph of him getting released from jail just a few months before he died. He's shirtless and he looks a wreck, absolutely emaciated. So I stuck that on the front of the script to be kind of my image of what Trevor should be, and then just kept going and going and trying to reach that.

What kind of medical guidance were you getting?

I had been to a nutritionist and when I had got down to what she had told me was a healthy weight, I just went, "You know what? I can go more than this. I can keep going." So I lost another 20 pounds below what she said I should stop at...

Was your wife concerned about your health?

Absolutely, yeah. First of all, think of the tolerance she must have had just to have her husband walking around and coming out of the shower looking like that, you know? It's not a pretty sight.

How difficult was it putting the weight back on for Batman? Will a lot of the muscle definition be provided by the costume?

Well, they help out. But there was still a real fitness level that I had to achieve to be able to do what was demanded of me. So it was like a massive shock to my body because of what I was trying to get it to do. Also, my metabolism had to get back up to speed, because my heart had got used to a whole different way of living for some time.

You found the attention of the press oppressive after Empire Of The Sun, and would often find ways to leave interviews. Has your attitude changed, and do you now feel ready to handle the kind of attention that will inevitably come with playing Batman?

I do feel in more of a position to handle it, but I am no more fond of it than I was. Also, I don't know if this is naïve, but I feel that the movie can kind of do it by itself. You know what I mean? Because of the size of the film, my hope is that I won't have to put myself everywhere and all over the place, and become some sort of soulless, empty being at the end of it.

Frankly, I get bored of seeing many people who are around too often. And I certainly get bored of seeing myself if I'm around too much. But I have to wait and see exactly what will happen, and exactly what kind of changes may occur. Who the hell knows, I may detest it and run a mile, or maybe I will be able to deal with it.

Have you signed on for three pictures?

Currently, yeah.

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