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Interview: A Welshman in South Central

Actor Christian Bale Reveals What Drew Him to ...Harsh Times...

By Nivair H. Gabriel
ARTS EDITOR

After “Batman Begins,” Christian Bale chose not to do another big-budget blockbuster. Instead, he opted for writer/director David Ayer’s “Harsh Times,” a personal, self-financed project that was shot in only 24 days. The star of “Batman Begins” and “American Psycho” participated in a phone conference with The Tech and other college press to discuss the film, which also features Freddy Rodriguez and Eva Longoria. “Harsh Times” opens on Nov. 10.

The Tech: David said you’ve really been attached to this script for years. What was it about his writing that attracted you so much? What do you like about his scripts?

CB: It’s very personal to him, and that really comes across. [My character] is a shark, and he’s a prick, and he’s at the same time somebody that I like immensely in spite of himself. He’s one of those people that you know is probably going to be nothing but bring bad to you. But the fact is that he’s somebody who has to me a whole lot of substance and a whole lot of heart as well. He doesn’t know how to show that. The piece itself just had a great momentum to it. I just felt like it was one hell of a roller coaster ride that comes to a sudden stop at the end. When I say he’s a shark — you know, sharks die if they stop moving, and [my character] is like that. It just stuck with me. There are just certain scripts that you read that just stick with you. They won’t leave you alone. “Harsh Times” is like that for me. I enjoyed also my first meeting with Dave. It was meant to be a short one, and it ended up going on for like five hours — there were broken glasses at the bar that we were at afterwards. It was just, for me, a bond to the piece and to him immediately because of that. You don’t really know if you’re great friends with people until you’ve had some kind of bad argument with them and gotten through that point. With Dave everything’s kind of fast. You have that experience the first time you meet him.

Q: You have racked up a really diverse group of fans during your very diverse career. What kind of person do you think will be drawn to watch this movie?

CB: All I can say is: me! I know that I am. Beyond that, I have no clue. I’m not in marketing. I don’t look at things that way. That’s important, but that’s not for me to consider. For me, it’s just about — is that something that gets its hooks into me? Is this something that sticks with me? I hope that other people will see in [“Harsh Times”] what I saw, which is a very multi-layered movie. It apparently plays on a very simplistic level, but there’s so much to it, and if you just take the time just to watch this character of Jim a little bit, you’ll see. He’s a very interesting, intriguing, and engaging character — not necessarily someone who you want to be spending too much time with, but definitely someone who you want to hear about. You’d like him to be a friend of a friend, because you know there are going to be great stories coming out of his life. I find him to be very bloody funny, but ultimately, there comes a point where you realize that the consequences of your actions can start to be more devastating, the more capable you become and the more power that you have. If you don’t recognize that, and recognize the responsibility of that, then there can be really disastrous consequences, which is tragic, and which happens to many people, and which ends up happening to [my character]. But initially, it’s a joy ride.

Q: The film was filmed in Mexico as well as L.A. How did that add to the whole theme of the film?

CB: The thing is that everything is the real deal, except for me, basically. [laughs] We shot the thing entirely on location, in and around L.A. and east L.A., and when we were meant to be shooting in Mexico, we were shooting in Mexico. We shot there for four days at the beginning. We were in a little tiny town outside of Ensenada, and we had this very generous family who gave us their house, which is a tiny, tiny, tiny little place made of breeze-blocks and corrugated iron. It really does add to the authenticity. You find that even with larger-budget movies, there’s something about shooting on location that just adds that reality, which helps in every aspect of it. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that there’s a fiesta scene towards the end — we just created that fiesta. We went to the town square and we invited everybody from the town. It was free food and drink, music — everybody just partied all night and we made a movie in the middle of it all. That’s great — you can’t ask for better than that! We were shooting all the time on a handheld camera. There wasn’t a huge crew, we didn’t have mocks and stuff. It was pretty much just, “hey, look, here’s the party,” and we were all there. I’d kinda see Dave, give him the hand signal, he’d start rolling, and we’d start playing the scene, but in the midst of everybody else, who was just partying. You feel that when you watch a movie that’s the real deal. There’s no worse giveaway in the movie than when you’re seeing a party scene and it’s not a real party, or a nightclub scene and it’s all choreographed. You just look at it and go, “Ugh, that’s just awful.” There’s nothing like having the real people, the real locations, and that’s what this movie is all about. It’s inspired by Dave’s life. He knows it: he lives it and lived it. Obviously you never lose complete touch with your past, but he’s also moved on, as everybody must.

Q: It seems that nowadays a lot of movie scripts are trying to make some sort of statement, either about our culture or humanity. What sort of statement do you think “Harsh Times” makes?

CB: I think that’s for the viewer to decide. You get a lot of movies where people will believe that there’s some statement being made. You ask one person and they’ll say, “yes” — you ask the next person and it went completely over their heads. In my mind, it ain’t for the person making the movie or writing the book or painting the picture or anything to be telling people what they should get from it. You get what you get from it. If you feel that it’s topical and it’s a statement, about the country nowadays, the war, then you’re going to get that from it. But there’s no way that I’m going to be putting those words into anybody’s mouths. My job is to actually create the character, and that’s it. Beyond that, it’s kind of a cheat to tell people what I was trying to do. I either achieved it, or I didn’t. The movie either achieved it, or it didn’t. It depends on the mood you’re in when you go see it, and it depends what kind of person you are, whether you pick up on it. For me, the worst thing in the world is to hear what people were trying to do with a movie. Just do it. And people like it and they get it, or they don’t.