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Christian Bale: a peek behind the Dark Knight’s mask

by George Hadley-Garcia

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Understandably, another subject Bale would not address is the recent (and at the time of the interview, ongoing) scandal or mystery surrounding the assault charges filed by his mother and sister in July at the time of the London premiere of “The Dark Knight.” An insider has reported — and been quoted worldwide — that Bale didn’t lay a finger on anyone, that he “cussed his mother out” after she began criticizing Bale’s wife and saying “outrageous things” about Bale and his wife. Nonetheless, the actor was then arrested and questioned by police for five hours, although on Aug. 14 the charges were dropped due to “insufficient evidence.”

The surprise over this incident stems largely from Bale’s very mature, easygoing and habitually quiet demeanor. The man, who is proud of being an avid reader, is an animal lover (he owns two dogs and three cats, all of them strays that he took in) and a contributor to numerous charities favoring animals, underprivileged children and the environment. He is known to have a strong social conscience, and since childhood has not eaten red meat. He has said that reading the classic children’s book “Charlotte’s Web” (which features talking animals and was recently remade as a live-action picture featuring the voice of Julia Roberts) made a strong impression on him.

“Some people stopped eating pork after watching ‘Babe,’ ” the movie featuring a talking pig, “but I found ‘Charlotte’s Web’ especially moving and rather haunting,” he says.

A few insiders have come forward to say that Bale was “stressed out” during his recent time in London. There has been speculation about mood-altering prescription drugs, but the facts remain unclear. It seems a shame that what appears to be a deep-seated but nonviolent private family situation has become so public and has to some extent — at least temporarily — tarnished the image of a hard-working and heretofore model actor and citizen.

“Empire of the Sun” costar John Malkovich has said, “When we worked together, I was struck by how mature a boy he was. He had a very adult demeanor. Without appearing to make any effort, he gave off the vibes of a self-possessed, even sexy, appealing and self-contained grownup.”

Now aged 34, Bale is the youngest of four children, with three older sisters. His mother, Jenny James, was once a circus dancer; his father, David Bale, was a former commercial pilot and an activist who in 2000 surprised many by marrying famous feminist Gloria Steinem — her first marriage. He died in December, 2003, at age 62, of a brain lymphoma. The death is said to have hit Christian very hard.

As a youth he grew up in England, Portugal and California, and first acted professionally on the West End stage in London, opposite funnyman Rowan Atkinson (“Blackadder,” “Mr. Bean,” etc). Aged 9, Bale made his camera debut doing a British commercial for Pac-man cereal. As for “Empire of the Sun,” he beat out some 4,000 other young actors who auditioned for the role. Interestingly, one characteristic of many of Bale’s movie characters is that they are troubled or obsessed — as of course is Batman.

At age 20, Bale decided to keep working and accepting offers, rather than take the traditional or classical English thespian’s route of training at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). And before long, he literally went Hollywood, where his good looks, talent and versatility allowed him to hit the heights. Meanwhile, his future wife Sibi Blazic (they married in 2000) was a personal assistant to actress Winona Ryder, who is said to have requested Bale as a costar in the latest of many movie remakes of “Little Women,” in the 1994 version of which she starred, earning an Oscar nomination.

In 2005 the couple had a daughter, but Bale has resolutely, and so far successfully, kept his private life private. He does relatively few television talk shows, and when he’s done them, he seems somewhat uncomfortable with the glare of publicity.

“I find it easier to talk one on one, the normal way, rather than sitting in a chair with a host and pretending that we aren’t talking in front of, and for, millions of viewers,” he states somewhat sadly.

“The Dark Knight” is already a huge hit internationally, having grossed well over $400 million in the U.S. alone since its July 14 opening there (it opened in Japan on Aug. 9). With his public profile higher than ever, Bale looks set to wing it from here.

“The Dark Knight” is now showing.