The Oscar contender takes us inside the making of the new-to-DVD ''Rescue Dawn'' -- but can we get him to dish about becoming John Connor?

By Vanessa Juarez
December 07, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Armando Gallo / Retna
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He may be one of the most talented actors around, but one senses that Christian Bale isn’t trying to impress anybody. He’s not the chummy kind of star who consciously drums up an arsenal of one-liners for the press. The guy merely says what he has to, and nothing more. Take, for example, the following interview, in which talked to Bale about the new-to-DVD Rescue Dawn, Werner Herzog’s critically acclaimed Vietnam-era adventure drama in which the actor plays real-life American POW Dieter Dengler. Certainly, Bale is gracious; he’d just rather let his films ”speak for themselves” — and keep the ones we haven’t seen yet (including a certain sci-fi franchise film in which he plays some guy named John Connor) a mystery.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: On the Rescue Dawn extras, you talk about a meeting you had with Werner Herzog over drinks, where he laid a lot of the physical demands of playing Dieter Dengler out on the table. What did he say that made you say yes?
CHRISTIAN BALE: He was just trying to push my buttons and see how I reacted. He just wanted to see if I flinched, basically. He does that a lot with people.

Had you gone into the meeting already deciding more or less that you wanted to take the part?
No, because the first time we met, we were actually talking about me playing one of the other roles. It was just kind of general talk about it. And then it wasn’t until a few weeks after our meeting, I was down in Patagonia and I got an e-mail from Werner saying, What did I think about playing Dieter. I thought, Yeah.

What attracted you to the part?
He’s a very charismatic character, very intriguing. It was a mixture of Dieter and Werner. The character was very good. I really liked the script…. And then just knowing Werner’s reputation, I wanted to see for myself.

Had you seen Little Dieter Needs to Fly [the documentary that Herzog made in 1997 about Dengler, which was the basis for Rescue Dawn]?
Yeah. I saw it because of reading the script.

Were you worried about how that would translate into a Hollywood film?
Hollywood as opposed to…

As opposed to a documentary that fewer people saw.
We just tried to tell the parts of the story that you can’t include in a documentary. I never met Dieter, he died a couple of years before [in 2001]. Werner said when he showed Dieter the documentary, Dieter said something like, ”this is unfinished business here.” They were a funny couple of guys. [Laughs] I would have liked to have met him, I would have liked to have had a drink with him and Werner. I think Werner and Dieter are hilarious and great characters and I just don’t want to be bored. And Werner is anything but boring, and likewise for Dieter.

Werner seems to have a very deadpan sense of humor, but at the same time I understand he’s a very demanding director. Is that apt?
It depends what he’s choosing to show you. He actually laughs and smiles a lot. But like anybody, he’s one person in the morning and another person in the evening; it just depends on your relationship. But he does tend to be more extreme than most people and most people always think of Werner in terms of intensity and aggression, which absolutely he has. But it also goes the other way: He can be very, very mellow, very, very laid back, and more so than most people. And very amusing. He’s good company.

Were there ever moments where you thought you might not be able to get through certain parts of shooting the film?
I always like those moments. So I never think that I’m not going to get through it, I just think, Aw, this is great. When I see that other people are thinking something is ridiculous or impossible, then I start enjoy myself.

One of those for me would have been the scene where you eat a snake.
Well, we had been out in the jungle for some time by then, and it isn’t strange to see these snakes going by, and lizards. It was not any more memorable than the other days. And the local kids would catch these snakes and people would eat them regularly, so to them, nobody was batting an eyelid.

NEXT PAGE: Anything you want to tell us about Terminator 4, Mr. Bale? Anything at all?

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there a conversation about having a stunt man do the scene where you’re being dragged by the water buffalo?
CHRISTIAN BALE: I didn’t get onto this movie to have people do everything. Of course, there are moments where professionals are telling me that it really is hazardous and it’s going to stop filming. So in those moments I’ll say, ”Okay.” But with almost everything, I always push it just to see if they’re being too safe. I always say, ”No, I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.” And I really wait until people have to stand in front of me and shout at me, ”No, you cannot do it.” Otherwise, I know that I can and I enjoy that. And the buffalo was nothing; we did that all morning and I didn’t really care.

I understand most of the extras were locals. What were they like?
It was funny, the local villagers didn’t understand quite what we were doing. I was using one of their houses to get changed in, and they would come to me in between takes and ask me why was I letting everybody treat me that way, I should stand up for myself. I shouldn’t let them tie me up to a buffalo and drag me behind it. They were concerned that I was being bullied by the film crew and didn’t understand why I didn’t say no.

Were you able to speak with any of them?
It was kind of lingua franca, a sort of just adopted sign language and laughing and pointing and juggling. They took to us after a while. There was definite suspicion and confusion to start with, and then after a while, I just think they thought that we were quite ridiculous and quite amusing as well.

Did your experience on Rescue Dawn give you a new appreciation for people who are fighting for their country?
A new appreciation, no. Not a new appreciation.

Or reinforced how you felt prior…
I learned about Dieter’s opinion, about his reaction. He was a very unusual character. He was bombed and shot at by American fighter planes, and it made him want to become a pilot. I wouldn’t expect that to be the normal reaction. Nothing about Dieter was normal.

Steve Zahn is such a chameleon of an actor. When one watches this, it’s sort of hard to believe that he was also in You’ve Got Mail. And he’s just as persuasive in both roles.
He’s extraordinary, and he was great company, in the rice paddies, and the jungles, wading through rivers with lizards and snakes going past us. The whole movie was a one-liner to us. We were in hysterics most of the time. We really were, and part of it I think was a little bit going crazy. But when it’s a shared craziness, it’s very funny and you can see it happening. He was great company, and like you said, he can do any kind of movie.

What’s your personal take on Rescue Dawn‘s Oscar chances? For a lot of people like EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, yours was a great performance.
You know, it remains that. It’s there for all time for people to look at it. And it is what it is. And [thinking about a possible Oscar nomination] ain’t keeping me up at night.

I’ve been told that you can’t say much about Terminator, but is there anything you can say about what attracted you to the project? Were you a fan of the franchise growing up?
I haven’t ever heard of it.

In between Batman and the movie you’ve never heard of, you’ve taken on what some would say are prestige films with Rescue Dawn and I’m Not There. How conscious are you of molding your career so that it’s a lasting one?
There’s no molding. I just do what is in front of me and what interests me. And I get lucky.

Okay. Any last words on Rescue Dawn?
Last words sound like I’m going to die. [Laughs]

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 126 minutes
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