Berlin In “Vice”, the 45-year-old actor slips into the role of former US Vice President Dick Cheney. He could even get an Oscar for that.
For “The Machinist” he starved himself to the bone. Christian Bale devotes himself skin and hair to his roles. He was already shooting commercials at the age of four, was hired by Steven Spielberg at 13 for “The Empire of the Sun”, he was a legendary psychopath in “American Psycho”, and in 2008 he became a pop star as “Batman”. Now he is hardly recognizable when he embodies “Vice” Dick Cheney in the political satire, the Vice President under George W. Bush. The 45-year-old has already received a Golden Globe for this – the best indication that an Oscar could follow.
You are considered the favorite for the trophy for best leading actor – already nervous?
Bale No, for me the Oscars are not a competition, but a big festival where we celebrate good films. Whether I win is not so important to me.
You give everything for your roles: You lose 30 kilos or 30 kilos – as in this case. Why are you going so far?
Bale I could have played this role without looking like Dick Cheney. But after two minutes of talking to director Adam McKay, it was clear that neither of us wanted that. So I had to gain weight and also have the makeup artist turn me into Cheney every morning in four hours. I can empathize with a character in a completely different way if I also feel like them physically. The physique and the mind belong together and influence each other.
Your makeup artist deserves an Oscar too.
Bale It was multiple people and they definitely did a brilliant job completely reworking my features to make me look like Cheney. I like to be helped by technical or cosmetic means to improve my acting performance, because sometimes I lack self-confidence. I’m not a trained actor at all.
Were you shocked when you saw yourself in the mirror for the first time?
Bale Naturally! The first time, my face was completely alien to me. I only got used to it over time. The more I read about Cheney, the more I could empathize with him. There wasn’t a Eureka moment where I realized I was Dick Cheney – it was more of a gradual process that slowly brought me to the role.
They also changed your voice. Do you still have audio clips from Cheney on your phone that you used to train yourself to speak?
Bale Yeah, I have to delete the Cheney messages now. My cell phone thinks Cheney is part of my family.
What do you think makes a good actor?
Bale I would say limitless curiosity. I think it’s important that I have absolutely no idea how to play it before each role. Lots of people think I’m a seasoned method actor who knows exactly how to do my job. Totally wrong. I have never studied acting, especially not a specific technique of acting. I always only find my way after I’ve been on the road for a long time and always have to react spontaneously to situations. I have no tricks and no ace up my sleeve to pull when the going gets tough. I mostly think, “Damn it, how do I do it?” And then I just kind of do it.
What are some of the Cheney traits you personally appreciate?
Bale I liked the fact that he supported his daughter Mary when she came out as a lesbian, despite the threat of political consequences within his party. He was hardly conservative on social issues; he was more concerned with foreign policy issues. In any case, I noticed that he was a very dedicated husband and father. It breaks your heart to see how your family has developed later. The two daughters have fallen out completely.
Did you learn anything about Dick Cheney as you prepared?
Bale Of course, there have always been rumors that Dick Cheney, under George W. Bush, pulled the strings in the White House and not the President himself. Little did I know that he orchestrated the war in Iraq practically on his own. Also, I didn’t realize how many decades he’d worked in government.
What did that role teach you about the depths of the human soul? You compared Dick Cheney to the “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader.
Bale Cheney likes to compare himself to Darth Vader! He thinks that’s great. He disguised his dog as a Sith Lord on Halloween and hung up posters of Darth Vader in his grandchildren’s nursery. There are even videos on YouTube of his speeches, in which he sits at his desk in full Darth Vader gear, swinging speeches.
The film emphasizes how exhilarating the feeling of power is. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were able to control the fate of the country. Do you understand the feeling of hunger for power better now?
Bale I can very well understand how addicted you can become to power, but also how much this feeling can poison you. Being at the head of an empire blinds you to all the bad things that can be done. In one scene – in front of Richard Nixon’s office – I suddenly had goosebumps and the feeling that I was really there, that I really had that power. At that moment, that pulled the floor from under my feet.
You once said that Cheney was more dangerous than Trump. Why do you mean that?
Bale An intelligent person who understands complex relationships can be more dangerous than a loud, impulsive guy who blows out everything that goes through his head. Of course, Trump is also extremely dangerous! But if you compare the two men, Cheney simply has a lot more understanding of political maneuvers and cliques in government. Let me explain it with a metaphor: Cheney is an absolutely brilliant chess player who always thinks several moves ahead. But can you imagine that Trump is a good chess player?
Have you ever met Donald Trump?
Bale Yes, while filming one of the Batman films. Trump Tower was our backdrop for Wayne Tower, and I was in Bruce Wayne’s costume when we met. Trump marched in on the set and the producers asked me to say hello to him because they were afraid he would kick us all out again. I remember it struck me as astonishingly big. And that his apartment was full of kitsch and gold.
You are a native of the UK. Why did you take American citizenship in 2014?
Bale Because I want to take part in elections. I live in the USA, so I want to help shape society too. If I remember correctly, the original Greek meaning of the word “idiot” is someone who is not interested in the interests of society and who stays out of public life. I don’t want to be an idiot.