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How Oscar-Winner Christian Bale Got His Start

Movie Talk

How Oscar-Winner Christian Bale Got His Start

Spielberg and Bale BEImages

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

Sun."

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

internment camp.

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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."

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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

finest actors."