From being known as a child actor in films like 1987’s Empire of the Sun and 1992’s Newsies to becoming Batman, Christian Bale—who was born on January 30, 1974—has enjoyed one of the most unpredictable careers in Hollywood. Here, we’re taking a look at some of the lesser-known facts about his life and performances, including his preference to drool while playing Batman and his fondness for Super Mario Bros.
1. Christian Bale’s early acting career killed his love for acting.
Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales on January 30, 1974 to David and Jenny Bale, Christian Bale followed his older sister Louise into performing, appearing in commercials for fabric softener. (It ran in the family: Their mother was a dancer and circus performer, his father was a talent manager, and his grandfather was a stunt double for John Wayne in the 1962 film Hatari!) At 12, Bale beat out 4000 other young actors to land the starring role in Empire of the Sun, a World War II drama directed by Steven Spielberg.
That rapid success, and the accompanying pressure to keep his family’s finances on track, led to what Bale later called a “prison” and unpleasant sense of obligation to keep doing it. "I certainly wouldn’t have my daughter do anything like that because it becomes a necessity and, in that case, it killed it—it actually killed my drive of acting because it became something I felt like I had to do,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011. “You know, you can’t enjoy something when you’re actually—not being forced to do it, but you feel that duty and obligation that if you don’t a lot of people are going to suffer.” Bale said that those experiences led to a “love-hate thing” with the profession that continues to this day.
2. Christian Bale didn’t know Newsies would be a musical.
After Empire of the Sun, Bale made just one other film—1989’s Henry V—before being cast in 1992’s Newsies, a Walt Disney musical based loosely on the true story of a newspaper boy strike in 1899. In 1997, Bale told Movieline that he accepted the role without knowing it would be turned into a musical. The script, he said, offered no indication it would feature musical numbers. When he realized what he had signed on for, he asked director Kenny Ortega if he could just “duck over here into the pub” when the singing started. As he was the lead, that was not practical.
Newsies bombed—though it later garnered a cult following as well as a 2011 stage revival—and Bale didn’t receive significant attention as an adult actor until 1994’s Little Women.
3. Christian Bale was an early object of affection for the internet.
Before Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves preoccupied online forums, Bale was receiving a surplus of attention from a burgeoning internet circa the 1990s. Following Little Women, a crop of fans dubbed “Baleheads” congregated online, with up to 60,000 visitors to a fan club site arriving weekly. Admirers coordinated letter-writing campaigns to try and pressure studios into casting him in films and circulating a newsletter. Bale told Movieline in 1997 that the single-minded devotion initially left him “mortified.”
4. Christian Bale kept preparing for American Psycho even after he was told he would not be making American Psycho.
The 2000 film American Psycho, a takedown of elitism and the male ego that was adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel, cast Bale as a serial killer named Patrick Bateman with a fondness for sharp suits and Phil Collins. But before Bale and director Mary Harron got to make the film, it looked as though it would instead be produced with Oliver Stone directing and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. After Harron signed on and cast Bale, Lionsgate was prepared to pay DiCaprio $20 million to do it instead. (At the time, Bale was still best known as the star of low-budget films, while DiCaprio had just been in 1997’s Titanic.)
Harron refused the choice, preferring Bale. While it looked like the project would go on without them, Bale continued to train and prepare for the role, which called for him to be in perfect physical condition. Harron found it odd Bale would continue getting ready for a film they didn’t appear to be making. “I said to her, ‘I’m still gonna make this, and I’m still gonna keep prepping on it,’” Bale told MovieMaker in 2020. “And I would call her to talk about scenes, and she would be on a family vacation and she’d say, ‘Christian, please, I’m trying to have dinner. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s other people making the film now.’ And I’d say, ‘Mary, just stop being so negative.’ We’re gonna do this.’ Everybody thought I was crazy, but it became a crusade for me.”
DiCaprio was talked out of doing the film by Gloria Steinem, who believed—as did others in Hollywood—that his fan base of teenage girls would be horrified to see him as the murderous Bateman. Bale later said he phoned other actors who he heard were being offered the role, like Ewan McGregor, and told them that the part was his. Eventually, Harron and Bale were able to step in and make the film, which became a critical success. (In a strange confluence of events, his father David married Steinem in 2000, after the two met at a political event.)
5. Christian Bale was afraid his voice doomed his chances as Batman.
Bale’s three appearances as Batman in director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy—2005’s Batman Begins, 2008’s The Dark Knight, and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises—were some of the most successful comic book adaptations of the 21st century, with Bale lauded for his portrayal of the moody vigilante. Bale told MTV in 2013 that he was able to understand the part by thinking of the character as something animalistic, with a voice to match. When he auditioned for Nolan, he adopted a growl similar to the one heard in the films to avoid feeling self-conscious.
“They put me in Val Kilmer’s suit,” Bale said. “It didn’t even fit properly, and I stood in it and I went, ‘I feel like an idiot.’ What kind of guy walks around, dressed as a bat? And is then going to go, Hello, how are you? Just ignore I’m dressed as a bat.'" Bale lowered his voice but wasn’t sure how it was received. He went home dejected, particularly after his wife told him he had “f***ed that one up.” Of course, he got the role—as well as a customized suit.
6. Christian Bale was asked not to drool while playing Batman.
Not all of Bale’s decisions as Batman went over well. Recalling a scene he was shooting with Michael Caine, who played Alfred, for Esquire UK in 2014, Bale said that his choice to have Batman drooling after being knocked out was challenged. “I was lying there in some scene in Batman and I started dribbling,” he said. “Because I was like, ‘Well, he’s passed out. You’d have no control. In the position you guys have put me in, dribble would be coming out of my mouth.’” After Caine walked over and told him that “You can’t bloody dribble” as Batman, Nolan agreed. Bale was not allowed to drool in the role.
7. Christian Bale was a Nintendo fan.
Appearing in a 1983 commercial for Pac-Man cereal at the age of 8 apparently put Bale on the road to becoming a video game hobbyist. “I played video games in my entire growing-up years,” he said in 2009. “One of my favorites is Super Mario [Bros.]. I wouldn’t sleep until I finished the game, you know.”
8. Christian Bale will probably never do a romantic comedy.
Bale has appeared in everything from action films to thrillers to psychological dramas, but it isn’t likely you will see him in a romantic comedy at any point. The actor became horrified when the subject was broached in a 2018 interview with The Guardian. “Have you ever enjoyed a romantic comedy?” he asked his inquisitor. “I was asked to do a romantic comedy recently and I thought they’d lost their minds. Cats have those insane half hours every evening. I think it must have been that for the production company. I don’t know why anyone would ever offer me a romantic comedy. I find American Psycho to be very funny.”