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Christian Bale and the Art of Extreme Acting

What won't the best actor of his generation do for a role? Not much.

****

When the best actor of his generation pulls up in front of Shutters, a place famous for seeing and being seen that could only have been chosen by a publicist, it's in a black pickup truck. He's wearing a baseball cap and an unassuming getup of T-shirt and jeans. The look is trucker chic, though I'm pretty sure Bale has no idea what trucker chic is. He tells me the pickup is for hauling his dirt bikes, which is what he's into these days, though he confesses he's not very Zen about the art of motorcycle maintenance.

"I know how to ride. When something goes wrong, I just look at it and want to kick it and bang it with a camera," he says with a laugh.

Director Werner Herzog was thrilled to rope Christian Bale for Rescue Dawn.
Director Werner Herzog was thrilled to rope Christian Bale for Rescue Dawn.

As we sit down at a large table in the grand lobby, where it seems everyone has a severe case of cell-phone ear, the waves are breaking and the wind is just starting to pick up. I've brought my surfboard, and I'm worried about getting to the surf before the wind craps it out. Bale is worried about, well, this uncomfortable part of the business. I eye the surf nervously; he looks like he could use a nap. A big question hangs stagnant between us, though it's unspoken and it's a matter of degrees: How much does either of us want to be here? I'm breaking a long-ago pledge to never do another celebrity interview; he's on record as not giving a damn about the trappings of stardom. For a minute, there's a feeling that we're the two most bored people in the room. It's a dicey situation.

These situations, of course, are accidents — the kind of accidents that happen when the son of a circus-dancer mom and a Bunyanesque adventurer of a father, who was born in Wales but moved around a lot as a kid, gets picked to star in a Steven Spielberg film after auditioning on a dare from his sister and eventually ends up in Santa Monica talking to someone who, by his own conspiracy of accidents, has ended up sitting across the table from the greatest actor of his generation with a tape recorder in hand. Since there's always the chance this will turn out to be a happy accident, we gamely order coffee and water and settle in.

L.A. WEEKLY: Why all the moving around? What was going on — was that just life with a circus-dancer mom?

CHRISTIAN BALE: It was more partly wanting to go to new places and partly wanting to get away from other places quickly.

What does that mean? Was there a little hustling going on with the family?

Ah, just that my dad was an interesting character, you know? He was somebody who pretty much lived on his own from the age of 13, and that never really left him, you know? Being a roamer. That was what he did.

And your mom was a circus dancer?

Yeah, I know. She hates it whenever I talk about that, but how can a kid forget? It was definitely the most memorable job she had, in my mind. She says, "That's not all I did." But, you know, when you're 6 or 7 years old and your mom's dressed as a clown, or mucking about with tigers or elephants in a circus, it kind of sticks in your head.

So, there was a lot of starting over and reinvention, that sort of thing?

Yeah, and just the dissatisfaction with the rut that you can fall into very easily, anywhere, but that he felt very much so in England. He was just looking for something new.

Was your dad the one who moved you to America? Or were you already over here acting?

There was always an idea of the States being the place. I remember there were a few times, when I was like 7 or 8, not really understanding how things worked, and hearing my dad talk [about moving here], and saying goodbye to my friends — I was going to the States — and then being back in school by Monday. Eventually, I got work over here and brought my family with me, which was a really good thing.

Bale is living proof that you can take the boy out of the old country, but you can't take the old country out of the boy. He still speaks with a distinct brogue, and his conversational manner is that of a guy sitting at a pub having a few pints next to a stranger — friendly but not overly familiar. He doesn't really look you in the eye, but he's game so long as it doesn't get wanky.

Does this feel like home now, or do you still have an emotional tie to British culture?

Well, talking about football or something ... If I see England play, I can't help but get goose bumps, you know? There will always be that. But that's what half of America is anyway — people who come from somewhere else. This is definitely my home now. I've ended up being here for almost half my life.

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