While his filmography is almost unbelievably packed with iconic roles, to this day, Christian Bale is still best-known for his stint as murderous Wall Street yuppy Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s American Psycho; on equal term with Bruce Wayne / Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.
The adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial black comedy has been immortalised within mainstream film culture – as well as memedom – in the years since its theatrical release circa 2000. In great part due to the memorable performance offered by the famously committed thespian himself, who based his depiction of the unravelling serial killer on – get this – Tom Cruise. As described by director Mary Harron:
“One day, [Christian Bale] called me and he’d been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman… and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.”
From a modern perspective, what he’d sought to achieve is clear as day. I mean, the end result speaks for itself. But in an oral history published by Moviemaker (via Esquire), Christian Bale revealed how his American Psycho co-stars didn’t quite understand what he was doing with the Patrick Bateman character. Nor did they have any faith in his dramatic skills.
“Josh Lucas and I did a film together recently and he opened my eyes to something that I had been unaware of. He informed me that all of the other actors thought that I was the worst actor they’d ever seen,” explains Christian Bale.
“He was telling me they kept looking at me and talking about me, saying: ‘Why did [director Mary Harron] fight for this guy? He’s terrible.’ And it wasn’t until he saw the film that he changed his mind. And I was in the dark completely about that critique.”
“Working with Christian was pretty hard because I didn’t know this whole method thing,” confirms Chloë Sevigny.
“I was pretty fresh. I hadn’t done that many films before, and that an actor would lose himself to such a degree and was so consumed by the part.”
“I was having a hard time kind of… just wanting to socialise with him, but feeling that he didn’t, and then my ego being like: ‘Does he not like me? Does he think I’m a terrible actress?’”
Of course, the cast members weren’t the only ones impacted. During a lunch meeting with American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, Christian Bale actually rocked up as Patrick Bateman. Ellis found the experience so unnerving that he asked Bale to drop the act.
“I just wanted him to stop. I asked him to stop, and then he did, and it was fine, and then Mary Harron joined us, so it was more comfortable. But he was intense!” recounts Bret Easton Ellis.
“I think the thing that united [director Mary Harron and me] is I had no interest in his background, childhood – and she didn’t either,” adds Christian Bale.
“We looked at him as an alien who landed in the unabashedly capitalist New York of the 80s.”
“And looked around and said: ‘How do I perform like a successful male in this world?’ And that was our beginning point. And we didn’t want to talk about why was he this way, what happened in his childhood – there was none of that between Mary and I.”
The cherry on top of this fascinating retrospective sundae? During the business card scene – you know the one – Bale demonstrated some next-level bodily control.
“Josh Lucas and Justin Theroux came up to me after one of the takes and said, ‘He breaks into a sweat at the same time… every time,'” says Mary Harron.