Playback: Christian Bale on ‘Hostiles,’ Batman and Thoughts of Hanging It Up

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale has been hard at work the last several months playing Dick Cheney for director Adam McKay. It will be yet another bit of whiplash from one role to the next as he’s coming off the much lower key “Hostiles,” a post-Civil War western in which he plays a cavalry officer tasked with transporting a dying Cheyenne elder (Wes Studi) to sacred lands in the north. It’s Bale’s second outing with director Scott Cooper after 2013’s “Out of the Furnace,” and it’s ongoing collaboration that seems to drive out some of his very best work.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

In researching the role, Bale drew on previous experiences talking to Marine recon groups in Camp Pendleton, as well as looking at the Army Times, which he says is quite open about the psychology of combat and how it affects soldiers.

“For me it’s an indictment of politics and politicians,” Bale says of the new film. “[It’s about] these men who go and live and die based on decisions made in Washington. [My character is] someone who has done horrendous things, seen horrendous things done to friends of his. But in the big picture, he is not the victim of genocide. He is enacting that. But for him he’s doing his duty. He’s a soldier and does it well.”

Bale is often pegged as a method actor. His dedication to a role and seriousness on set seem to drive that particular perspective, but he confesses he’s just winging it.

“My feeling is I don’t really know what it is, and I’m quite happy doing that,” he says. “I don’t really know why I like doing it. The one thing I think that is very important in life, and I want my kids to find, is an obsession with something — hopefully a healthy obsession. I know I’m obsessed with it because I love it and I hate it as well, but I keep going back to it. In my head I don’t know how to act, really. I just look at it as someone who studies one person in great depth and that’s it, and other people decide what to call that.”

That love/hate relationship with the craft is notable, because indeed, Bale has wondered in the past if he’s had enough. He’s accomplished more than he could ever have imagined, but it would be “a little death,” he says, to discover he had checked off all the boxes and there was nothing left undone.

“It can be so satisfying, but it can also be so disappointing as well,” he says. “Sometimes you look and you go, ‘Man, it’s not the sort of purist thing I thought it was going to be.’ But that’s life. You deal with it. I’m not going to whine about it at all. But I’m constantly saying, ‘Ahh, yeah, that’s it,’ and then I sit back and go, ‘What else can I do?’ I get very strong compulsions to hang it up, but I suspect I would probably prove myself a liar down the track.”

Bale also opens up about his opportunity to star in the wildly successful “Dark Knight” trilogy for director Christopher Nolan. Prior to landing the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 2005 reboot “Batman Begins,” he had already been in the trenches for 20 years. The spotlight of a major superhero franchise opened countless doors, but as someone who fiercely protects his personal and family privacy, that new wave of attention was a bit of a double-edged sword.

“Mixed emotions about it,” he admits. “I’m always eternally grateful to Chris. For instance, ‘Rescue Dawn,’ Werner [Herzog] and I had been trying to put that together for a few years. ‘American Psycho,’ Mary Harron and I had been trying to put that together for a few years. No one was interested. Why? Me. Suddenly everyone said, ‘Yeah, alright. We’ll go with him.’ It did change everything. It was the first time I had done a film of that magnitude. That was a real learning curve for me. I wrestled with it for a long time. I still do on occasions. But I’m just learning, hey, accept the good things.”

Cheney, meanwhile, proved to be a whole new exploration for an actor who relishes the opportunity to investigate characters and draw on both the good and the bad.

“People who despise the man are going to go, ‘How dare you say there are nice things about Cheney.’ There absolutely are,” he says. “What I attempted to do always was put myself in his shoes and not to judge him, but to truly try to understand him, and it’s for Adam to have the bigger perspective. That’s going to make a far more entertaining film with the confusion of really presenting a human there, rather than a caricature.”

For more, including working with performance capture on Andy Serkis’ “Jungle Book,” advice for up-and-coming actors and thoughts on the “cultural shift” happening in terms of diversity and gender equality in Hollywood, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

Christian Bale photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

    Film News Roundup: Stephen King's 'Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon' Movie in the Works

    In today’s film news roundup, a Stephen King horror movie is in the works, “Downton Abbey” is seeing strong sales and a project about Revolutionary War soldier Deborah Sampson is in development. KING ADAPTATION Stephen King’s “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” has been set up as a movie at George A. Romero’s Sanibel Films, [...]

  • Moviepass

    MoviePass Confirms Security Issue With Customer Records

    MoviePass, the struggling movie ticket subscription service, has confirmed a security issue may have exposed customers’ records. In a statement, MoviePass said Wednesday that the security lapse was recently discovered and its system was immediately secured. Reports of the data breach first surfaced Tuesday through the Tech Crunch site, which alleged that tens of thousands [...]

  • Matthew Modine

    Matthew Modine Accused of Violating Labor Laws With Campaign Videos

    Matthew Modine has been accused by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris of violating federal laws in his campaign to unseat Carteris. The production of three campaign videos for Modine by the for-profit New York Film Academy — on whose board Modine sits — has been blasted by Carteris for alleged violations of federal labor law prohibiting [...]

  • Ready or Not Movie

    'Ready or Not,' 'Angel Has Fallen' Enter Box Office Race

    Three more contenders are joining what has lately been a hostile box office arena. Can anyone emerge from August victorious? Fox Searchlight’s “Ready or Not,” a black comedy about a diabolical game of hide-and-seek, will debut in 2,244 North American theaters on Wednesday. The low-budget film is expected to earn upwards of $6.5 million over [...]

  • Rules Don't Apply

    Warren Beatty and Arnon Milchan Settle Suit Over 'Rules Don't Apply' Flop

    Arnon Milchan and Warren Beatty have settled their two-year legal battle over the disastrous release of “Rules Don’t Apply,” Beatty’s period drama about Howard Hughes. Milchan’s attorneys have filed a notice with the court dismissing his suit against Beatty. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Milchan’s company, New Regency, sued Beatty and other investors [...]

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Adam Brody'Ready or Not' film premiere,

    Adam Brody to Executive Produce, Star in 'The Kid Detective'

    “Ready or Not’s” Adam Brody has signed on to star in “The Kid Detective.” Sophie Nelisse will co-star in the dramedy from writer-director Evan Morgan. Brody will star as a once-celebrated kid detective, now 31, who continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity until a 16-year-old client (Nelisse) brings [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content