What do you do when you meet your heroes? Let alone one of the most popular superheroes of all time? Sure, sitting across a table from Christian Bale had been a life long dream and hearing him describe his acting process was a far fetched hope, but all that came to pass when I met Bale ahead of the world premiere of Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle in Mumbai, India.
Armed with a copy of my collector’s edition Blu-Ray of The Dark Knight trilogy, I walked into a tiny hotel room where the knight in black himself sat awaiting none other than me. Fandom aside, Bale is one of the few actors I truly respect for the way he transforms himself for each character he plays. Be it the the bony factory worker in The Machinist to the Brute and muscular Batman, From Empire of the Sun to The Prestige, Bale has time and again proven that he can transform himself into almost any character he please to play. To my surprise, he sat there telling me that he’s never had any formal training as an actor. “I make up my process for every different film. I am not a trained actor. I have no particular technique. People often call me a method actor, but to be a method actor, you must have been trained in a method style of acting. I had no training. I went to YWCA for a couple of weekends. That’s it, that’s where my training finishes. So, it’s more of a make it up as you go along method. I look for diversity, I look for different challenges. You always have to take that risk of people laughing at you and not with you and I’m quite addicted to that,” Bale said describing his process as an actor.
Talking about donning the role of Bagheera, the Black Panther in Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, Bale told me that he is in fact very familiar with the writings of legendary author Rudyard Kipling. “I had read the Jungle Book as a kid in school. I was never a very good student, didn’t really pay much attention. So, when Andy came to me, I did know primarily that my preference was the Disney animated film, the musical and Bare Necessities and floating down the river on Baloo’s tummy. I loved that film. I’ve known Andy since I was about 19 years old. He’s become the pre-eminent go-to actor when it comes to performance capture. I feel like it’s a story that lends itself to multiple interpretations. You can equally love Disney’s and this interpretation. It’s fascinating to me that how the same source material can end up in such vastly different style of film. While Disney’s version is warm and fuzzy, this one is a fantasy adventure,” Bale told Digit.in.
“My Kids have not seen any of the Batman films” - Christian Bale
The actor went on to tell me how Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is one of his first movies that his children were able to see. “I was really thankful that it’s one of the first films I’ve made that my children were able to go and see. My wife specifically told me that not only does she really like Andy, but that this is something that we can all go and see together,” Bale said totally skipping the fact that he made three of the most popular superhero movies to date that, perhaps, children around the world have watched not once, but a bunch of times. To my utter shock, maybe because Bale in my opinion is the best Batman to date, his kids have never seen any of the movies where he plays the caped crusader!
Christian Bale as Bagheera the panther in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Given that his latest stint as Bagheera the panther involves a lot of play with motion capture, I asked Bale if wearing the mocap suit actually made his life more difficult as an actor. What you might not notice when you finally watch the film is the fact that almost all of Bagheera’s movements, the way he carries Mowgli on his back, the way he scratches and jumps on all fours, are actually performed by Bale in real life wearing a face and motion capture suit. The animation data gathered from the suit was then mapped to a 3D model of Bagheera, making the character perform the same actions as the actor. “Initially you feel a little lost doing this. You’re not sure what’s important and what’s not important. Andy was able to communicate that to me very quickly. It’s not just the voice, that’s what a lot of people misunderstand, because you are actually interacting, you are acting, you are moving. It’s not more demanding, just demanding in a different way. Whenever you act there are lots of distractions and you have to try to ignore them. What you see, the positions we all are sitting in, were the positions that I chose and they then adapted them to turn me into a panther,” explained Bale. “It’s a new age of what becomes possible in film,” he added.
At the end of my 5 minutes with this iconic actor, to my disappointment, he said that he will not be doing any more Batman movies. But yes, he did sign my Blu-ray copy of the Batman trilogy.