‘Hello…’ An engaging 12-year-old with a slim face and mature eyes stood in front of me, wearing Turkish slippers, spangled vest and trousers. He introduced himself confidently: ‘I’m you…’’ – J. G. Ballard The Kindness of Women
This excerpt from Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel refers to the author meeting Bale for the first time. Steven Spielberg had invited Ballard to appear in a cameo of the film version of Empire of the Sun which he was directing. Ironically The Kindness of Women is the sequel to Empire of the Sun and Ballard was reflecting on the film version of his wartime memoir. The great author was quite taken with Bale and was one of many figures that praised Bale’s brilliant portrayal of a boy incarcerated in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. Ballard was known for his authorial foresight and it is with the most charming prescience that the only three words Bale says to Ballard are ‘Hello… I’m You.’ How apt a mantra for the man who is now the greatest proponent of method acting since De Niro.
Christian Bale is British – something that is easy to forget given that he will often utilise an American accent when giving interviews. His lack of coverage in the British press is inexplicable, given his calibre as an actor. Yet for all the preposterous fawning and hysteria that surrounds say Benedict Cumberbatch – essentially a TV actor – those really in the know are carving out a path to mega-stardom for Bale.
After his post-Batman quiet spell, he has released two major films recently – the Oscar nominated American Hustle, for which he has been nominated for best actor and Out of the Furnace a bafflingly underrated film, that will surely gain recognition in the future. He has just finished filming two Terrence Malick films: one called Knight of Cups and another, as yet untitled. The plots of the films have been kept tightly under wraps but what is known is that both films have all-star casts with at least five ‘A-listers’ on each cast list. Aside from the Malick projects, he also has the small task of playing Moses in Ridley Scott’s biblical epic of the same name – clearly an absolute juggernaut of a project.
Do I think Christian Bale definitively is the most technically gifted actor of all time? Probably not – there are actors as talented as him. Guy Pearce, Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, Daniel Day Lewis, Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are all actors with brilliant versatility, but it is the complete package with Bale that sets him apart. All the aforementioned actors had lulls in their careers, chose to avoid serious filmmaking at a point during their careers and/or did not get into serious acting until their late twenties. Bale has been consistently cast in high quality, popular cinema since the mid 80’s and has thirty years of industry experience – despite the fact that he has only just turned forty.
Bale is so popular that his fans even have a name: ‘Bale heads’, an on-set rant of his was recorded and remixed, resulting in a hit song called Bale Out – this is attention that is unprecedented for an actor, especially for one who shuns celebrity as much as Bale. To top it all off, his future projects looks as strong as ever and, assuming he continues to operate at the very high level that we have all come to expect of him, there is good reason to speculate that he will become the greatest screen actor of all time.
By Guy de Vito