As a film writer I don’t really care about what an asshole Christian Bale seems to be on set, but I feel like this incident – and the public reaction to it – is part of what I warned Bale about in Ought Seven. A filmography that is densely packed with dour, morose, angry characters leads to you being identified with those characters, and when a tape like the one leaked yesterday makes the rounds (after Bale was charged with verbally abusing his own mom), the public starts making connections.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Bale’s not a movie star. He doesn’t open the movies he’s in. You’d be hard pressed to lay any of the credit for The Dark Knight‘s massive take at his feet. But as of today he’s one step closer to being a movie star because he finally has a narrative. Too bad it’s a negative one.
The idea of movie stars is more nebulous today than it was in the past, when the earning power of stars was set in stone; today the only guy you can really count on opening your movie and dragging it through sheer force of fame to 200 million is Will Smith. Everybody else is just a celebrity, and celebrities all have narratives. You have a picture in your head of who George Clooney or Brad Pitt are. The audience feels like they know these people, and they like them for it. They’re more forgiving of their foibles and fuck ups as a result. Yeah, Russell Crowe throws phones at people, but he’s personable and garroulous and rides horses and stuff. He’s a manly man, and sometimes manly men throw phones. The audience gets that.
For most people there was never a clear idea of who Christian Bale was. He’s not personable in interviews, and he doesn’t show up at wacky events or hang out with other celebs and make the gossip pages. But he’s also not been anointed by his peers – ie, the Academy – as one of the truly serious actors, one of these award guys. And as he’s been moving more into the spotlight as an actor – following The Dark Knight with Terminator Salvation only makes him more of a celebrity – the audience is going to want to understand who this guy is.
And now they think they know. Christian Bale has a narrative, which allows him to become more of a ‘star,’ but that narrative is a negative one. You’ll start seeing stories in The Star and The Enquirer about what a dick he was to someone at Jamba Juice, and the paparazzi will take a new interest in him – can they get him to blow up on the street and capture it on film? I don’t know that Bale wanted to be a ‘star’ (although his career choices certainly don’t make him seem like someone who wanted to avoid the Hollywood machine), but he’s probably going to find himself being one very soon.
Which is why now, more than ever, he needs to take my advice. The original Cheer Up, Christian Bale was aimed simply at him as an actor, as I saw his career choices creating a path where he’d become boring – if Bale was in a movie you’d now know just what kind of a movie it was (darker, more serious (the whole reason he’s in Terminator, in fact, is to add that darker, serious connotation)) and what kind of a character he was playing. Besides the fact that such a one-note career is a sign of not being all that great an actor, it can burn the public out on you, and in the end it’s the public that keeps you working at the level Bale seems to want to work (leading man).
The problem for Bale is that taking a role where he’s laughing and smiling – Renee Zellwegger and Christian Bale have a wacky love affair in The Machinist’s Wife! – will come across as fake. Part of that is because Bale doesn’t have it in him to be laughing and smiling without looking like a predator. So that means there’s only one option: he has to go Les Grossman.
Following his publicity meltdown, Tom Cruise’s career was on the ropes. There were plenty of people waiting in the wings to take the guy down (and many of those same people are jumping for joy about Bale’s taped tirade, by the way – there’s a professional media takedown industry) and between couch jumping, Scientologically generated bizareness and the weakness of Lions For Lambs (which also was the first film from the new Cruise-ing MGM), it looked like he was staggering and ready for that knockout punch. But it never came because Cruise took decisive action to repair his image – he put on a fat suit and swore his way through a ‘cameo’ as Les Grossman, the profane studio exec in Tropic Thunder.
If Cruise had come out all smiles and sunshine in a wacky role he would have TKOed himself. But Grossman’s abrasiveness and crudeness pander to the audience in ways that feel like not pandering to the audience. And that’s what Bale needs to do. He needs to find a role where he can be funny without having to be nice. Or where he can be straight to somebody who’s really funny, and thus playing on his own dourness. The problem with the guy is that he seems like an angry asshole who takes himself too seriously so he needs to prove that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (even if he actually takes himself too seriously, which I suspect is the case). He should be on the phone to Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller right now.
The opportunity is there for him to grab. Don’t scoff at my advice twice, Bale. Book something funny immediately, even if it’s a dark funny or a rough funny. Get out of the dead serious angry business. Do it now, or the next time you glower at a paparazzi you’ll be all over the front covers of the tabloids.
Thanks to the CHUD message boards for the great picture.