Christian Bale may move seamlessly between genres better than any actor around, but you can be sure he loves doing the big blockbusters as much as artier fare like last year’s I’m Not There and Rescue Dawn. Take Batman, the franchise that he reinvented with director Christopher Nolan in 2005’s Batman Begins and returns to on July 18 in The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader films may be loaded with special effects and based on comic books, but when EW.com caught up with the actor last week at the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas (where footage of the film was shown), he sounded as jazzed as ever about playing the part. And then he dropped this little Bat-bomb: ”Knowing the Dark Knight story, I would like very much to complete a trilogy.”
Whoa. So does that mean that this sequel leaves the door open for another movie? Would they really do it? In a wide-ranging interview, Bale talked about why he returned to the world of Batman, what it was like to work with his late costar Heath Ledger, his plans to do a similar franchise reboot with The Terminator, and where he wants to go from here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What brought you back to the part of Batman? Was there something that you didn’t get to do in the first one that you were looking forward to doing this time around?
CHRISTIAN BALE: Well, what we didn’t get to do was show this man who has now matured, who no longer has the naïveté that he had at a younger age — now it’s somebody who has caused change, who has achieved what he had set out to do, but is now seeing consequences that he hadn’t anticipated. So it’s now somebody with the burden of his power — the difference between the man trying to attain that and the man who finds himself with it, and how very different it is.
Do you feel like the character has changed? Isn’t that something that, as an actor, amidst all the effects and everything, you look for?
Yeah, of course, of course. It’s one of the major [reasons] I like working with Chris [Nolan]…. We manage to have all of the interest that I need as an actor, as well as what you said — what did you say, explosions and stuff?
Yeah, in the midst of that. Chris completely understands that explosions and effects don’t make a movie. That ain’t a story right there, those are spectacles within the story, but that doesn’t make a good movie.
So do you think there will be a part 3 of Batman?
Um, look, let’s wait and see…
Or, I guess it’d be part 7.
No, no, no, no, no. [Smiling] Part 3 is what I’d consider it, yeah, I don’t say part 7. Batman begins — that was the beginning there, with all due respect to the others. We are re-creating this. You know, obviously the decision is out of my hands. I would, knowing the Dark Knight story, I would like very much to complete a trilogy. And I think that knowing the story of The Dark Knight, it leaves you anticipating something that really can get very, very interesting for a third. Now, the question would be: Is Chris going to be doing it? Because to me I find it tricky to imagine working on it without it being a collaboration with Chris.
Back to The Dark Knight: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to work with Heath Ledger?
Yeah, I’m absolutely fine talking about him. You know, I don’t like kind of trivializing the tragedy in conjunction with an interview to do with the movie, which is clearly far less important. But Heath was a joy. He really was like that, because he was a very unique man. I enjoyed watching him work, working with him — you know, we had a lot of the old gang from the first one together, and then there were new members, Heath obviously included. What was so great to see with Heath is just how seriously he took it. And we don’t mean in any way to sound sort of pretentious with that, but just in the fact that if we don’t take it seriously, then how can any audience ever take it seriously? And he did one hell of a job. You know, you were out there [at the Warner Bros. presentation earlier in the day] — you saw those clips?
That was my first time, yeah.
That was the first time I’d seen it as well — and it’s wonderful, it’s fantastic, and, you know, it gave me goose bumps throughout, looking at Heath up there. And I just hope that this can celebrate him, celebrate his work.
NEXT PAGE: Bale on the Terminator reboot, and how he chooses his roles
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are you in the Terminator process right now?
CHRISTIAN BALE: There are some wonderful people who have been brought in, and we are working to re-create that world.
Do you have a script?
We’re in the process of doing that, we’re working on that, et cetera.
Do you have a sense of when Terminator is going to start or how long it’s going to take?
I got a sense of it, but, you know, it’s important to make sure that you start a movie when you’re ready, instead of just starting it on a date, regardless. And so we’ll start when we’re ready.
In the meantime, you’re working on Michael Mann’s Depression-era gangster saga Public Enemies.
Yes, yes, that’s actually what I’m doing right now…. I don’t actually start until next week, but so far, just loving it, loving working with Michael, the research, the detail, liking it very much.
How do you feel about the way people discuss the projects you pick? You’ve always done a mix of genres and movies — in the past year or so, for example, you did a Western [3:10 to Yuma], you worked with Werner Herzog [on Rescue Dawn] — but people sometimes focus on the blockbusters. Does that frustrate you?
I certainly don’t do that for anybody but myself. I enjoy making all sorts, and it’s directors who I very much like working with. I don’t really give a damn if it’s a low-budget movie or if it’s a big-budget movie — it’s whatever serves the movie and serves the story best. I certainly enjoy watching both of those kinds of movies, so why don’t I go out there and make both? I don’t really understand why I’d have any frustration whatsoever. What? Frustration that people can’t say, ”Well, you’re predictable as hell, aren’t you? You just do the big studio ones. You just do the indie ones”? You know? That would be frustrating.
Is there a different mindset that goes into making different kinds of movies?
Listen, I think that there probably is, but I don’t really try to articulate that to myself. Because I do think that a story is a story, and I will see many low, low-budget movies that just are way better than some mega-budget movie. So a story’s a story, and I’m going to be interested in a story that I want to go see. And I’ve made mistakes in the past. I hope that that has given me experience, and hopefully I’ll make fewer mistakes in the future.
But you had a good time doing the work…
[Smiles] Um, not always! [Laughs]
Don’t you seek having a good time at least, or some sort of edification?
Well, that’s a funny thing. Everybody considers enjoyment in different ways. Some people would consider ”Hey, every day was a blast on the set, we all got along and went out drinking together after” [as enjoyable]. And, hey, that can be fun. But also I get a lot of satisfaction out of just nonstop work…. Actually, that gives me the most satisfaction, because I’m setting aside time to work on a movie. I don’t necessarily want my life to be the same as it is when I’m not working. I don’t really feel the need for hanging out too much or whatever; I enjoy taking it very seriously. And I absolutely can see the ridiculous side of that as well, because, you know, the majority of jobs are ridiculous. [His interviewer raises his hand, jokingly] Exactly! [He raises his hand and smiles] Both of our hands are up in that. But you have to recognize that and say, ”Regardless, I’m telling a story and I take that seriously, and I enjoy that immensely.” So, to me, that is having fun, when I’m working my ass off. And ultimately, when I’m finished, then I’m really going to enjoy myself in life, because I’ve actually been satisfied in my work. I mean, if I’ve done something that I’ve felt hasn’t really worked or that I haven’t really had to work at, then I can’t enjoy my free time as much because I’m feeling like I have to go answer to myself why the last thing may or may not have gone so well. And I’ve been very fortunate with directors — literally, in the last five years or so, really fantastic collaborations with people — so I’ve had that satisfaction for quite some time.
I know — you’ve got Michael Mann now, you worked with Terrence Malick… You’re running out of the big guys.
Well, you know, hopefully…
There’ll be new ones, another Christopher Nolan comes along…
Absolutely, Christopher Nolan is a new director who will be around for many years to come, I truly think. He’s one of the finest out there. Also, you can revisit working with these same people — hopefully it ain’t just a one-time deal and that’s the end. I worked with Todd Haynes a couple of times [on Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There] and enjoyed that. I very much like collaborating with Brad Anderson [on The Machinist], and we’re kind of looking to do something else together. Jim Mangold [his 3:10 to Yuma director] as well. It’s been very nice. I’ve been a lucky bastard.
Want more? Read EW.com’s interview with Bale’s Dark Knight director, Christopher Nolan, who talks about preserving Heath Ledger’s work and whether he’d consider making another Batman movie.