Christian Bale Is a Chill Dude

On gaining weight for VICE, performance capture in Mowgli, and actor chatter.

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28 December 2018, 8:00am

Image: Netflix

Is Christian Bale the hardest working actor in the world? I’m not sure, but a scroll through his IMDB page, which includes The Fighter, the Nolan Batman trilogy, American Psycho, The Machinist, etc, surely put him on the shortlist. The last few months have been a perfect encapsulation of The Christian Bale experience i.e. his famous physical and emotional experimentation, where he played Bagheera in Netflix’s Mowgli using performance capture, to then go on to play one of the most impactful men in modern history, Dick Cheney, in recently released VICE , where he put on shit tonnes of weight.

I sat down with him earlier this month, and spoke about VICE, performance capture, and what kind of dinner party conversations he and other Bollywood celebs had when he visited Mumbai for the premiere of Mowgli.

VICE: You told The Guardian in a profile earlier this year, that you’re your calmest when you’re fasting. What were you like when you were putting on so much weight for VICE?
Christian Bale: Paranoid and neurotic (laughs). Your body is wondering what are you doing to it. You know, I was putting on the pounds, and building up my neck, and it’s too much for a body. But at the same time I had to sit still everyday for four hours while wonderful makeup artists adjusted my face. That was at times very difficult. You know, when you’re skinnier, you can sit still for long lengths of time, but when you’ve got more weight on you, you need to move, so it gets uncomfortable. It was a strange time for me.

VICE: So talking about strange times, Mowgli premiered in India, and we were watching these pictures on social media of you with Indian movie stars. I’ve always wondered what those conversations were like.
Bale: You know you’d probably be surprised at how conventional it is. We talk about our families. Talk about what everyone else talks about, you know. We talk about our experiences. I was asking about the nature of filmmaking in India. We had to travel at one point from the hotel and there was a lot of traffic. Abhishek (Bachchan) sort of scratched his chin and said, “Yeah, my dad.” And I asked him, “But what has your dad got to do with traffic?”. I didn’t know that fans of his dad collect outside his house on that evening. I was like, “That many?”, and he shrugged and said, “Yeah, it can delay traffic at times.” So that’s fascinating to me, to learn that he comes from this dynasty of actors.
It’s the same as you meeting new people and making new friends. Sometimes we’re just standing there, having nothing to talk about (laughs).

VICE: What about Mowgli interested you?
Bale: Though this is the first time I did performance capture, potentially, it’s limitless or how many transformations you can now use it to make as an actor. You may have seen Andy Serkis, who plays Baloo in Mowgli, and directed this. I’ve known him for 19 years. And seeing his performances as Gollum and King Kong, and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes series, and seeing the potential of that, I wanted to try it. It’s a brave new world of technology and either you can push back from that, or embrace it.
And once you get past the technological differences, it really still just comes down to the truth in acting. It’s just a different form of distraction. And there’s this ring of cameras around your head, and you have to get your spacial awareness right, so you’re not bumping into people with that. But with conventional filmmaking, you learn not to be distracted by the crew and the cameras and the lights, and just see people that the character would see. It all ends up being the same thing.

VICE: You talking about spacial awareness made me think about how voice acting and physical acting take place in two completely different times and spaces. Is that different from the usual way?
Bale: It helped a great deal actually. I’ve done voices for animated films twice, once for Howl’s Moving Castle, and another time for Pocahontas. This actually lent itself more to conventional film acting because you are in a scene. You aren’t standing in front of a microphone. So myself and Andy (Serkis) as Balloo, Rohan (Chand) as Mowgli—we’re right there, we aren’t responding to each other in a vacuum.
The way you behave and speak your lines depends on how you are spoken to. The body positions, the physicality, are what you see in the film, so if I lean one side, you see that. So there’s much more spontaneity in that.

Mowgli is streaming on Netflix.

Follow Parthshri Arora on Twitter.

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