With director Terry George’s The Promise opening this weekend in theaters, I recently landed an exclusive interview with Christian Bale. During the wide-ranging conversation he talked about why he wanted to be involved in this project, how the movie only happened because of Kirk Kerkorian, memorable moments from filming, Turkey’s unwillingness to acknowledge the genocide, and more. In addition, Bale talked about possible working with Adam McKay again on his Dick Cheney movie, what he remembers about making Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, why he wanted to be part of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, if he wants to direct, will he be involved in another superhero franchise, working with Andy Serkis on Jungle Book, how he’s always on the verge of quitting, and so much more.
If you’re not familiar with The Promise, it’s the first film to take on the Armenian genocide that took place in the early 20th century. Directed by Hotel Rwanda filmmaker Terry George, the film stars Oscar Isaac as a medical student whose relationship with a fellow Armenian girl (played by Charlotte Le Bron) strikes up a rivalry with the woman’s American journalist boyfriend (played by Bale) and becomes downright dangerous as the Ottoman Empire begins to crumble. As the Turks begin rounding up any and all Armenians in what would become a genocide, these three characters try to navigate their way to survival. The film also stars Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Sarafyan, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Daniel Giménez Cacho, and Marwan Kenzari. For more on the film, watch the trailer or read Adam Chitwood’s review.
COLLIDER: Do you enjoy doing press more from home or at the Four Seasons?
CHRISTIAN BALE: Well, there’s room service at the Four Seasons and the sheets are always nice and clean.
I accept that, that’s a good answer. I would imagine that you get offered a number of projects. What was it about The Promise that said “I have to do this”?
BALE: I’m always on the verge of quitting. I hate what I do, but I love it as well. And occasionally, there’ll be something which I surprise myself with my choice. It keeps you going. It can result in big mistakes but sometimes can result in, you know, sort of happy accidents. This project came primarily because of my lack of education is why I did this project. I had no idea about the Armenian genocide, I’d never heard of it in my life. I didn’t go to school that much and I didn’t listen much when I was there, possibly they taught us about it but I didn’t hear them if they did, and I found that a little embarrassing, because as I read this script, I was watching the news and was very interested and appalled by what was happening with the Yazidis at the time. And if you recall, there was a tragic event where they had been surrounded on a mountain and were under siege of being killed by ISIS. And I’m reading a script a hundred years prior, and there are people on the mountain, under siege, being surrounded and killed, and so it was incredibly topical for me, and a huge learning curve. It made me realize just how easy it is for monumental events to happen in history, but for those facts just to be buried, and realizing that the lack of consequences for this Armenian genocide may well have provoked many of the other genocides that we’ve witnessed since. Adolf Hitler’s comment of, “Does anyone remember the Armenian genocide?” Since this film has been made, the very critical awareness we’ve had of just how important good journalism is and we continue to have that debate, it’s existed forever but it’s become very obvious in America now. That really drew me in, and then in speaking with Terry, but also with the producers, that it was the first film where I’d ever heard them say 100% of their proceeds were going to go to charities involved in the nature of what the film is about. These proceeds will go Enough Project, which is all about holding people accountable for genocide and actually really sort of getting documentation, proof. And discovering that they were sincere about that, they weren’t meaning to say a small portion or a miniscule number that sounded good for the press; it was 100%, and that just really intrigued me. Then there was the highly ambitious effort that Terry had, which was that he was a great fan of sort of sweeping, romantic epics. David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, he’s a great fan of Warren Beatty’s Reds, and he wanted to attempt that, and then you just kind of sit and see what project keeps cropping up in your mind and this one did.
I was going to say that the type of film that this is, is incredibly hard to make nowadays. I’m very impressed you guys were able to pull this off.
BALE: Well, it only happened because it was a single financier, Kirk Kerkorian, and that’s it. People have been trying to make not this kind of movie, but specifically a movie about the Armenian genocide, and there have been some made, but not on this skill. And people have been trying to make this film for some time, I mean, Kirk Kerkorian himself, three times when he was running MGM was unable to make this film despite his best efforts, because each time it was thwarted because of interests whose interests were not in having the film made. So, many years in the making, and that was of course intriguing to me as well.
One of the things that really frustrates me, and it seems like it’s happening more and more nowadays which is shocking, is when people or countries just won’t acknowledge facts. I definitely have to ask, how do you feel about Turkey’s unwillingness to acknowledge the genocide that took place of the Armenian people?
BALE: Right. It’s, well, confusing but not that confusing. Confusing because the evidence just seems to be irrefutable, you know? The US, because it was not at war with Turkey at the time, had many Turkish allies. The Turkish allies themselves provided accounts of what was occurring. Photographic evidence was hard to come by because the Turkish authorities made that illegal, however there was the German soldier that was able to document photographically. But you’ve got the crumbling of an empire and the birth of a new nation. Perhaps people don’t want to have to look at the birthing pains and recognize the atrocity that occurred. Armenians, yes, and Greeks, and the Syrians as well. And then you’ve got the very practical reparations issue, and then the strategic value of Turkey. There’s a reason why no sitting president has used the word genocide, Obama did when was not in office but he didn’t do it when he was in office, right? But the Pope does it, and with the hundredth anniversary more world leaders have started to call it that.
You bring up an excellent point, though, with the location of Istanbul and that country.
BALE: It’s a very strategically valuable country, yeah.
When you think back on the making of The Promise, is there a day or two that you’ll always remember? Like memorable moments from filming?
BALE: Yeah, I think actually, there’s a scene by the river, that’s very memorable for me because in educating myself about the genocide, it was incredibly barbaric. And in wishing to make a sweeping epic, Terry did not actually want to show that, and that confused me for quite a long time, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to, but it’s the director’s film, any film is the director’s, so you have to try to understand their point of view and go with the way that they wish to make the film. And in trying to understand that, and very much his reasoning was that he wanted this to be used for educational resources and for young people to be able to watch it without it becoming overly shocking to be able to stomach, and the truth is stomach-churning. So therefore an awful lot of the time, there is reference to, or there’s a suggestion to what is happening off screen, but not so many occasions where you actually see the consequences, and so that day stuck with me a great deal. And also because of the involvement of people whose families were directly involved in it, and so that was a very poignant day for them.
Switching gears a little bit, you worked with Adam McKay on The Big Short, which is a film I truly love. I think Adam McKay is a genius, and what he was able to do with that material was incredible. When he approached you to work together again with this Dick Cheney thing, was this an immediate yes?
BALE: No, I thought he was batshit crazy, but often a genius is, isn’t it? And I completely agree with you. He has an ability that I haven’t seen in another filmmaker to take a project that on the surface does not seem appropriate for a film whatsoever and make it one of the most compelling and entertaining films that I’ve seen in a long while, and that’s with The Big Short, so he’s one of the few people that I think can handle this other project. It’s in very early days, we’re very early days right now.
I was gonna say, do you envision that being something you’re going to film this year?
BALE: I don’t know yet.
Then I’ll leave it there then, and say I hope you guys are working together again because your last collaboration was fantastic.
BALE: Thank you very much.