The Mystery of Christian Bale
It's hard to imagine the shock waves that will run through the international "Balehead" community when their idol steps boldly into the world of adult semi-smut; for now they've had to content themselves with freeze-framing and analyzing the spittle of the Christian-Winona kiss from Little Women. And don't think they don't do that. Bale's fan club's website withstands an average of more than 60,000 visits every week. To put this in perspective, note that in non-Bale-associated Internet chat rooms, Bale is more talked about than, say, Leonardo DiCaprio or Chris O'Donnell.
The single-minded passion of Baleheads can be downright creepy, whether it's online, in the preposterous video rental popularity of Newsies, in newsletters or in letter-writing campaigns to studios aimed at getting Bale into specific films. Bale thumbs covertly through the sample newsletter I show him, trying to hide it from the Parisians swarming around us. "Look at this: 'I love the way his mouth moves when he talks.'" He starts working his mouth like a Tourette's victim. "Half of me thinks, let them print and do whatever they want, it's great, it can't hurt. And the other half of me is sometimes saying, 'Fucking Christ!' After being quite mortified a few times, I decided to get involved, so now I can kind of tell them, 'No, I'd rather you didn't put this or that into the newsletter.' The fellow that runs most of it is this Chinese guy who only sleeps four hours a night and once reorganized the Canadian National Library system for free, just because he saw it was a mess. I'm just another project for him."
Perhaps here are the first glimmerings of what Bale has successfully avoided all along: watching his public profile slip out of his control. "In a small interview recently I made a joke about how people may start getting snakes in the mail if they don't give me a role, and soon after I heard there were discussions online--people wondering, 'Does he want us to send snakes through the mail?' Amazing. But I don't think all of my fans are morons. At least I hope not." Knowing that this article will probably be devoured by his minions like piranha chum, I ask Bale if there's anything the fan network doesn't know about him yet that he'd be willing to divulge. "I have no penis!" he offers. Then he actually delivers: "Well, my mother worked in the circus--she was a clown, a dancer, she rode elephants, she was the lady in the sequins who introduced the trapeze act. There were incredibly beautiful women walking around naked all the time. That was the first time I'd seen a naked woman. There I was in the caravans, seven years old, ogling all these incredible women walking around completely naked in front of me. My first kiss was from a young Polish trapeze artist named Barta."
Bale is hyperaware of his position in the industry, and of his competition for roles--he knows exactly what Leonardo, Ethan, Balthazar and Lukas are doing at any given time. While he had the good fortune to be turned down for the drag Mercutio in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet after several tryouts, he has been vying for the next film by gay indie scalawag Todd Haynes (_Safe_), as well as for the charmingly amoral lead in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a remake of the 1960 Alain Delon noir Purple Noon. If either he or the Baleheads get their way, the relaxed career pace and public anonymity that Bale has enjoyed up to now may well be a thing of the past.
Michael Atkinson wrote "The New Flesh" for Movieline's Jan/Feb issue.