Christian Bale is notoriously tight-lipped about a number of things, but mostly his private life. The 45-year-old ‘Wales-born Englishman’ (his own words) is fascinatingly aloof, selecting projects with a level of care and caution notable for its absence in latest film ‘Ford v Ferrari’, which tells the story of risking it all in the flick of a wheel.
While Bale has been, thus far, relatively quiet over his portrayal of Ken Miles – the driver despatched by Henry Ford II to produce a car capable of winning the Le Mans 24-hour race – in the summer’s ultimate high-octane smash, he does open up to RSNG over career, transformations, and the very definition of ‘success’…
RSNG Do you understand the drive to take the ultimate risk and put your life on the line behind the wheel, as in Le Mans, or sat astride a gas tank, as in the Isle Of Man TT, even though you know that your skill may not be enough to keep you alive, because these races have killed legends in their prime?
CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR ‘Totally. I think you have to be of a certain frame of mind to go after success to such an extent that you are willing to sacrifice absolutely everything you have to accomplish that. It’s always been one of my dreams to imagine myself being Mark Marquez, winning the MotoGP, because I just think to myself, if there's somebody I want to be, I want to be him.’
‘I love motorcycles. I just don't ride them as much anymore because my enthusiasm outdid my skill. I guess that answers the question of how much I want to risk it all on two wheels… not enough.’
RSNG The media claims you lost 70lbs between your role for Vice and Le Mans 66 simply by not eating. You’ve obviously done transformations more radical than that one, but how have you honed the discipline to do that in a world where food is everywhere?
CB ‘Oh man, it’s not a great feeling, haha! When I was shredding, I had little else but going to bed feeling hungry and miserable. I couldn’t really socialise with anybody because that would have meant me being surrounded by food or drink, most of the time. It was a very challenging period, but the incentive made it easier.’
‘It did fill me with a sense of control, and then the total opposite when I was putting weight on. You just lose all self-restraint and are binging like crazy. I was happy to put an end to it all, because it wasn’t healthy and it would have soon caught up with me.’
‘It's a strange contrast between doing something that is mentally stimulating and rewarding – huge weight loss or weight gain – versus something that is physically very damaging. When you are trying to play one off against the other it can do strange things with your mind.’
‘Success comes about when you choose the things that make you and those around you happy’
RSNG Will you consider transformations like that in future?
CB ‘In terms of weight? Probably not for a while. I think it’s the one type of transformation that people take to be the most profound – obviously it’s very visual and that’s an easy thing to grasp when looking in from the outside.’
‘In terms of how I approach that as an actor, it’s not one of the biggest transformations, and by that I mean how you transform the normal version of yourself into a role, is arguably a bigger thing. Transforming the body is actually quite simple when you think about it – your effort is largely down to what you do or don’t put in your mouth, and whether you choose to work out or not. Other ways of reimagining yourself, in the context of becoming someone else, can take on much more profound changes.’
‘So to answer the question, the physical stuff I am happy to leave behind for a little while. As for the character demands of any role, that is always a transformation from the self – myself – and that’s just part of being an actor.’
RSNG Is there a role from your career that has stayed with you in some?
CB ‘Ask Sibi [his wife].’
RSNG You’ve said before how she is such a positive influence on your career…
CB ‘Always – she pushes me, helps me chase, makes me go the extra yard. She knows.’
RSNG How have you personally gone about turning drive into success, given that one does not always follow the other?
CB ‘Success is relative. Success in the movie world isn’t necessarily success in life. Success comes about when you choose the things that make you and those around you happy. I’ve not worked as much as some other actors because my definition of success isn’t entirely linked to seeing my face on a screen.’
‘Success is also not bowing down to what others expect of you – it’s being confident enough to forge your own path.’
‘I am the personification of someone who shouldn’t have even got close to where they did’
RSNG Pembrokeshire is a bit of an adventure playground – have you ever returned to your birthplace to climb the cliffs or surf the breaks?
CB ‘We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Certainly that’s a lovely part of the world and I’d implore anyone to get out there and enjoy The Gower, but it’s no more mine than anyone else’s, and in life I tend not to look back.’
RSNG What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had on set?
CB ‘Just getting on one in the first place. I am the personification of someone who shouldn’t have even got close to where they did.’
‘On the other hand you might say I’m an inspiration to those who take time to decide what they want to do, haha! The fact is I wasn’t academic, I was a run-around as a kid, and even in older life I would sway between wanting to be an actor and desperately wanting to be pretty much anywhere else.’
‘We need to lose this culture of false positivity and confidence – it’s okay to have doubt’
‘When you combine all of that you might wonder how I ended up on a film set, but I think the moral of the story is to seize and to grasp all those good moments, and to really go after it then. It’s ridiculous to think, firstly, that you know what you want to do with your life as an eight-year-old… and similarly stupid to think you have to stand by your aims every minute of every day.’
‘We need to lose this culture of false positivity and confidence. The fact is it’s okay to have doubt; it’s okay to waver a bit, but as I said, in those key moments when you really need to step up… step up!’
WHAT NEXT? Want to know more about how Christian Bale transforms himself for his roles? So did we, so we asked for more detail…
Bale isn’t even sure how much weight he gained to play the part of former United States VP, Dick Cheney, in the film Vice, released at the start of last year, and for which he famously gave ‘thanks to Satan’ in his speech for Best Actor at the Golden Globes.
What was remarkable in playing George W. Bush’s right-hand man was that the body transformation was no hatchet job; no ‘fat suit’ was required. It was pure Bale. But to then getting rid of all of the weight he’d put on was far more difficult.
‘The figure of weight that I gained to play the role was around 40lbs – whatever it was, it was disgusting,’ says Bale. ‘It was fun for the first few weeks, just eating everything I wanted, and as much of it as possible. But after that time your body begins to scream that you are doing something wrong.’
'Losing the weight was horrific – you do wonder if you can get back to how you were’
‘Losing the weight was horrific. It involved me going to bed hungry and miserable, eating the scraps and leftovers from my kids’ plates. Doing simple things became difficult, both when at maximum weight and when trying to lose it. You do wonder if you can get back to how you once were.’
Bale has previously said running is one of his key weight-loss mechanisms. In full training he will try to run for an hour per day, and has said he prefers the tonal aspect of fitness, rather than pushing big weights in order to get mass.
He never restricts food intake, subscribing to the ‘1, 2, 3 principle’ – that’s one-part fat to two-parts protein to three-parts carbohydrates, and says eating every 2-3 hours provides, for him, the best structure for constant replenishment of fuel.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.