Christian Bale plays Augustus Landor in The Pale Blue Eye (Picture: Scott Garfield/Netflix/Avalon)
Box office superstar Christian Bale tells James Mottram how he’s embracing the small screen with his latest film The Pale Blue Eye.
We all know Christian Bale. A perfectionist, who makes movies for the Big Screen, the British actor doesn’t do telly, radio, podcasts, or write kiss-and-tell autobiographies. He’s old-fashioned like that. But while he’s played Batman, a Marvel villain, and The Terminator’s John Connor, don’t ask him what makes a hit.
‘I have no wisdom whatsoever about that… well, other than superhero films, which seem to be a slam dunk,’ he says, when we meet one cold winter day in London. ‘I’m not a good businessman or salesman, whatsoever!’
Yet even he knows that streaming has been a game-changer. Especially when you’re a father of two. ‘I have to say, as a parent myself, it’s tricky to find time to get out to movies, and especially when you have a bloody nice TV at home,’ he says.
‘Maybe that’ll change for me as my kids get older, and they’re off doing their own thing. I mean, I still do [go the cinema] as often as I can, but it’s as often as I can, which is not that regularly. And when you can just watch it anytime you want, why not?’
Maybe it’s not the sort of thing Tom Cruise or Bale’s Batman-director friend Christopher Nolan want to hear, both being evangelical about the movie-going experience. But the 48-year-old Bale’s a realist.
The actor stars alongside Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe (right) in the Netflix release (Picture: Scott Garfield/Netflix/Avalon)
His latest film – which is landing on Netflix on January 6 after a limited cinema release – is The Pale Blue Eye, in which he plays Augustus Landor, a (fictional) detective investigating a grisly murder who runs into real-life author Edgar Allan Poe.
It’s based on the book by Louis Bayard, who was fascinated by Poe, master of macabre stories like The Raven. ‘He wanted to figure out: why did Poe become Poe? And so created this character of Augustus Landor, who was Poe’s mentor and inspiration.’
An engrossing murder-mystery, set in the 1830s, it’s not the kind of movie studios make anymore. Luckily, it’s been backed by Netflix, which means a hell of a lot of people will get to see it in their living rooms.
Even in corners of the earth you might not expect. ‘I was travelling in Indonesia, on an island called Sumba,’ Bale recalls.
Christian as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)
‘And it’s the last place on earth that you’d expect to see flat screen TVs. Oh, they’re all over! It’s what people spend their money on and it’s incredible. No movie theatres on that island, right? So that is something you got to consider. This film… we potentially get people to watch it there on Sumba. What a remarkable thing.’
You can imagine the privacy-loving Bale might enjoy visiting a tiny Indonesian island. An actor since a teenager when he was growing up in Bournemouth, he has been in the public eye ever since he starred in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 World War II movie Empire Of The Sun.
Bale the pro
The Pale Blue Eye is director Scott Cooper’s third film with Christian (Picture: Image Press Agency/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)
The bromance between Christian Bale and writer-director Scott Cooper just keeps on growing. The Pale Blue Eye marks their third film together, after Out Of The Furnace and Hostiles, and it’s easy to see why.
‘Christian sets the tone for the rest of the actors,’ says Cooper. ‘He’s the first to arrive on set. He’s the last leave. Doesn’t even bring his telephone on set. You never see him texting in between setups or checking his social media account… although actually he doesn’t have one! He’s fully committed to the performance and the character.’
Even in the dead of winter in Pittsburgh, when temperatures plummeted, Bale led the line. ‘If it’s minus eight degrees Fahrenheit, and Christian isn’t complaining, well, no one else will.’ Now that warms the heart.
Thirty five years later, he’s still out there making movies – and in person, he’s charming and chatty. But he could do without the spotlight. Like when he went to Australia to film his first Marvel outing, 2022’s Thor: Love And Thunder, during the pandemic, and had to quarantine for two weeks.
‘Nobody could bother you. I was there just with my family and a friend of my daughter’s. It was bliss. I loved it!’ He even enjoyed the slightly prison-like conditions. ‘They sent government food,’ he says, with glee.
‘My understanding was none of the other actors ate it. I loved it. I got on the set and said, ‘Oh my god, didn’t you love all the brown boxes of food that arrived from the government?’ And everyone went, ‘We just didn’t even eat it. We ordered in.’ Oh, you could order in? I loved the government food. It was great.’
Bale, who has been married to wife Sibi for 22 years, also took delight in his two kids – Emmeline, 17, and Joseph, eight – taking cameo roles in the Thor movie. ‘I even had my daughter design one of the monsters that’s in the film,’ he reveals.
So has Bale’s long career in movies stirred an interest in the arts for them? ‘Not really stirred an interest in the arts. Certainly, they enjoy the travel, as they’ve gotten older, realising the novelty of it. And then they’re just sort of amazed that anybody would actually pay me!’ They might be the only ones.
The Pale Blue Eye is in cinemas now and on Netflix from January 6.