BEVERLY HILLS, California — Between “L.A. Confidential,” “Batman Begins,” “Gladiator,” “The Prestige” and “A Beautiful Mind,” they’ve given us some of the best films of the past decade. From “The Insider” to “The Machinist,” they’ve embarked on chameleonesque transformations that boggle the mind.
Now, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are finally going toe-to-toe for the topsy-turvy Western remake “3:10 to Yuma.” During an eye-opening, rib-tickling shoot-out with MTV, they defended Ernest P. Worrell, speculated on the need to fill photocopiers full of lead and revealed the co-star that’s been sharing Bale’s bed.
MTV: Between “Rescue Dawn” and this movie, you’re really on a roll.
Christian Bale: Don’t worry. It’ll all come to a crashing end soon.
MTV: Maybe you’ll make “Ernest Goes to Camp 5” next?
Bale: Come on, now. Don’t knock that, man.
MTV: Ernest was pretty cool.
Bale: Oh yeah.
MTV: It’s been at least a decade since the last great cowboy movie. So when you got the script for “3:10 to Yuma,” was it a matter of, “I want to make a Western,” or, “I want to make this Western”?
Bale: It was, “I wanna make this bloody good story … which just happens to be a Western.”
Russell Crowe: Same thing, really. I read the script and thought, “I’d enjoy playing this character.” Then I heard that Christian was interested in doing it, so that …
Bale: … put him off for a little while. [They laugh.]
Crowe: When I read this I said, “I’d enjoy doing this, I’d enjoy being around horses, and I’d enjoy this character, so that’s what I’ll go and do.”
MTV: What’s the best part about doing a Western?
Bale: It’s great when you’re out in the canyons riding your horses with the old guns, and there’s nothing [to remind you] of modern life whatsoever. Except I found in New Mexico we’d have to clear [the frame of] all the old ovens and microwaves and computers that people take to the desert to shoot — to just vent their anger on.
Crowe: It was weird, wasn’t it? There were a lot of photocopiers. People must take them out there and go, “I’m sick of you, you photocopying varmint!”
Bale: Also, the guns in this movie were great guns. It must have something to do with the wood and the metal as well. But they just have real character to them. It’s like they have a personality themselves. And they smell so bloody good as well — after you’d fire them, you’d get a sniff of it.
MTV: Russell, you’ve done Westerns before like “The Quick and the Dead”…
Crowe: I’ve done a couple of Australian horse films as well.
MTV: … But they’re really few and far between here in America. Why do you think that is?
Crowe: It would seem so, yeah. I think it’s expense — you’ve got to stand back with a simple point of view and look at what it takes to [film] a Western: the livestock, the equipment and all that stuff. Unless you’re electing to do a large part of that in CGI, your budget to do something like John Ford was once pulling off would be massive these days — and without a guaranteed audience for it.
MTV: I can only assume that the two of you are as fascinated watching each other act as we in the audience are …
Crowe: [He glances at Bale with a grin.] I was fascinated watching you work!
Bale: We would just be stunned! Stunned into silence looking at each other!
Crowe: I was a stunned mullet.
Bale: [Sarcastically pretending he’s on set] “Oh, I’m sorry, was that my line? I didn’t realize. I was so stunned by your performance.”
MTV: What’s the one thing that you saw Christian do that made you think, “I wish I could do that”?
Crowe: Our friendship, our relationship, however you wanna put it, started on day one of the reading. It’s very easy in this business to miss the point of it. Some people can go into all these grand shapes and twists and forget that the simple thing is about learning your dialogue and inhabiting a character. It was very clear to me on day one of the reading that, not only did Christian have a sense of humor, but that he also respected the job.
Bale: Any good actor can communicate very well by distilling the essence of what the movie really is. [And two actors need to share] that common understanding. With Russell, that was bloody easy. … You can cut out all of the bullsh–. [Looking at Crowe] The one thing I really hate — and I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this — but you sometimes get actors who’ll spend so long talking it out and complaining and blaming other people for stuff. Eventually, it makes you realize that maybe they’re just avoiding getting on with doing it.
MTV: And that wasn’t the case with Russell?
Bale: I found with Russell that we could just get on with it. We could get rid of all the nonsense. I appreciated that greatly.
MTV: Which leads me to a realization I had halfway through the movie: Because of your acting skills and the gray areas in this film, you could have just as easily switched your roles of the hero and the villain.
Bale: The weird thing is that you’re the only person who has said that today.
MTV: For real?
Crowe: [He laughs.] You [reporter] blokes go back into your room and you have your croissants and your cups of coffee, and you start talking about stuff. And every now and then, you’ll come up with some kind of bollocks like that, and everybody asks it from then on. It’s a fascinating observation!
MTV: So would you have been willing to switch?
Crowe: No, there’s no way I could limp as well as Christian.
MTV: So, the casting was all about the hero’s bad leg then?
Bale: That’s what it all came down to.
Crowe: The director brought us into a room, and we had a limp-off.
Bale: I got the role because I put a stone in my shoe. I cheated.
MTV: When you watch a Western, you can’t help but think, “It must be fun to play with the guns.” Did you have to resist the temptation of twirling them around your fingers?
Bale: Why resist it?
Crowe: You’ve gotta go for it.
Bale: Much like riding the horse, you’ve got to spend some time in the saddle. With the guns, you’ve got to spend some time holding it. But I drew the line — I didn’t sleep with it or anything.
Crowe: [He laughs.] Just twice. You did sleep with it twice.
Bale: Hey, I’d try anything six times, mate.
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