Prestige, The: Starring Christian Bale

Christian Bale first heard about The Prestige while he was playing a very different characterthe dark, crime-fighting superhero Batman in Christopher Nolans Batman Begins. But it wasnt until much later, when he read an early version of Jonathan Nolans screenplay, that he knew without a doubt that he wanted to be a part of the film.

Bale has already established a reputation as an iconoclast when it comes to the roles he has chosen on his way to becoming one of the most respected actors of his generation. The Welsh-born British actor got an auspicious start from Steven Spielberg at the age of 13, playing the lost boy who finds himself in a Japanese internment camp in The Empire of the Sun. More recently, his uncommon diversity and intensity has come to the fore. He chilled the blood embodying every frightening inch of a yuppie psychopath in American Psycho, lost a startling 60 pounds to descend into the psychological anguish of the thriller The Machinist and voiced the title character of Hayao Miyazakis acclaimed animated film Howls Moving Castle. Then, just before portraying Pocahontas husband, John Rolfe, in Terence Malicks The New World, he went into deep training and put on pounds of muscle to create the most nuanced portrait of the superhero Batman yet seen in the blockbuster Batman Begins. Shortly after, Bale encountered The Prestige.

After Batman Begins, I had really hoped to find some very high-quality scripts, some really good movies, but I was not finding myself surrounded by them. Then, I read The Prestige, Bale recalls. I thought it was a very original, unique piece about a rivalry that knows no limitsand because magicians are involved, you never know whats real and what isnt, which makes for a fantastic thriller. Its so layered, you have to peel it apart. I already knew that Chris is one of the smartest directors around and that working with him is like having a very solid foundation on which to build a beautiful houseand I really fancied doing a movie with him that would be so different from Batman.

He continues: So I called Chris and said, Whatever youre thinking, and you can tell me where to go, but Im just going to lay it on the line. This is the one of the best bloody scripts Ive ever read and I want to do it. I think my passion for it bowled him over.

When Bale entered into a deeper conversation with Christopher Nolan about his vision for The Prestige, his passion only increased. Ive always admired actors who are like shape shifters, and Chris is that way as a director, he observes. I loved the idea that he wanted to radically change styles with this film. I liked the spirit behind it. Whereas Batman was a juggernaut, this huge beast of a ship that was hard to maneuver, The Prestige was like riding horsebackthere was a feeling right from the start of being light on our feet and very free.

Once Nolan had cast him as Borden, Bale dove into the part. He began by reading not only Christopher Priests novel but also numerous books about the lives of magicians. You realize that their stature at the time was so different from what it is nowadays, he says. Then, he began studying with contemporary magicians and the films consultants, Ricky Jay and Michael Weber, to hone his own fledgling skills of prestidigitation. Actually, my grandfather was a magician but I never saw him perform, notes Bale. So it was wonderful to work with Ricky and Michael, who are terrific magicians. Still, they really annoyed me because I cant stand when someone can do something I cant do!

Spending time with authentic magicians was quite revealing to Bale. It was really good to see up close the kind of competitiveness that happens between magicians, because thats such a strong point in the story, he says. Its really about how far these two men will go to be the winner and you can see that this really goes on in magic circles. Its a very closed profession, and when someone does a trick that no one else has thought of, you watch as their eyes boil over. Of course, because theyre so mysterious, they dont give a lot. So we only learned what was necessary. If you asked too good of a question, theyd find some clever way to distract you away from it!

With the tricks he did learn, Bale was constantly surprised. Some of them just flabbergasted me, he says, while others were almost disappointing because, when you see how its done, its entirely too simple. But of course our movie really isnt about the tricks so much as it is about the psyches of the people who perform and create them.

Borden might be sought after as an engineer but he hungers for much more than that. Though he comes from a tough, lonely background as an orphan, his ambition is nothing less than to be the greatest magical star of his timein spite of his inability to connect with audiences. The thing I love about Borden, comments Bale, is that hes all about the purity of the magic, about the nature of an ingenious idea. He doesnt care about the showmanship, he doesnt care about selling the trick, he simply cares about creating the most perfect illusion. Hes totally obsessed with that one thing. Like so many truly brilliant artists, Borden has no concept of how to market himself.

Yet his obsession soon also becomes about Angier, who possesses qualities Borden both covets and reviles. Angier is merely a decent magician, but he is a great showman, an entire marketing operation unto himself, Bale observes. Borden sees Angier as a conman, whereas hes the real deal. He just doesnt understand why the public cant see that. As for creating such vengeful feelings towards Hugh Jackman, Bale states: We both had completely different approaches to our characters and we both really believed in our characters, so that made the rivalry truly come alive on screen.

Bordens life is complicated not only by Angiers success but by his relationships with two different womenhis long-suffering wife, Sarah, and Angiers assistant, Olivia. Bordens first and greatest love will always be magic, says Bale. Any relationship will always have to take second place for him, and thats a hard thing for his wife to stomach. He adores his family, but magic is the only thing hes always had that gives him value. Hes an orphan and hes been on the streets his whole life. He really has nothing else, except this one extraordinary talent. I think he really believes that if you let people in on the secret of who you are, theyll think nothing of you. Its only by building a mystery around himself that he can gain any power.

Like Christopher Nolan, Bale was completely committed to avoiding period trappings in his portrayal of Borden. I think it can be quite funny to watch actors in period movies, because they act just like other actors in period movies! We just take it for granted that people had this very formal way of being in the pastbut it isnt true. Both Chris and I felt that we really had to kick that and get away from it. So the idea was to focus on the characterswho have the same needs and wants and desires as anyone in todays world. Also, usually period movies are all about the privileged. The Prestige is much more gritty and hands-on dirty and you get to see the darker side.

Ultimately, Bale hopes that audiences will be as surprised by The Prestige as he was upon first reading the script. It really is a movie that I cant compare to anything else. Its a movie where youve really got to pay attention. And thats just what life is like, tooyouve got to pay attention.

Christian Bale’s Career

Born in Wales, Christian Bale grew up in England and the USA. He made his film debut in Steven Spielbergs World War II epic Empire of the Sun. Bales work to date includes Henry V, The Portrait of a Lady, The Secret Agent, Metroland, Velvet Goldmine, All the Little Animals, American Psycho, Shaft, Captain Corellis Mandolin, Reign of Fire, Laurel Canyon, The Machinist, Batman Begins and The New World.

He will next star in the independent films Harsh Times for writer/director David Ayer and Rescue Dawn for director Werner Herzog. This fall, Bale will film Im Not There and 3:10 to Yuma, followed next year by Dark Knight.