Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne and Batman in The Dark Knight, though this time he’s tested in new ways both onscreen and off. Not only does Batman have to face the toughest choices of his life when facing the Joker, Bale himself took on the challenge of appearing in costume on a ledge atop Chicago’s famous Sears Tower for one of the film’s gripping IMAX sequences.
The Wales-born and -accented actor — “I haven’t heard myself speaking in my own voice for, it’s got to be coming on two years,” he says — says the experience was thrilling though he stops short of calling it a true stunt.
“There was no way they were going to put me up there and allow me to plummet 110 stories down to the bottom,” he says. “I had a cable, I could have fallen a short way and then banged against the side and pulled up again. But you know, when am I going to get an opportunity to stand on top of the Sears Tower looking down and over Chicago again? So I was going to take advantage of that.”
One area the new film, which opens July 18, has improved over its predecessor is in the new bat suit, which Bale calls much better than the one he wore for Batman Begins. “The way the story has evolved, the suit should evolve as well,” says Bale, who admits to keeping cowls from the film though not a full costume. “There are 110 parts to this suit versus three (for the previous one). I could take the cowl off, I could move my head.”
It also allowed more freedom of movement despite being heavier, which assisted in the many fight scenes. “In the previous one, in the fight sequences, I was having to fight against the bat suit because the fighting style that we used, the bat suit was not conducive to whatsoever, whereas on this one, it was designed to actually aid with the fighting style,” he says. “I had so much more energy and it was so much easier to breathe in this one.”
The Dark Knight pits Bale’s Batman against the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. Bale says the Joker is the ultimate freak and an opponent who by his very nature is almost impossible for Batman to stop.
“How do you defeat someone whose absolute idea of nirvana is to be destroyed himself?” Bale says. “He doesn’t seek money. He seeks no reward other than the pleasure and being in the moment of chaos and destruction, even if that means self-destruction. He’s a very intelligent character and clearly Batman has the dilemma of he can break his one cardinal rule and potentially save many more lives. And what is the right choice to make here?”
While the purpose of the film is not political, Bale says it’s obvious that moviegoers who wish to do so will find Batman’s dilemma has some relevance.
“I think it’s wonderful the way that (director) Chris Nolan has managed to make a spectacular roller coaster movie, which also raises a great deal of ethical questions to do with power and the nature of terrorism,” he says. “I don’t think we want to be telling people what it should be correlating to nowadays, but people can find that if they wish.”
Bale worked previously with Ledger — who died in January from an accidental overdose of prescription medications — on I’m Not There, and says they had discussed in advance the direction the role would take with each other and with Nolan.
“I knew we were going to be getting this very different portrayal,” Bale says. “I can’t help but be just impressed beyond belief with what he did because it’s such an iconic villain. I have no idea how, if Chris chooses to make a third movie how he’s going to improve and make a better villain than what Heath came up with there.”
Bale says the first scene they shot for the film together was set in a police interrogation room, where they were alone together in costume. The moment was a fun one in which he says they both recognized the ridiculousness of being dressed as Batman and the Joker while at the same time taking the moment seriously and getting a lot of satisfaction from it as actors.
The actor says he has many fond memories of Ledger and sees The Dark Knight as a celebration of his talent. “I wish to god he was sitting here with us talking about it,” he says. “I have wonderful memories of working with him and of the great company that the man was himself.”
Bale is next taking on another iconic role — that of John Connor in Terminator: Salvation. He says he hopes the fourth film in the series will revitalize the franchise much the same way Batman Begins did for the caped crusader. “We have an opportunity and I believe a responsibility to do the same thing in term of reinvention, revitalizing, bringing new life, otherwise there is no point in making it,” he says. “That is my aim and anything less will be a failure.”
He has also filmed a part in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. A retelling of the origin of the FBI, Bale plays Melvin Purvis, who leads the manhunt for John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp.
Bale’s contract calls for him to play Batman should there be a third film. He says he hopes that if there is another film, that Nolan will return to direct.
“Clearly, I would hope that he would. I find that it’s a very intriguing ending, and I like the idea of the challenge of a third because there have been a number of sequels which have surpassed the original movie, but I can’t think of any instance of a third movie in a trilogy being the best one.”