After auditioning for the role of the intense investment banker with a murderous streak more than 20 years ago, Bale realized that he needed to bulk up, something he hadn’t yet tried before.
The actor, now 45, told MovieMaker magazine that he “had to” add muscle to his body, joking, “I’m English.”
It was a new experience for Bale.
“I had never gone to a gym in my life,” he said, as part of an oral history to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary.
Bale joined the gym when his role was still up in the air. Though he had auditioned for director and screenwriter Mary Harron and she wanted him for the part, the studio wasn’t on board. In May 1998, Lionsgate offered Leonardo DiCaprio over $20 million for the role instead of Bale. Harron refused to do the movie with DiCaprio.
“She really threw herself on the sword for me,” Bale said. “I will always appreciate that, so much. She has incredible integrity and just stuck with me throughout.”
For a short time, both Bale and Harron were off the movie while Lionsgate moved forward with DiCaprio and the newly hired Oliver Stone as the director. During that time, Bale started consistently hitting the gym in the hopes that he would get the role back, and to ensure that his body stayed ripped.
“You lose that [muscle] quicker than you gain it,” he said.
Bale was determined.
“I said to her, ‘I’m still gonna make this, and I’m still gonna keep prepping on it.’ 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.’ ” He said. “Everybody thought I was crazy, but it became a crusade for me.”
Eventually, DiCaprio and Stone left the film and Bale and Harron were back on, which meant Bale fully committed to the role — he wouldn’t break character on set — and his workout routine.
“Every day he would go work out for hours and hours and hours to get into that incredible shape,” said costar Matt Ross. “I remember Mary and I talking about just what an incredible work ethic he had.”
And Bale has famously continued to mold his body for his roles through the years, from crash dieting for The Machinist to bulking up again for Batman Begins to gaining weight for American Hustle. But in November, after quickly going from playing the heavyset Dick Cheney in Vice to a slim racecar driver in Ford v. Ferrari, Bale said he can’t do the weight fluctuations anymore.
“I keep saying I’m done with it. I really think I’m done with it, yeah,” he said.