Out of the Furnace: Oscar Winner Christian Bale

After his directing debut, Crazy Heart, Scott Cooper met with some of the industry’s most respected performers, as he contemplated his next project. “When I began casting my next film, I believed that with a script that is based in character and rooted in reality, we had a good shot at getting some of the very best talent out there. But I didn’t realize the cast would turn out to be as strong as it is.”

Cooper had guided his previous film’s star, Jeff Bridges, to a Best Actor Oscar and his co-star, Maggie Gyllenhall, to a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. “Scott has a sterling reputation with actors,” Ireland says. “A lot of people were keen to see what he was going to do after Crazy Heart. That helped attract a fantastic cast, starting with Christian Bale, who plays Russell Baze. He and Scott were the engine that really drove the whole process.”

Cooper describes his cast as “world-class,” starting with Christian Bale. “Christian is a precise and thoughtful man,” Cooper says. “I personally think this is the best work of his career. It’s the deepest, richest performance he has ever given.”

 Christian Bale

Bale plays Russell Baze as a measured, reserved and stoic guy, more everyman than superhero. “But he’s also very strong,” says Waxman. “He projects authority and you believe that, in this town, he is probably the moral center for a lot of people. This performance should bring Christian a lot of recognition.”

Bale first received the script while shooting another film and even though he knew he wasn’t available to shoot, he still couldn’t stop reading it. “I found it riveting,” the actor says. “I read it with the enjoyment you would a book, which is very rare with a script because they’re not set up that way. There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that fascinated me.”

After speaking with Cooper, Bale watched Crazy Heart and was astounded at the skill he displayed in his first outing as a director. “For someone to make something that special in his first movie is quite phenomenal,” Bale says. “The timing couldn’t be worked out, but Scott insisted he wouldn’t make the film without me. He kept saying, ‘You are the actor I want to play Russell Baze. I don’t want anybody else.’”

Bale notes that he has heard that sentiment from filmmakers before, but those projects ultimately moved forward with other actors. “Scott is a man of his word with incredible integrity and dignity. I assumed he would go off and make the movie with somebody else, but he meant what he said. When I finished The Dark Knight Rises, I checked in with him and he was waiting. So we put it together and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had making a movie.

“Scott created a really wonderful atmosphere for the actors, the crew and everybody involved,” Bale continues. “We were in Braddock, filming in real locations with the real local people. That was something very special and I think it will be a unique movie.”

The actor was deeply moved by Russell’s predicament, as well as his commitment to family and community. “The film focuses on somebody who stays despite the difficult circumstances,” Bale says. “He’s working in a dying trade, but he loves his community and believes it is where he belongs, no matter what. He’s incredibly proud of Braddock. Although I’m not an American, I admire Russell greatly as the personification of what America stands for. The film is about brotherly love, as well as love for where you’re brought up and what you have to do when you lose that. Russell’s plan for his life has been falling away bit by bit. He’s handled enormous responsibility within his family since he was very young. Now, he’s being forced to acknowledge what’s really important to him.”

Born in Wales and raised all over the world, Bale learned from the people he met on location what it means to be from the American heartland. “We improvised a lot of dialogue and I took one line in particular from a local guy, who said to me, ‘I’ve never been east of Scranton.’ That was his life and his world. He wasn’t interested in things beyond that; for him there is so much contained within that small area. That seems to me to be a particularly American trait that I really admire.”

Having Bale on board helped attract other top-tier talent to the project. “Christian proved to be an actor magnet, of course,” says Cooper. “Who wouldn’t want to go toe to toe with him? He’s widely admired by so many people, including Casey Affleck, who’s one of my favorite actors. As Rodney Baze, he also is giving a career-best performance.”