Christian Bale was sporting a buzz cut courtesy of another Warner Bros Pictures movie – Terminator Salvation – at the Los Angeles press junket for The Dark Knight, the second Batman movie for both Bale and writer/director Christopher Nolan. Bale, like Nolan, was only interested in doing another Batman movie if there was a compelling story to tell and if it could live up to the standards they set the first time out of the gate with Batman Begins.
Bale believes The Dark Knight achieves what Nolan set out to do with this Batman Begins sequel. "I knew that Chris had proven his ideas in Batman Begins, so I feel as though he was given more freedom to make exactly the movie that he wished to make for The Dark Knight. He can correct me on that if I'm wrong, but that was my feeling. I know that with Chris, this is our third time we've worked together, that he's not going to bother making another movie if he doesn't feel like he can improve upon the first one."
"I went to his house, I sat and read the script and felt like he had really nailed just kind of exploding all of the clichés of genre movies, that this was no longer an action movie. This was no longer a superhero movie. This was a movie that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any genre of movie. Of course, we have the resources and the ability to have the spectacle of the stunts and the explosions and all the excitement of that, but not have the compromise of great storytelling. These special effects and explosions, they don't mean crap if they're not in the context of a really great, substantial drama," said Bale.
Although Batman's been around since the 1930s, Bale believes there's plenty of wiggle room as to how to play the character. Looking back on past incarnations of the character, Bale offered, "What do we have to look at? Adam West, hey, listen, he did it brilliantly. It was a spoof. It's a spoof of what I believe Bob Kane's original intention was. Then we have the other movies which we were in-between, but still very, very theatrical. These were, with all due respect to them, and Tim Burton is a wonderful filmmaker, but ultimately these were men walking around dressed up like a bat. These were not people who became a different creature when they donned that, and I'd never seen that done before."
"I was misunderstood a number of times after Batman Begins when I'd mentioned about the possibility of making an R-rated Batman. A number of people came to me and said, 'Well, you want to put sex scenes into Batman?' I said, 'No, no, no, that's not at all what I was talking about.' What I was meaning is if you look at the more recent graphic novels, there is such a darkness to it and such an internal human conflict and such questioning of the shadow side and the good motivation and good versus evil and the violence and his capability and propensity for violence, that it could very easily become an R-rated movie. I feel like the reinvention here - I'm not sure what anyone would do in the future with Batman movies, but they'll work it out - but this version has certainly never been seen before, not in a movie."
The Batman costume has been revamped for The Dark Knight, with the new suit offering Bale increased flexibility. This new suit lets Bale move his head and neck more than the Batman Begins costume ever did. Because Bale's in the suit more in The Dark Knight, these changes were crucial. Asked about the challenge of doing more scenes in the Batman costume, Bale replied, "I think that there's an opportunity with the body language to show everything there. He's not a guy who feels the suit to be constricting. Wearing the mask and putting on the suit gives him absolute freedom. He feels most free within that because he's free to anonymously let his anger out and his violence out and become that person who he has to hide from the rest of society most of the time. I think that's something that's interesting. He does it in a more extreme fashion probably than most of us do, but I think everybody has a shadow side to them. We all understand the rules of engagement for civilized society, but we're all tempted to break them all the time and we all are intrigued when we see people happily breaking those rules. With Batman, it's often a very fine line with him crossing the line, going too far."
The moral dilemma of how far do you push the line when dealing with crime and corruption figures heavily in The Dark Knight story. "It's the circumstances," offered Bale on Batman's thought process. "As we see in The Dark Knight, if there's the possibility of having the system work and of having somebody like Harvey Dent be an elected official who can actually solve the problems that Batman's trying to do himself, then obviously Batman is obsolete at that point. So he believes in the system. It's just that the system in Gotham is broken."
Does Bale live within the system? "Everyone would want to live in a system that works but when it doesn't, I think everyone would like to think that they were able to affect some kind of a change themselves, and answer problems for themselves instead of being completely useless," answered Bale. "Whether that's the correct thing to do in the long term or not, I'm not sure. But certainly when it comes to protecting things that you love, then it's black and white. You don't really care too much about the long term consequences. You're going to do what is right for the people around you in that instant which is, of course, always the conflict between what is right for the individual and is that right for society in general. It's what's so great about being human. We're not ants. We do have individual streaks and we will do what is right for ourselves and not just toe the line."