Berlin: Christian Bale and Natalie Portman on Working with Terrence Malick

Berlin fest chief Dieter Kosslick, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale at the premiere of Terrence Malick's Berlinale competition title 'Knight of Cups'

Berlin: Christian Bale and Natalie Portman

BERLIN — At the press conference for Terrence Malick’s Berlinale competition title “Knight of Cups,” Christian Bale and Natalie Portman spoke about working with the auteur.

“The nice and very interesting thing in Terry’s approach was that he didn’t tell us what [the film] was about,” Bale said, adding that he had worked with Malick 10 years before on “The New World.”

“He really just gave me the character description; we worked on the character a great deal, talking about the backstory and who he was. And then he would… he liked to call it ‘torpedoing’ us with different actors and non-actors throughout production, and just get a very real response based on knowledge of the character.”

Bale’s character, Rick, is “someone whose dreams and desires have been fulfilled, but who feels a great void in himself,” Bale said. “He finds himself on a journey to look for something, but he doesn’t know what that is.”

Bale said that at the start of each day’s shoot he wouldn’t know what would happen to his character.

“Our mantra throughout the whole film was: Let’s start before we are ready. So you get a lot of happy accidents happening within that,” he said.

Sarah Green, one of the film’s producers, said that she had been working with Malick for more than a decade, and what she had learned was “to work with Terry is to be light on one’s feet,” she said.

“All the planning and organization that one might normally do does not actually serve his style. We look like a student film: a couple of vans and people running around,” she said. “So we are very much in the moment, to capture what might happen. It takes a lot of trust, and looseness, and openness.”

Portman said that she considered herself lucky to have worked with Malick just before directing her first feature film, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” “It reminded me that the rules of filmmaking are not necessary, and that the rituals we have are not necessary. You have to find your own way, and to allow the mistakes, and welcome the problems,” she said. “What you would normally consider a problem, Terry would look at as an opportunity.”

If it started to rain, Malick would shoot in the rain, rather than changing the schedule as would normally happen, Portman said.

“Embracing the unknown and chance, and searching for the discoveries — there’s no sense that you have a script that you are just executing while you are making the movie — every day is a search for something beautiful… it is a great way to go,” she said.

Natalie Portman and Christian BaleChristian Bale and Natalie Portman at the Berlin fest photo call