Can the actor who brought Batman back recharge another fading franchise -- and overcome his own recent past? How he decided to take the role of John Connor, and what he says now about the on-set rant everyone was talking about

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated May 14, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

He knew it the second he opened the envelope. Christian Bale was in the backseat of a car, riding home from the set of The Dark Knight in London. The package sitting on his lap was postmarked Hollywood, Calif., and inside was a script with the title: Terminator Salvation. Instantly, he knew. He knew what his next movie was not going to be. ”I went, ‘No, I don’t even have to read this,”’ Bale says, two years later. ”I just thought, the mythology is dead. I mean, I did flick through it, because you can always be surprised. But I wasn’t surprised by what I read in that one.”

Back in Hollywood, McG, the director who’d sent Bale the script, was crushed. Bale was the only actor he believed had both the intensity and integrity to kick-start the beloved sci-fi franchise. So he got on a plane to London — no small gesture for a guy whose fear of flying contributed to him dropping out of Warner Bros.’ recent Superman reboot at the last minute because it was being shot in Australia. He believed that if he could just meet with Bale face-to-face, he could change his mind.

The two met at a café near Bale’s home, and McG did everything but act out the entire movie. He even handed Bale a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, saying how the novel’s bleak, postapocalyptic setting was what he had in mind for the film. But the desperate salesman was no match for the disinterested buyer. Then McG made his final, Hail Mary gambit. He pleaded with Bale to take a chance on him.

Bale recalls, ”I had this guy sitting there saying, ‘Christian, didn’t somebody ever take a leap of faith on you to do something radically different than you’ve ever done before? Give me that opportunity.’ So I’m thinking, ‘Oh, f—!”’ Bale’s advisers were against it too. Not just because Terminator Salvation was a sequel to a sequel to a sequel, but also because of McG himself, a man with little more to his credit than The O.C., a couple of Charlie’s Angels movies, and a ridiculous name. ”I had people telling me, ‘Don’t do it, Christian. Don’t go with that guy.’ In a strange way, I like the fact that he keeps that name because it does him no friggin’ favors,” says Bale. ”But people hear it and they go, ‘F— him!’ People were telling me, ‘Christian, you’re too good for Terminator.’ And I’m thinking, I’m too good? I’m not a snob. I really f—ing enjoy watching a good action movie. Who do you think I am?!”

NEXT PAGE: On the rant: ”It was unacceptable. I went too far. And I learned from it.”

Terminator Salvation

  • Movie
  • R
  • 107 minutes
  • McG