Christian Bale Interviewed – RESCUE DAWN

     June 29, 2007

When Christian Bale isn’t playing “Batman” or any of the other big studio roles, he disappears into smaller films and demonstrates why he’s thought of as one of the better actors working today.

And just like some of his previous works where he transformed his body to play a part, in Werner Herzog’s new movie “Rescue Dawn” he has done the transformation again.

While I don’t know how much weight he took off to portray the true story of Dieter Dengler – as you watch the movie you’ll see it’s a significant amount.

But the weight is not the reason to see the movie, as all the performers who act in the film have brought everything they have to try and show what these people went through for their country, and why it’s important to never forget the sacrifices they made.

If you don’t know the story of Dieter Dengler, here is the synopsis:

Dieter Dengler (CHRISTIAN BALE) dreamed of flying since his childhood in wartime Germany, which is why he volunteered to become a Navy pilot after his family moved to America. The only place he ever wanted to be was in the sky, but now, on his very first top-secret mission over Laos, his plane is shot down to earth. Trapped in an impassable jungle far from U.S. control, Dengler is soon captured by notoriously dangerous Pathet Lao soldiers. Though he quickly realizes he is in the most terrifying and vulnerable of circumstances, he refuses to give an inch.

After a shocking initial ordeal, he is taken to a small Laotian prison camp, where he meets two American soldiers already held captive for a stultifying two years – both nearly broken in spirit. Duane (STEVE ZAHN) can only recommend keeping quiet to stay alive, while the barely sane “Gene from Eugene” (JEREMY DAVIES) insists they are all about to be released any minute now. But Dengler has no intention of sticking around the nightmarish camp, so he begins to dream up an escape plan that takes his fellow prisoners by surprise with its savvy and audacity. Dengler doesn’t even know where he is – but he knows with unwavering certainty that he must not stop fighting for his life. As he makes his way into the jungle, his journey will never let up, as it takes him from the bonds of fraternity to the brink of despair, to one of the most remarkable rescues in modern history.

RESCUE DAWN is written and directed by Werner Herzog, who knew the real Dieter Dengler. Ten years ago, while Dengler was still alive (he died in 2001 of Lou Gehrig’s disease), Herzog made the acclaimed documentary, “Little Dieter Needs To Fly,” about Dengler but wanted to bring his still largely unknown story of escape to the screen in a purely visceral action-adventure.

This roundtable interview took place over a month ago as Christian was getting ready to leave for London to start on the sequel to “Batman Begins.”

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview as an MP3 by clicking here.

“Rescue Dawn” opens on July 4th.

When you see the script and you know it’s going to be hell out in the jungle – humid and hot and miserable and stuff – why do you go I have to do that?

Christian Bale: Because I like going to hell and back [Laughs]. I knew that Werner [Herzog] would be a good guy to take us there. How many times will I get to do this kind of crazy shit? So it’s something that I wanted to take advantage of and actually that was a big appeal to me, doing that kind of thing. I like that. I like testing myself and seeing how far you can go.

Steve Zahn said you guys found a new appreciation for bananas. Anything else you guys found an appreciation for?

There was some – I forget what it was, but it was a local fruit as well that was kind of grape sized. These things that would grow on the trees. We would just kind of sit there and rapture over different fruit, talking about it. We sit for five minutes just staring at bananas, talking about how beautiful it was. It related to fruit. We were both just obsessed with fruit that whole time.

You talk about pushing yourself to hel and back, aside from these roles that you take is there anything in real life that you like to do for sort of real life thrills?

Well, even though the finished movie is not real life when you are actually swimming in snake infested rivers you’re not acting the swimming in snake infested river. You are swimming in a snake infested river. It’s important to realize that difference, and when you are wrestling with a snake it’s not a pretend snake. You are wrestling with a real snake so, to me, that is real life. That is what had become my real life. I really did do that. Sure, once it’s into the movie then it’s a character, but these are not things that haven’t happened. They have happened. I’m not talking about obviously the acting side of it, the POW camp etcetera. Of course none of that is real life, but it’s always true that in any movie the physical aspect of it is always real. You are doing it unless it’s a stunt guy doing it or if it’s special FX. The acting is always fake, but what you physically do is for real.

So that snake was real and really venomous? Was it dangerous and was there a snake wrangler there?

The snake wranglers were the local kids. No, the snake was not venomous. He did have some pretty good fangs on him and I got it in the shoulder, but no, he wasn’t venomous. These snakes, for the local kids were no big deal. They were nothing to them. They would see one of those and they would run straight after it, grab it by the tail, whip it around, smash its head and then they would cook it and eat it. That’s often what they would have for dinner, and like everyone says it tastes like chicken, that’s what they said too. They actually called it Chicken Snake. One of the local kids went and caught the snake and then put it into position and the snake started going and then I just kind of ran in on it and grappled with it, but it didn’t end up as dinner with me. We did let that one go.

What about the worms? Because those looked real?

Oh, yeah, those were real maggots. They were very real. I didn’t mind eating the maggots, but I just wanted to make sure about where the maggots had come from. Where did they find those maggots?

So when you come home on that day does your wife make you brush your teeth a whole lot?

[Laughs] I had a little toothpick there. Yeah.

I’m just curious what you won’t do. There’s a stunt guy there, but it sounds like you did a lot of the things yourself.

Well, look, you put yourself in my position. You’re in Thailand, you’ve got these crazy ass Thai chopper pilots who are willing to do anything and they’re saying that they’re all setup with a stunt guy and I’m there and I said, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ They said, ‘Well, the helicopter is going to come in. He’s going to stumble out into the rapids and you’d be falling over in there and you’ve got to grab a rope, you’ve got to hold on once they winch you up. You have to hold onto the railing and they’re going to go over a cliff and they’re really low over the trees. Do you want to be doing that?’ I was like, ‘Fuck yes I want to be doing that. I’m not letting anyone else do

Are there limits to what you’ll do?

Look, I’ve done other things where people have to be set on fire and jump three stories. I’m not doing that. I’ve got limits. I’ll tell you though, this was fantastic being with the Thai air force guys. We would take off and they would take out half a tree with them. These weren’t guys who were all about the safety code. They just kind of plowed their way through the jungle and I doubt that I’m going to get a chance to do that again. I’m glad that I did it.

Did your agent know that you were doing all these crazy stunts?

Oh, I don’t tell him anything. We don’t even tell the producers most of the time. They’re not on the set and so they don’t need to know, and then the insurance, certainly they don’t want to know.

When Dieter gets captured he’s smiling at people and expecting them to smile back, but he doesn’t get them. When you spoke to him what did he have to say?

He died a couple of years before I met with Werner.

But he seemed to be such and innocent for someone during that time. Did it occur to you what his motivation was for going there? I assume that it was the love of flying, but he didn’t really seem to know what he was getting into.

I think that he was a peculiar cat in the first place just because of the fact that (when he was a kid) he’s bombed by Americans. Bomber planes, these streaks of strafing by the fighter pilots – he looks at that and says, ‘I want to do that.’ That’s not a normal reaction to people who are actually destroying your home. So he has this great romantic notion of the U.S. and this great dream and idealism of what it means to be a U.S. citizen and what it means to be a pilot as well, and I truly think that he was just absolutely obsessed with the romanticism of the whole thing and thankful on a personal level for what America had done for him. That didn’t really mix with the missions that he was going on. He still maintained that romanticism, and remember, this was his first mission. The poor bastard got shot down on his first mission. So I really think that he had a very unique outlook where he didn’t see them as the enemy. He saw them as just other people, which is why he seems like such an unlikely military man, let alone someone who is actually considered a hero. So with those things he was just curious. He’s tied up. He’s been dragged along. He’s been beaten. He’s still interested in all of it. ‘I wonder what they’re cooking over there? She looks nice. She’s pretty, isn’t she? He looks like a nice guy. I could probably have a good conversation with him.’ It was just most bizarre outlook on life of absolute optimism and curiosity and interest that kept him going and I think that it disarmed so many people. Even with the guards, they’re torturing him and he’s still looking at them as people and not as monsters. He’s still smiling at them and it must just be the most disarming thing in the world to have that happen to you and annoying as hell at times because he’s not behaving the way that you’re going to behave. He’s not being scared when you’re supposed to be scared. He’s not being depressed and giving up hope when he’s going to be doing that, but he was just wired very differently.

Can you talk a little bit about the process that you go through building a character for a film like this?

I really don’t know what it is. I mean, you have time and you just sort of sit and think about it and put it in the back of your head to take over and thing suddenly come to you and this had a lot of material that I could read and look at and people to speak to as well. I really don’t feel like I’ve learned anymore than the first time I ever did a movie. I don’t feel like I’ve got a technique now where I can kind of do a shortcut kind of thing on it. I mean, I just think about it from as many angles as possible and then when I get there on the day I probably throw everything out of the window because it’s not going to work at that point. I mean, I really don’t have any consistent style or technique whatsoever and I’m pretty happy with working that

Were all the boat scenes in San Diego?

The opening and closing stuff? It was a mixture. Some of it was
actually up in – oh, man – Oakland. Near Oakland there is a…no one else
knows? It’s up thereabouts and the name escapes, and then the other
one, the opening of it was actually in the Gulf of Thailand.

Is Dieter’s family still alive and did you get a chance to talk to them at all?

Yeah. They came out to the set. He has two sons and a widow and some friends of his, old buddies of his. I spoke with his brother as well.

Steve said that you were cracking him up on the set. What were you doing to him?

[Laughs] He was cracking me up on the set as well. You know, look, you’re two guys going insane in rice paddy fields barefoot. Your ass is hanging out because you’ve got these ripped up clothes, your getting ecstatic over bananas, working with Werner Herzog and not knowing how you’re getting home because the crew just quit and there are no vans to take you back. There ain’t nothing to do, but look at each other and start cracking up. We did have a great time. Steve is a very funny guy and we did have a lot of fun. You have to. It’s that thing, the most trying times and you start cracking up. It’s hilarious. It’s all that you can do. It’s that or strangle someone.

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This is the second time that you’ve lost an awful lot of weight in a very short amount of time and now you’ve had to gain it all back again to start the Batman movie. Is that a real problem for you? Is that healthy?

No, I really actually didn’t lose a whole lot of weight for this one [Rescue Dawn] I know it looks…


Yes, you know, but there’s a lot of good make-up and I just wanted to do enough to give kind of an indication of time and everything for it, but it really wasn’t anything on the scale of The Machinist. I wouldn’t do that again. I’ve kind of conquered that in my mind and don’t need to prove that to myself again.

Steve Zahn says you guys were trading off cowboy stories because you just did the prequel to Lonesome Dove and 3:10 to Yuma.

Yeah, I did 3:10 to Yuma as well. It’s great. I mean, look, it can all stop very quick but right now it’s great. We get to go from the jungles of Thailand to New Mexico shooting guns and riding horses out there and chewing tobacco and not squatting with your spurs on. [Laughs] I followed him out there and everywhere I went, Steve had been. Everyone had stories about Steve, ‘Oh, of course, Steve did this, Steve did that.’ ‘Oh yeah, hey, how ya doing? Steve was in here.’

He said he wanted a part in 3:10 but you guys were better so he never got the role.

Ah, he’s joking there. No, he would’ve been great in that.

You seem to be somebody who always wants to do something new and play interesting and diverse characters. How hard is it to go back and play Batman again? Is there something new you can bring to the character?

You’ve got to see with the other versions, you know, it wasn’t my cup of tea anyway. I didn’t really keep it going. But I’ve got Chris Nolan who I’m working with for the third time now and he ain’t going to be making a movie if he’s not gonna be doing something very different with it which he’s achieved in spades. Actually I’m liking very much the idea because I haven’t reprised a role ever before and so I know it already and you know obviously there’ll be progress. We’ve got a great cast as well, and Chris and I work very well together so I know that we’re going to be finding an awful lot to add to it. It’s certainly not the last thing in his [inaudible] What we have now…we were confident before in what we wanted to do but other people didn’t know. It was untested. Now the people support us completely too. So we’ve got all of that extra wall of support behind us to just kind of let rip and take it further.

As an actor, how important is it to have a franchise character that you can go back to that allows you to do things like Rescue Dawn?

Well, I’d be doing things like this movie anyway because it’s not like if I didn’t have the franchise, I’d say, ‘No, I can’t make Rescue Dawn.’ What it does allow though is if something like Rescue Dawn [comes along…]. You know Werner [Herzog] and I have been talking about making it for a good two and a half years and I don’t know but I doubt it’s a huge coincidence that we got the financing pretty quick after I’d been in Batman. So it does mean that I can do these things in a much easier fashion versus a number of years back where, you know, like American Psycho took two years just because they didn’t want me in it. So, yes, certainly it helps with that, but in and of itself, I really like what Chris has done and working with him on Batman. I tell you it’s the only time in my life that I’ve been able to actually plan in the future because usually you know what you’re doing for the next two months if you’re lucky and then after that, you’ve got no idea. And I’ve gone times when I’ve really needed to work and then there was no work coming in for me and I didn’t work for a year and a half or something. I guess having a franchise is the only time you can actually kind of sit back and go ‘It’s alright, you know, it’s gonna be okay. Even if nothing else happens, I know that that’s going to come along at some point.’ But you don’t even know that actually because they could dump me in a second if they want. [Laughs] It’s a good bet that we’ll be making that.

Can you talk a little about your training for Dark Knight? Did you have to train a lot?

There are new things that I’m having to train for but again, just in the same way that we kind of were untested before, they know that I know my right from my left now. [Laughs] They know that when I walk, the arm swings the right way and everything so there’s a little more confidence in me [laughs] about my ability to pick things up quickly. We did start a while back in training which I believe is a mystery for what we are training for. [Laughs]

During The Prestige I asked you if Batman is always considered the great detective or the best detective in the world, are we going to see that side of the Dark Knight?

Christian picked up his water bottle and started drinking. Everyone in the room laughed.

So if that’s clear enough. I hope that satisfies you. [Laughs]

Are you looking forward to working with Heath Ledger as The Joker?

Absolutely. Heath is a great choice for it. I like him personally. He’s got a real kind of craving for playing that role so I think he’s going to do something really very different with it. We worked together briefly in the Todd Haynes movie as well.

What do you have coming up after Batman or have you not thought that far ahead?

Working? No, I have no idea. We do that [Dark Knight] for the rest of the year.

You’re in London in a couple weeks?


As an actor is it a little weird to be in a movie that’s going to have the Batman following and be that intense?

Well they did it on the first one as well, you know, and I know the crowd. I know everybody now.

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