When asked how he views himself, Christian Bale will most likely tell you that he’s not a star, he’s an actor. But back in February, when a video of his expletive-ridden tantrum on the set of Terminator: Salvation hit the internet, harsher words were being used to describe the 35-year-old. ‘I should have known better than that,’ he says about the incident when a crewman wandered into his line of sight mid-method, prompting a torrent of abuse.
But at least he said sorry – ‘I’ve never actually said I’m sorry. Those words never left my mouth [laughs]’. We stand corrected.
It came at a time when Bale was hitting the headlines for a number of reasons. His arrest after a family row in a London restaurant left him spread across the tabloids just as publicity for last summer’s The Dark Knight was reaching ubiquity. So famous is his more recent hissy fit now that if you Google ‘actor tantrums’, Bale’s name comes up as the first three entries. But has the Terminator star really learned his lesson?
‘I do not wish to censor myself because I’m somehow different from everybody else, you know? I’m not, I never wished to be. I think it’s the final nail in the coffin for any kind of creative expression. And you know what? I’m human, and that’s it. Sometimes I get out of order and I will do whatever penance is necessary afterwards.’
Unapologetic? Belligerent? At least he is consistent. Answering awkward questions are clearly part of his penance. He freely admits that he went “overboard”, but it’s fair to say that Christian Bale is a man of extremes. When offset, he likes nothing better that dirt biking, and cheerfully relates a recent accident when, as he puts it: ‘A dirt bike decided it wanted to chop my finger off’. He then explains with a quick laugh: ‘I got pinned.’
Elsewhere, past films like Rescue Dawn and The Machinist have seen the actor shedding frightening amounts of weight, losing a whopping 28kg in order to play one part. ‘I like obsession,’ says Bale. ‘I enjoy it. I think that my happiest moments, when I look back, are to do with obsession, whether it’s with work or relationships… I like becoming obsessed.’ You definitely wouldn’t want to play him at Scrabble. Intense, unpredictable and obsessive, who better to play John Connor, the Terminator franchise’s brooding revolutionary martyr and the leader of the human resistance against the machines?
Certainly, you have to work hard to win him over. The myth goes that Salvation director McG first approached the actor about the role in a British pub. Bale laughs: ‘It wasn’t a pub, I mean, I think he’s made it into a pub because, well, maybe he went to a pub afterwards because I said no. But it was actually some kind of a Hare Krishna sort of place. Absolutely no alcohol there.’
Yes, Bale turned him down. McG has rarely been considered a filmmaker of any depth – for a start, the man is called McG. When he approached his star, he coaxed him within the words: ‘It’s time for me to do something of substance’ (according to Bale). Admittedly, when most filmmakers say this it usually means something along the lines of adapting Kafka using only chopsticks and the art of mime, but for the Charlie’s Angels director this meant a multi-million dollar, CGI-drenched Terminator sequel. Bale was unsympathetic: ‘I liked his motivation, but the fact is that there was nothing on the page to back it up. And so I still had to say no to it.’
It took time to convince him. Major rewrites and the belated contribution of writer Jonathan Nolan (whom Bale had already worked with extensively on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Prestige) eventually convinced the reticent actor that something could be done, but it was a near thing. ‘The start date was getting closer and closer, and I was seriously looking at the appalling situation where we start our first day of work and there’s not a script.’
So what can we expect from the new film? ‘We’re not only trying to rebirth the mythology, but to show the birth of John Connor as the leader of the resistance,’ reveals Bale. ‘I mean, I just never saw there being another possible real story. Obviously with this one, we’re going into the future and it’s a very different setting. We must do that; we can’t bang out the same old, same old… We wanted to do something different.’
It is a reboot for a film franchise that Bale believes had floundered in recent years. Certainly he won’t be playing it for laughs, as he does his best to scowl the crazed robots into submission. ‘John Connor is stoic, but he’s the son of Sarah Connor. And she’s a mad dog. She’s a crazy woman and he has inherited that. You want to see that… He has to be out there putting his life on the line, and I just found him to be a character who hadn’t really been tapped sufficiently. We were putting him in a world where you really could dig in and get much more of a view of this man.’
We wonder, though, did Bale ever get to meet the real Terminator, by which we mean Governor Schwarzenegger? ‘Yeah, I mean I met him years back, and then I met him again after we finished filming. I bumped into him at a car park and we chatted for a while’. Amicably, it would seem. Still, we just can’t help wondering what would happen if Arnie wandered into Christian Bale’s eyeline whilst he’s “in the zone”. One imagines the response would be a little more restrained.
The Terminator robot takes on all-comers in a battle of the sci-fi cyborgs.
Battle Droids (Star Wars)
Easy win. We reckon the Time Out crew would stand a decent chance against Lucas’s Chaplin-esque, bumbling laser-monkeys. Roger, roger.
Cyclon Centurions (Battlestar Galactica)
A tough fight, but we’re backing the T101. It’s got the reach, and more importantly, a far bigger gun. We’re not saying size is everything, but it helps when you’re a 9ft tall killer robot.
Optimus Prime (Transformers)
The original cartoon Prime would have put up a decent fight (no doubt backed by some insane ’80s rock guitar), but we reckon Michael Bay’s slightly soppy Autobot would just run away and play with his Allspark.
Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
In all fairness, Gort has the power to destroy an entire world. That rather gives him the edge in any fight. The winner!
Terminator: Salvation will be released in cinemas later this month.