x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Christian Bale bids adieu to Batman

As The Dark Knight Rises finally premieres here, we talk to Christian Bale about the bittersweet goodbye to his most iconic role - and take a look at his tendency to play destructive characters.

Christian Bale in a scene from the film The Flowers of War, directed by Zhang Yimou. New Pictures Film / Reuters
Christian Bale in a scene from the film The Flowers of War, directed by Zhang Yimou. New Pictures Film / Reuters

We all know that all good things must come to an end. Dressed in jeans and a navy V-neck jumper, a scratchy-looking beard covering his chin, Christian Bale is feeling it right now. The end of an eight-year journey, The Dark Knight Rises, the final part of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, marks the last time the British-born actor will slip on the Caped Crusader's mask and cowl.

So how did that feel? "It was like vanilla ice cream and hot custard mixed together," he answers, slightly strangely, when we meet at a plush Berlin hotel. "There's a time when things need to come to an end. But also, of course, there were great memories and sadness at it. But it needed to happen." For Bale, it represents the conclusion to a series that has propelled the 38-year-old from independent movies such as Velvet Goldmine and American Psycho to an A-list superstar.

"You don't want to keep these things going on too long until you regret it," he continues. "You want to leave while you're still feeling like you're putting out good work. When you're dealing with a trilogy such as that, you come to have expectations of the work. You need to leave when you're feeling that you're still providing that and before you start taking it for granted."

Set eight years on from the preceding film, The Dark Knight, Bale's billionaire Bruce Wayne (and his superhero alter ego Batman) is lured out of retirement to face Gotham City's latest threat: the brainy, brawny terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). "He has been dormant for years, so he's in a weakened condition to begin with," explains Bale, "and Bane is not only incredibly strong but ruthless in terms of his sheer militancy and the ideology that drives him."

With the film also introducing us to Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a jewel thief fans know better as Catwoman, not to mention some spectacular action sequences, those expectations Bale speaks of have been more than met. Critics have raved, audiences have flocked. Unsurprisingly, the film is well on course for exceeding the US$1 billion (Dh3.7bn) at the box office grossed by The Dark Knight.

Yet any talk of The Dark Knight Rises has been overshadowed by the tragic events last month in the US town of Aurora, Colorado, when 12 people were murdered and 58 injured in a mass shooting at a midnight screening. Shortly after the tragedy, Bale took it upon himself to visit the hospital where victims were recovering. "My heart goes out to them," he later stated. "Words cannot express the horror that I feel."

While Bale is not one to exploit his celebrity for a convenient photo op - his trip to Colorado was on his own steam - he has, in the past, been caught out. During a promo tour for Zhang Yimou's Chinese epic The Flowers of War, Bale took it upon himself to visit Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist living under house arrest in a village near Beijing after he was released from prison in 2010.

Travelling there with a CNN reporter and cameraman, Bale and company were set upon by the Chinese police, who physically assaulted the actor. So what happened? "It's something that interests me personally," he tells me. "But that should be for another time." Given Bale may be denied future entry into China, his reluctance to speak is understandable.

Recalling the title of the film for which he won Best Supporting Actor for at the 2011 Oscars, Bale truly is The Fighter. His intensity is well known; sometimes it boils over - notably on the set of Terminator: Salvation, when his shocking, expletive-filled rant directed at the film's cinematographer found its way onto the internet.

If he has a darker side, he has frequently shown it on screen. From his emaciated insomniac in The Machinist to his serial killer in American Psycho, he seems drawn to characters with destructive tendencies. "We all go through those phases, those times when you're wallowing and apparently destroying yourself." Has he been through such phases? "To varying degrees," he nods. "I can't imagine that there is anybody that hasn't."

Living in Los Angeles with the former model and make-up artist Sandra "Sibi" Blaži, his wife for the past 12 years, Bale maintains his equilibrium with a discreet, down-to-earth family life; he and Blaži have a seven-year-old daughter, Emmeline. Fatherhood, he says, is what grounds him. "Nothing can prepare you for it," he says. "It's the best thing that I have and ever will experience."


The path to Batman was a long one for Bale

Christian Bale’s journey to play Batman began long before he put on the costume for 2005’s Batman Begins. It was during the shoot for the Los Angeles-set drama Laurel Canyon, three years earlier, when he met Wally Pfister. The cinematographer had first worked with the Batman director Christopher Nolan on his bravura breakthrough film Memento in 2000. “I was talking to him one day,” remembers Bale, “and he said: ‘I really want to set you up with Chris Nolan because I think the two of you would work together really well.’”

That proved to be something of an understatement. “It’s been very rewarding to watch Christian chart the progression of his role through the three films,” says Nolan. “He always has a strong commitment to finding the truth of the character.” For Bale, who also worked with Nolan on his 2006 tale of rival magicians The Prestige, he always wanted to take Batman away from the high camp of the 1960s TV show starring Adam West. “I do feel I played it the way that I saw from the graphic novels, the way that I would like to have seen it.” In other words, a knight with the emphasis on dark.

The Dark Knight Rises opens in UAE cinemas today.

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