It was a good word from the director's wife that got "The
Fighter"'s Christian Bale his career-making role in 1987's "Empire of the
At 13, he'd done a few TV commercials (fabric softener,
Pacman cereal) and a TV movie, Anastasia: "The Mystery of Anna," with Amy
Irving, Steven Spielberg's then-wife. Her recommendation put Bale ahead
of what was said to be 4,000 child actors who had auditioned for the role of
Jamie "Jim" Graham, the preteen whose life of privilege in prewar Shanghai is shattered
when the Japanese send his wealthy family to a World War II
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Bale, now 37, was born in Wales to a family with showbiz
roots: His father had been a talent manager and his mother a circus
performer and clown."Christian dropped into this character in a very
natural way," recalls producer Frank Marshall. "He was so focused all the
time on what he needed to do."
The film received mixed reviews, with the only consistent
agreement being praise for its barely teenage star. Wrote Duane Byrge in
The Hollywood Reporter, "Bale's performance is stunning."
According to Joseph McBride's 1997 biography of the director, Spielberg coaxed the
unforgettable performance from the young actor by not appearing to be
an authority figure, even playing remote-controlled racing cars with him
during lunch breaks. Bale has said he saw Spielberg as "just another kid."
Although the film wasn't a great commercial success, it certainly succeeded
in another way. "Many child actors don't make the crossover into the
adult phase," Marshall says. "But Christian went on to become one our