Nominee Profile: Christian Bale (American Hustle)
From his first role, in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun 25 years ago, to his latest character, in David O. Russell’s American Hustle, Christian Bale has always invested body and soul in his work, sometimes pushing himself “a little too far” as this British actor approaching the big 4-0 likes to say. This is one of these years. Not only has he given us two great back-to-back performances in Out of the Furnace and American Hustle; for the latter, in the role of a con man caught up the FBI’s Abscam sting operation, he also gained 40 pounds.
So dramatic was his transformation that Robert De Niro, another method actor who is no stranger to weight-gain in the service of his craft, didn’t recognize Bale the first day they worked together on Hustle. His co-star Amy Adams is also in awe of the remarkable transformation effected by Bale which, aside from the hefty paunch also included a conspicuous comb over. “Fat Christian is kind of sexy,” she states emphatically. “And so is that comb over.” The critics agreed. In the film there is more Bale to love and now his work has been recognized with a Golden Globe nomination as best actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
But his achievement goes beyond his intake of cheeseburgers and fries to gain the desired weight. That’s old news for an actor who dropped to an emaciated 121 lbs. on a diet of apples and coffee for The Machinist, and then put back almost 100 pounds to reach the desired weight and muscle tone for his role as Batman. Behind that mask and that suit is a career spanning more than 35 films, three Golden Globes nominations and one big triumph with The Fighter, his previous film with Russell for which he also a garnered an Oscar.
There were doubts along the way. Many. As a child actor he was chosen among 4,000 hopefuls to carry the weight of Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun on his small shoulders. When the success of that film made him famous, he was only 13, and he thought about quitting until Kenneth Branagh convinced him to join the cast of his Henry V. Offers soon piled on and young Christian found himself working in a string of youth oriented films, such as Newsies and Little Women before making his mark as a suave serial killer in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Even as he became a bona-fide movie star, he felt “a slight embarrassment” because acting was not “a proper job.”
And yet he has never lost his passion for revealing the truths at the heart of his characters. That’s why he liked the role of Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle so much. From the start Bale was fascinated by the pudgy, sleazy con man and saw in him a man who really wanted to improve his life. But then again, that’s Bale, the actor who fought his way into American Psycho, The Machinist, Batman and The Fighter and all the great characters he has created for to enjoy. Fortunately for us, he is not finished. Next he’ll be parting the Red Sea as Moses in Exodus, a new take on the Biblical figure in the film directed by Ridley Scott.
What really got him into American Hustle was his wife Sibi Blazic. Married to her now for almost 14 years, she knows him well, and is accustomed to his doubts and hesitations. Sibi knew that at its heart the movie is the story of a helpless romantic – just like her husband – so she pushed him to do it.
As for Bale, for all his commitment to method, all his movie successes and accolades, there is only one role he is happy to take credit for, that of father. His daughter Emmaline, he says, is his finest work of art.