When Christian Bale walks into his press conference, my eyes almost pop out of my head. The actor has gained 18kg, shaved his head, dyed his eyebrows blonde, and is totally unrecognisable. Twenty years earlier, he starved himself for months to play The Machinist, a decision that might have cost him his health.
This time he’s working with a nutritionist. And again it’s for a role, playing former Vice President Dick Cheney in Backseat, director Adam McKay’s follow up to his Oscar nominated The Big Short. Despite his unflattering appearance, the 43-year-old actor is in great spirits.
Our relationship goes back 17 years. I’ve interviewed him no less than 20 times, and he’s always been forthcoming and eager to please.
In the course of those years he steered his own path undertaking roles in risky projects and then finding his niche as the iconic Batman.
Not surprisingly after he quit that role, he ventured again into offbeat films, such as The Fighter for which he won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category.
His dedication to his art is matched only by his dedication to his wife and family.
His father actually discouraged him from getting married because of the preponderance of divorce in the family, but Bale changed his mind after meeting Sibi Blazic, who at the time was working as Winona Ryder’s personal assistant.
They eloped, were married in Las Vegas, and five years later their daughter Emmeline, now 11, was born. They now have a son as well who was born two years ago.
Looking back on your career, are you happy with the way it has progressed?
I look back and I see a lot of bad films there, but there’s some really good ones as well.
It’s always a team effort, and you never know if you are on the same page with the director until you actually start filming.
And so often you find out, “Nah, this is not what I thought it was going to be at all.”
But I don’t regret any of that; it’s given me an incredibly interesting life. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and meet wonderful people, and compared to the life I would have had without it, there’s zero regrets no matter how dire the film is. I just hope not to make more of those.
Are you still as gung ho about acting as you were as a young man?
The thing that always bothers me – if you’re someone that does as much research as I do, which I happen to enjoy doing – is, it doesn’t make any difference necessarily to the end result; some actors can just turn up on the day and give brilliant performances.
But for me, I don’t have that confidence, and I need that preparation. I need to know everything that is available to me.
The only regret I have as an actor is not being able to make a 20-hour long film cause how can you possibly fit in everything about this character in that space?
So, yeah, I’d have to say I haven’t changed.
You now have a baby boy. Was that different from having a daughter?
Having a boy after having a girl is wonderful. They have both been absolutely wonderful.
My daughter always wanted a sister, but now she is so happy to have a little brother, and he’s a character beyond belief. They are my life. I am by nature a little bit reclusive. I don’t really socialise much with people in the industry at all. Outside of work, my life is my family.
This is the third time you’ve undergone a drastic weight change for a role. What precautions did you follow this time?
I had never before gone to a doctor or a nutritionist about gaining or losing weight. But eventually that caught up with me.
When I did The Machinist, I came up with the absolutely brilliant method of just smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey to lose weight.
But then when I tried it once again in my 40s, that didn’t work quite as well. I was waking up with heart palpitations and just not feeling right at all.
So, finally for Backseat, I decided that maybe somebody knows better than I do; so I went to somebody and they managed to get me up a good 40 pounds (18kg); it’s never healthy to put on that amount of weight in a short amount of time, but I did it in the healthiest manner.
When you lost all that weight for The Machinist, how concerned was your wife?
Of course she was concerned but very supportive. She threatened that if I did any permanent damage to myself, she would kill me (laughs) but she couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty when she was eating dinner in front of me. She did lose some weight herself out of sympathy, I think.
But I caught her a few times removing her hand from in front of my mouth as I was waking up; she was just testing for breath. But even though it was discomforting for her, she liked the character I played.
What makes your wife so special?
Even though I love her dearly and she’s done wonderful things for me which has changed my life incredibly, I’d rather not talk a lot more about it. I want to protect her privacy.
Growing up you had three older sisters. What are some of the things you learnt from them?
That they’re crazy, but adorable. But I don’t really like expanding on family matters and personal things too much.
Were your sisters artistic?
My sisters were creative. One was a musician, the other one actually started acting long before me. And even though it was not overly encouraged by my parents, somehow they saw it as a possibility as long as we were willing to commit ourselves to it completely.
My dad was an unconventional man, and he enjoyed the fact that we had ideas and dreams about doing things which most other people just laugh at and tell you that you’re crazy for having them. So, in that way he always encouraged us.
You were born in Wales. How did you get from there to Hollywood?
It was largely my father’s doing. He had a kind of a roaming spirit, and we always travelled. He had lived by himself from the age of 13, and finding himself confined living in Britain, he wanted to move around.
So, he gave us as many different experiences as possible.
Later we learned that much of the time he was actually forced to move.
But it was an exciting time and it prepared me greatly for the lifestyle of being an actor, where you are travelling a great deal and often dissatisfied with staying in any one place for too long.
Chris Cornell wrote a song for your movie The Promise. What did his death mean to you?
Music has been one of the most important parts of my life. I am never not listening to it. He was someone who obviously lived it and breathed it, and it was a great privilege to get to know him, albeit very briefly, before his tragic death.
But to me, music is something I really couldn’t be without. When you need to be picked up, when you need to mellow out, when you need to feel good, whatever it is, music is poetry to me. And I only wish I had some talent to actually create some music rather than just recognise good music.