With a résumé that includes “Little Women,” “American Psycho” and “Batman Begins,” Christian Bale has tackled his share of diverse roles. None of those projects, however, involved eating live insects.
For “Rescue Dawn,” which hits theaters July 20, Bale faced one of his toughest challenges yet working with director Werner Herzog to spin the true-life tale of a downed American flier who escapes a Laotian prison camp during the Vietnam War. We spoke to Bale to get the inside skinny on the dramatic flick, its isolated shooting location and his upcoming face-off against a certain clown.
MTV: Obviously you get a lot of scripts, so why “Rescue Dawn”?
Christian Bale: I like Werner’s approach [and] his kind of crazy dreams. I like that he purposefully goes against the flow [and that] he purposely bugs the system. He could make things a lot easier for himself, but he chooses not to. This is something which is a very personal story for him [since Bale's character] Dieter was a very good friend of his, and I just found it to be a very memorable story.
MTV: How did you hear about the part?
Bale: I’d had kind of a bad year, and my wife and I just headed off to [the South American island] Tierra del Fuego. I was in one of those e-mail cafes, and I got an e-mail from Werner asking if I wanted to play Dieter, and it seemed like a great idea at the time.
MTV: So fast-forward to when you were eating maggots: Did you reflect back to that moment and think, “Maybe I should have waited to send that e-mail”?
Bale: No, I love those moments, you know. I like [maggots]. There’s nothing wrong [with them] … Give ‘em a shot. It’s not as bad as it looks, really. And the local markets are full of different insects and things that you eat as snacks.
MTV: The snake scene though, where you rip into it with your teeth … that was on another level.
Bale: Well, I had to capture the real snake, yes, and it did manage to whip around and bite me on the shoulder at one point. But this is a snake that the local children are always catching. They eat it regularly. It tastes like chicken. I only caught it. I hope people believe that I am really eating it, but Werner and I thought it wasn’t really necessary to bite the head off this real snake, so we created a dummy one for that purpose.
MTV: Was it difficult capturing the essence of a storied, real-life figure like Dieter?
Bale: Well, Dieter’s a real person, but he’s not [someone] most people are familiar with, so you can still have a lot of room to breathe within that. He was a very personal friend of Werner, [but] he wasn’t looking for an impersonation from me. Although I couldn’t help it because he just had mannerisms about him that I wanted to include.
MTV: You work extremely closely with Steve Zahn in this film, and the bond between your characters really drives the picture. Did you guys hang out a lot to develop that sense of camaraderie?
Bale: We had met a couple of times before but very briefly when we were here in the States. It was just a matter of being out in Thailand. This wasn’t a movie set where everybody would have a break and disappear off to their little trailers or something. … There were no trailers. There was no anything. We were doing a scene sitting in the mud, [and after the] fifth take, we were like, “Well, we’ll just keep sitting in the mud.” I mean there’s nowhere to go, so we were just hanging around side-by-side pretty much all day, every day.
MTV: Given that our country is currently at war, is it even more important to release a film like “Rescue Dawn”?
Bale: I don’t know. … “Important” is a very strange word to be using with movies. It is what it is to whoever is watching it. I think that the motivation from Werner’s point of view — [and] certainly from mine — is purely this one man’s story, which is phenomenal. Certainly from my end, I never had any concept of this being any sort of political statement, nothing whatsoever. It’s just a man maintaining his humanity, and I think that the same would go for Werner. This is just a dear friend of his and he just wanted to commemorate him.
MTV: In this movie, you have an American accent with a slight German twang. For Batman, you’re also going with American, and you’re doing this interview in your normal Welsh voice.
Bale: Well, remember this, we actually made this movie towards 2005, and then with Batman, I’m American, but I’ve gotten so used to doing American by now. I mean, often I’ll wake up first thing in the morning and I’ll just be talking American half of the day and then suddenly realize. Or I might look at home videos and realize I was talking with an American accent the entire time. It just kind of becomes second nature for me. I have to remind myself, “No, your true voice is English.”
MTV: So speaking of Batman, in “The Dark Knight” you’re going up against the Joker (see ” ‘Dark Knight’ Script Picks Up Right Where ‘Batman Begins’ Left Off” ). Clowns are inherently scary, right?
Bale: Yeah … there is a wonderful word for it. [It's called coulrophobia, for the record.] It’s an actual fear of clowns, which most kids do have. They’re terrified of the bloody things.
MTV: Back in 1989, we had the Joker dancing to Prince, but it sounds like you guys are going much darker this time around. Should people expect a scary Joker?
Bale: I think I should let Heath [Ledger, who plays the Joker] give you the answer on all this, but certainly I think we dig a little more than the other movies did. We recognize, of course, they are cartoon characters, [but] we try to ground them in somewhat more reality than the other movies.
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