Many actors will dedicate themselves to bringing their characters to life, immersing themselves in extensive research and preparation techniques.
Robert De Niro, for instance, spent a whole month working as a cab driver to tap into the mindset of Taxi Driver’s disturbed Travis Bickle, while Margot Robbie underwent hours of ice skating training every day for I, Tonya.
However, there is perhaps no other actor working today who physically moulds themselves into a character the way that Christian Bale does. A true chameleon of his trade, Bale uses his body time and again as a tool to help tell the story, and some of his transformations are truly startling.
And so, to mark Bale’s 47th birthday, we’ve looked back on some of his most eye-popping metamorphoses, many of which simply do not look as though they originate from the same person.
5.American Hustle (2013)
First of all, we have Bale’s memorable turn as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle, a character so convincingly unlike Bale in appearance that even his co-stars were left scratching their heads.
Speaking at a press conference in 2013, director and screenwriter David O. Russell told the following story about what happened when co-star Robert De Niro met the rest of the cast:
When Robert met the whole cast, he shook their hands the day we shot that scene. After he met everybody he said, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I said, ‘You just shook his hand, that’s Christian Bale.’ He said, ‘No, that guy.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s Christian Bale!’
[…] He stared and said, ‘Wow, he looks so different. It’s great’. He didn’t realize he had just met Christian, so I had to reintroduce him again.
Bale gained 43lbs to play Rosenfeld, chowing down ‘lots of doughnuts’ and ‘a whole lot of cheeseburgers’ to achieve a rounder tum.
Always one to suffer for his art, Bale reportedly even herniated a disc in his back due to his decision to give Rosenfeld a slouched posture, causing Bale’s real-life height to drop by three inches.
4. American Psycho (2000)
Patrick Bateman’s self care routine makes for an infamously extensive and deeply creepy monologue: ‘In the morning if my face is a little puffy I’ll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1,000 now.’
However, this intense ritual is nothing compared to the non-fictional work that went into bringing this satirical capitalist monster to life.
Bale, who had never so much as been to a gym before taking up this role, put his all and them some into bulking up as Bateman, training for hours and hours a day.
And this transformation reportedly required internal changes too. During filming, Bale spoke with an American accent even when he was away from the set, and refused to socialize with his fellow actors, taking the art of method acting to another, all-consuming level.
In a 2017 interview with Train magazine, Bale remarked that this role was the ‘most restrictive diet-wise’ due to Bateman’s lean but muscular stature, emphasizing, ‘there were no cheat meals. It was all lean protein. No sugars, good fats and low carbs’.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
Incredibly, Bale bounced into preparations for his take on the Caped Crusader more or less straight from wrapping up The Machinist – which we will get into later – going from one physical extreme to another in the space of around five months.
For the role of Bruce Wayne, Bale bulked up big time, gorging himself on ice cream and pizza while pushing himself through a gruelling exercise regime.
Bale revealed he had ended up taking things too far the other way, and actually had to beef down before shooting could begin:
Actually, I gained too much weight in the run up to Batman Begins. I wasn’t the size that Christopher Nolan wanted, so I had to cut down 20lb or so just before shooting – I was a lot beefier at first.
That cutting down was achieved by going on a calorie deficit and running more and for longer. I cut a lot of the carbs out of my diet for those few weeks as well.
As one of the most divisive figures in American political history, the role of Dick Cheney was always going to be a tricky one to navigate. Looks-wise too, this would be no easy feat for Bale, who bears very little physical resemblance to Cheney.
Bale, who was 44 at the time, portrayed the former vice president at five stages in his life. In his most unrecognisable scenes, Bale channelled Cheney as a man in his late seventies, reflecting on his life, choices and controversial political career.
In order to convince the audience, Bale spent up to eight hours a day in makeup during filming, and had his scalp shaved and eyebrows bleached to ensure his head would be a good canvas for thinning wigs and realistic neck prosthetics.
Bale was totally dedicated to internalizing ‘the essence’ of Cheney, studying hundreds of pieces of footage to capture his tough, ruthless persona.
In fact, Bale ended up with so many pics of Cheney that his iPhone began automatically generating nostalgic clip montages of these ‘memories,’ complete with uplifting music.
As with other roles, Bale shifted his weight dramatically to achieve a greater likeness, piling on an astonishing 40lbs.
1. The Machinist (2004)
The character of psychologically damaged factory worker Trevor Reznik (Bale) is one that lingers long after the closing credits, with Reznik’s pale, gaunt physique being a grim manifestation of the intense turmoil and exhaustion gnawing away within.
When shirtless, it becomes evident that Reznik is completely emaciated, a worn down wreck of the healthy, bright eyed man we glimpse in fleeting flashbacks. Every rib juts from his protruding ribcage, while his stomach is sunken to an alarming extent.
It’s difficult to believe that we are looking at a living person during such scenes, let alone an actor known for his strength and resilience. And yet, famously, Bale actually did look like this while filming the dark drama.
Bale reportedly dropped an approximate 62lbs in the four months prior to the making of the film, an amount some have claimed to be the most shed by any actor for any role in the history of cinema.
It’s also been claimed that Bale wanted to drop down even further, to 100lbs. However, the producers understandably wouldn’t allow him to out of fear that this could seriously endanger his health.
To achieve this skeletal look, Bale apparantly lived off a diet consisting of tuna, apples, water, coffee and the occasional whiskey, adding up to an alarmingly low total of 200 calories a day.
A very Happy Birthday to Christian Bale, whatever form he may be taking right now.
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