By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Christian Bale remembers the first time he put on the Batman costume, he suddenly felt overwhelmed. He literally couldn’t breathe.
“I thought, ‘oh, Chris (Nolan) has to recast,’ because the claustrophobia was just unbelievable,” the Welsh actor recalls.
Bale, in discomfort, asked everyone to clear out of his dressing room and give him 20 minutes alone to contemplate whether to continue in the duel role of Bruce Wayne/Batman or give up and walk away. The intense young actor spent the next several minutes psyching himself into playing the caped crusader. He really wanted to do it, he told himself. He emerged from the room ready to go and asked director Nolan if they could do it calmly and quietly, to which the filmmaker agreed. The suit also was modified so it would be comfortable for the actor to wear.
“That panic aspect was lost because I was able to rip it off myself if I ever did start seeing stars and couldn’t breathe,” says Bale.
Since then, wearing the cape and cowl has become as easy as putting on an old pair of slippers for the actor.
With the box office and critical success of 2005’s “Batman Begins,” Bale returned three years later for “The Dark Knight,” which was an even bigger hit with audiences and critics. Both films earned a combined $738 million worldwide. The dramatic comic book movie even earned a posthumous Oscar win for Heath Ledger, who delivered an unforgettable supporting performance as the demented Joker.
Now, with the “The Dark Knight Rises,” Bale once again—and for the final time—slips into the Batman costume in Nolan’s epic conclusion to the trilogy.
The story picks up eight years after Batman (also known as the Dark Knight) vanished into the night, taking the blame for District Attorney Harvey Dent’s death in hopes of preserving the late city official’s golden reputation. That selfless sacrifice has helped keep crime at bay throughout Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has hung up the cape and cowl and holed himself up at stately Wayne Manor feeling responsible for the deaths of the noble politician as well as his girlfriend at the hands of the Joker. But things are about to change when a cunning and sexy cat burglar arrives at his mansion during a fundraising party, and the emergence of a dangerous new criminal named Bane, a masked terrorist whose plans for Gotham drive the brooding billionaire and his alter-ego superhero out of a self-imposed exile.
Bale says it has become a joy to play Batman and work alongside a stellar cast that includes Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman as well as Oscar nominee Gary Oldman, who have reprised their roles from the previous films, as well as newcomers Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy, who plays the ruthless and dangerous Bane.
Interestingly, the director and his brother, Jonathan Nolan (who also co-wrote the previous film), working from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, began working on the final installment in 2008, prior to the recession and the rise of the grassroots movement called Occupy Wall Street, yet by the time production got underway, both events made elements of the script all the more relevant.
“There’s something I’ve always found uncanny with Chris’ ability to make good movies very topical,” marvels Bale. “There is something that happened with Occupy Wall Street, which actually happened a couple of blocks away from where we were filming in New York, which he had no way of knowing was going to happen when he wrote the script. But by the time it was happening I was looking at him going, ‘What the hell? How did you know?’”
He observes that Batman stories have long served as allegories to real life events, noting that Bob Kane created the masked crime-fighting hero character at the dawn of World War II.
“It was an answer to the uselessness that individuals felt against this humongous tragedy and what could you do,” he says. “It was topical at its inception … and I think Chris returned to that.”
Nolan says he doesn’t let the scale of the action-packed picture, shot on two continents and loaded with special effects—with a reported $250 million budget—intimidate him. He says he always is focused on the story and characters first, and the visual effects are simply the window dressing.
“Once we knew we had a story that we really wanted to see, that we wanted to know what happened to Bruce Wayne next, and where his story was going to go and how we were going to finish this story, then everything else starts to fall into place,” the dapper director says. “You have to then forget the pressure and just get on and try and make the best film you can.”
Convincing fellow Brit Tom Hardy to play the villain wasn’t too difficult since he’d worked with the actor on his previous film, “Inception.” He was worried, though, that the actor might object to having his face obscured by a mask for most of the movie.
“When I called him up I basically said to him, ‘I’ve got good new and I’ve got bad news. The good news is I have a terrific part for you. The bad news is your face is going to be completely covered for the whole film so you’re going to have to get across whatever it is you want to get across for this character through just your eyes and voice.’”
Hardy, previously seen in “Warrior” and “Star Trek: Nemesis,” was all in. His character wears a mask to anesthetize himself against excruciating pain, resulting from a past injury that has left him angry and extremely violent.
Bale says the muscular Hardy was a formidable onscreen opponent.
“He’s obviously the first adversary of Batman’s that could probably whip his butt,” he says with a chuckle. “But the thing I like so much about the fight sequences with Batman is they’re never just kind of knockdown fight sequences. You learn something more about each character throughout each fight, which is the mark of a good fight.
Bale, who is said to be filming Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups,” came full circle after he finished shooting his last scene for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“I just sat in a room and realized this is it,” recalls the soft-spoken actor. “I’m not going to be taking this cowl off again.”
He once again asked everyone to leave his dressing room and sat alone for 20 minutes contemplating the character he had played in three films over the past seven years.
“It was the realization of everything we’ve done and the real pride of having achieved what we had set out to,” he fondly recalls. “It was a very important moment for me. It’s been a very important character. This is the only time I played a character three times. And the movies themselves have changed my life and changed my career. So I wanted to just appreciate that for a while.”