Opening today is director Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”. The film is set during the Depression-era’s great crime wave and it’s the story of the government’s attempt to stop legendary criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. This operation transformed the FBI into the first federal police force. By now you’ve seen the trailers and commercials, so you know the cast is filled with famous faces like Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum and David Wenham.
Anyway, to help promote the film, our partners at Omelete sent me to cover the international press day and I was able to participate in a small press conference with Christian Bale. During the interview, Christian talked about making “Public Enemies”, the research he did to prepare to play Melvin Purvis, what he’s working on now, and people tried to get him to compare all the different director’s he’s worked with to one another. If you’re a fan of this great actor, you’ll love the interview. The transcript and audio is after the jump:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
Question: Does the hat help you keep your anonymity?
Bale: No [laughs].
Question: Playing the FBI agent who kills Dillinger makes you the criminal since the audience is rooting for Johnny Depp. How did you feel about that?
Bale: I think that’s the truth of the time. It was The Depression and Dillinger was a folk hero to so many and it’s very easy to see why that was the case. He was very charming and a very charismatic man. I think he was probably great with marketing himself. This kind of comparison to Robinhood is a little misplaced, but certainly the fact that he wasn’t taking from individuals and from the poor and was taking from the fat cats who were taking everything from the common man was something that everybody at that time couldn’t have helped recognize. The public liked him. Human nature. We find it fascinating when people are happy to stand up and buck the system and apparently lead a very happy and full life. Dillinger seemed to live as though he knew his life was going to be cut short. Equally, with Purvis, he was somebody who was courted by the press and was incredibly popular in his day. He was called the Clark Gable of the bureau and everything. And I think that ultimately he became very disillusioned with his mentor, J. Edgar Hoover, who had started off idolizing and admired his brilliant vision. He was a wonderful visionary but we’re seeing the early days. And in Hoover’s jealous nature and in his desire for a short term success requested actions out of Purvis that Purvis was very unhappy about, that went against his nature, that he found to be morally repugnant and ultimately a compromise of Hoover’s own values. So, absolutely, by the time Dillinger is taken down there’s no satisfaction on the part of Purvis. In fact, he questioned who had lost more here. Ultimately, you can see the facts. He quit the bureau within a year of taking Dillinger down.
Question: How do you picture yourself ten years from now?
Bale: I have no idea.
Question: Purvis being called the Clark Gable of the FBI, did that give you a hint into how you wanted to play and create this character?
Bale: There’s a wealth of information about Purvis; newspaper clippings, newsreel footage, books. A book written by Purvis himself. A book written by his son Alston [Purvis] which I kept with me all the time called ‘The Vendetta’ which was really fascinating. I recognize of course that it’s very much a supporting role in this movie, but I just couldn’t help but become really fascinated with the character and became very affectionate and fond of him. I just wanted to know as much as I could and it’s all out there as well. He was somebody who was unique. He did not fit the mold of the majority of the FBI agents of the day. He was incredibly dapper and elegant. He liked the ballet. He liked the opera. He was equally incredibly capable with weapons. He’d grown up in the country hunting. He was an extraordinary man who was really brought low by his success.
Question: You’re in a lot of Hollywood movies these days. How does it feel moving from the cult figure that you were in the past to the popular figure that you are now and dealing with the added scrutiny?
Bale: I’ve never paid attention to – what would you call it – my reputation. I’ve never really been interested in looking at myself and that. I make movies I feel I would like to see or that I would like to…well, no. No, actually. Less that I want to see. More that I just feel like there will be something that I’ll find intriguing about the making of it. That takes me to many places. In no way does making a few large movies mean that that’s what I always want to do. This job affords the option of great variety and I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that variety.
Question: Michael Mann shoots in HD. Can you talk about the HD revolution that’s going on in film and how you feel about it? Also, you’re looking thin, like you’re in training. Is this all for ‘Fighter’?
Bale: Yes. This is for ‘Fighter’. And I loved the HD. I’d never worked in HD before. It’s something which I will kind of hint at in future projects, but it’s very much the director’s decision and the director’s relationship with his DP is a very vital one on any movie set. So it’s their decision and I found just from my own point of view that there was such a momentum, experimentation and more similarity to life in being able to run that camera for fifty two minutes straight without having to stop. With film you have to stop every six minutes and reload. I found that to be a wonderful and new experience for me.
Question: Is ‘Fighter’ actually going? What’s the status of it?
Bale: I hope it is.
Question: I’ve heard that you might be doing it, but when will that be if it is going?
Bale: We might start within a couple of weeks.
Question: You’ve worked with some great filmmakers like [Steven] Spielberg, [Terrence] Malick, [Werner] Herzog and now Michael Mann. Can you compare them and their cinematic vision?
Bale: I don’t like to.
Question: Is there one that you prefer?
Bale: That’s exactly what I want to avoid [laughs].
Question: Well, then, what do you think of Michael Mann as a filmmaker?
Bale: He’s fantastic. He truly is. He’s one of the finest out there. I hope that I will be suggesting my preferences through who I get to work with again.
Question: And about Malick?
Bale: Equally a fantastic director. Both of those experiences were certainly two of the most satisfying that I’ve ever had.
Question: Do you have fun with acting or is it sometimes a hard job?
Bale: It’s both. It’s both. It depends upon the day and how you feel on that day. It depends on the people around you, the relationships, the working relationships, how much satisfaction you’re actually getting from any portrayal. So you never know. You never can tell. It doesn’t matter how wonderful a sit down meeting might be with somebody you never know until you’re working together just how much you’re going to gel.
Question: Can you talk about the relationship you’ve developed to the city of Chicago after shooting there so many times and if you’re looking forward to doing more of that?
Bale: Yeah. It’s a wonderful city. It’s such a dynamic city in terms of the duality that it has, that we can shoot ‘Public Enemies’ there and we can shoot ‘The Dark Knight’ there. In the one it looks like a shiny, steel and glass contemporary city. In the other it looks like the 1930’s. It has all of those aspects to it. It’s got great character.
Question: Do you consider movies to be a life changing experience or just entertainment?
Bale: They’re both of those and they should be both. Clearly it’d be very pompous to suggest that some movies that are out there and that I’ve been involved with could ever be life changing movies. Some of them are pure entertainment and are wonderful for that. There’s a great talent for that, too. Likewise, there are other movies that certainly do have life changing consequences and stories that I can’t helped but be touched by very, very deeply. They should be all of that. They should never be just one thing.
Question: How do you try to fit into that scheme, as a an entertainer or a social commentator?
Bale: I don’t even begin to try and see what I am.
Question: In ‘Dark Knight’ you have all these modern gadgets to play with. There’s none of that in this film. How was that experience?
Bale: Well, he had the modern gadgets of the day, but very late in the day. Like I think we said, they weren’t even armed until very, very late in the day. There were no radios that they were given to contact. That scene in The Sheridan Apartments where you see this ridiculous disadvantage that they’re at, having to run down the stairs to go to communicate to somebody who then had to run down the street to communicate to that guy and then the guy who’s in the blocking car hears gunshots and leaves the very post that it’d be helpful if he’d stayed at to come and see what’s going on. Meanwhile, the guys got away. The confusion because of the absolute impossibility of great communication was very frustrating to them. As you saw, the wire tapping was a new thing. It was a revelation to them. Incredibly helpful. But ultimately it came down to somebody having to rat Dillinger out before they could get him. It also came down to the far more advanced network of [Frank] Nitti and once Dillinger threatened to disrupt his business, which Dillinger just small-fry compared to what he was doing, then Nitti allowed the bureau to get Dillinger. But not until that happened were they able to do that. But at the time, the Thompson submachine gun, that was very pretty state of the art. And some of the cars that they were driving around, this was all new. This is what allowed the likes of Dillinger and his kind to do what they did for those few years.
Question: Johnny Depp is a unique actor in Hollywood. Many younger actors share their admiration for him. Can you talk about what it was like to work with him and if you found out anything new about him?
Bale: I can’t comment on finding something new about him because I know very little about him in the first place which I think is always a benefit with any actor. I agree very much, he’s very unique. He does his own thing. He makes very interesting choices and makes a real variety of movies. I find that interesting. I think naturally he found Dillinger to be a fascinating character and I think he did a superb job with it. But the nature of the way that we worked together was very similar to the way of the story. Purvis only that one time caught up with him. Pretty much I only caught up with Johnny that one time. If I was working he wasn’t. But I quite like that, I have to admit. I quite like it when you’re working with people and you only get to know them through the scenes that you’re doing together.
Question: When you play a real life character there’s a lot of information to dig into. So when you’re playing a fictional character do compensate for that lack of information by creating your own back story for them? How do you create a character?
Bale: I tend to do the first thing more. I always like to have the possibility of…details are everything and if you haven’t created some kind of a back story, it might sound nonsensical to a lot of people, but if you haven’t created that then I feel like you can tell. It’s much like if you see a movie and there’s some bad set design where everything looks right but it just feels wrong and it’s because you know that if the camera was just to pan a few inches you’d be off the set and there are guys standing there eating sandwiches or something. You can sort of feel that in a movie and I think you can feel that in a performance as well. If they only know exactly what you’re being told in that scene there’s something very unrealistic about it. So I think it’s always good to keep that in mind.
Question: Dillinger and Purvis lived in the Great Depression and Dillinger became almost a national hero because people didn’t have anything. We’re in a time a great recession –
Bale: I know. Who’s going to be the Dillinger of today? I mean, absolutely, for some bright spark there’s an opportunity here to be that.
Question: But the banks don’t have money anymore.
Bale: Really? Didn’t we just give them a lot?
Question: We’re joking, but these are hard times for a lot of people. How is Hollywood affected by the recession and maybe you as a Hollywood star; in what ways do you feel the recession?
Bale: Absolutely everything has been affected and so many people, friends of mine, there’s no work whatsoever for them. It’s tough times, falling on the heels of the strikes etc. It’s been very, very tough. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve continued to work throughout, but many people have just not been so fortunate. I think it affects movies as well as any other industry. What I often hear though is that people say that movies and liquor will always do well throughout hard times because it’s the cheapest form of entertainment and liquor is a great form of comfort to many. In terms of box office and things like that, I never look at that and I have no idea if that’s been reflected in box office numbers of movies and whether people are still going to see movies or not. I just don’t know.
Question: Chris [Nolan] is working on ‘Inception’. Has there been any talk between you guys – the ‘Batman’ question.
Bale: I really cannot tell you if there will ever be another ‘Batman’ movie right now. Chris has obviously done an incredible job with it. He’s devoted to the movie that he’s on right now. I’m none the wiser about we’ll ever be revisiting Gotham or not.
Question: A lot of people, myself included, don’t know that much about ‘Fighter’. Can you talk a little bit about what that film is about?
Bale: It’s a true story of two incredibly gifted boxers who were half brothers. The one, Dicky Ecklund, who fought Sugar Ray Leonard at a very young age, when he was twenty one, was an incredible natural talent. He lived a very hard life. Then he came to train his brother, Irish Mickey Ward, to the world title.
Question: You’re in really great shape right now and are somewhat known for your training process. Can you talk about how prepare physically for a role like that?
Bale: Box. There’s nothing like boxing for getting you in shape.
Question: Is it multi-hours a day?
Bale: Yes. It’s a wonderful thing when your trainer is actually the person you’re playing.
Question: Had you ever boxed before this?
Bale: I’d never boxed before, no.
Question: I’m a fan of that little film ‘Metroland’. Any plans to ever revisit the smaller world of indie films again?
Bale: I have no plans beyond what I’m doing on ‘The Fighter’. I can tell you that we’re trying to scrape together every penny we can on that one. My interest in a project never has anything to do with the budget, where the money is coming from, whether it’s studio or independent. I just care about the story and the possibilities of who I’m going to be working with and what that experience will be like. So, absolutely. Yes. I have no plans. But of course it’s going to happen.
Question: Have you seen this film projected in HD and is it weird to you? Everything is exposed, the pores, the wrinkles – how is that for you?
Bale: I have no problem with that. I don’t know the treatment that it went through before this movie, but I think it looks remarkable. It captures the richness of the time, but also makes it feel so relevant as well.
Question: You did IMAX with ‘Dark Knight’ which was breathtaking. 3-D seems to be a revolution through the whole industry. Now Michael Mann is showing up with HD. What are your thoughts on 3-D? Is that something that you’d be interested in doing on film?
Bale: I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. I don’t even have Tivo. I don’t have caller ID. I use a pen and paper. I’m not the person to ask [laughs].
Question: Did you see yourself in IMAX though and what was your experience?
Bale: Oh, remarkable. That was phenomenal. I don’t know that it’s appropriate for every movie, but for that movie it certainly was. I did tell any friends who hadn’t already seen it in IMAX that it was really well worth it. I suppose that – not in my household – in most people’s household they have such advanced technology for watching movies nowadays that they have to ask themselves why bother unless they enjoy the communal spirit of a movie theater which I do. But in terms of technology there’s such great technology in everyone’s homes nowadays. Again, I’m not the guy to ask but I would think, yeah, that’s why the sudden obsession with 3-D and IMAX and needing to provide something greater that people cannot witness in their own homes. That’s my two cents.
Question: Purvis gets Dillinger in the end. Then we learn that he killed himself a year later.
Bale: No, no. He quit the bureau a year after that. He killed himself many years later. Not until 1960. He became a colonel in the army. He interrogated Goering at Nuremberg. He led an investigation into misconduct by Patton. He owned radio stations. He owned newspapers. He was meant to become a judge, but Hoover got in there and made sure that didn’t happen. He led a very colorful life long after leaving the bureau.
Question: Do you know why he killed himself?
Bale: I can really only speculate. There is an idea that it could’ve been an accident. Unlikely with somebody who was so adept with weapons but there is a notion that possibly there was a round left in the chamber when he was cleaning the gun. It’s a little tricky to believe that with someone who was so good and experienced with weapons. He had suffered from depression. He did, until his dying day, confuse him and trouble him about Hoover’s vendetta against him. It was quite extraordinary the lengths to which the man pursued and tried to make Purvis’s life a misery. But he’s a complex man like everyone is and it’d be wrong of me to say that I truly know the reasons.
Question: So, no update on ‘Terminator’ then, on doing another one?
Bale: Really, no. No conversation has been had about that at all.