Enter 2008’s The Dark Knight: The dark silhouette of an obtuse motorcycle is jetting underneath the darkened Gotham City skyline. Upon the motorcycle is the hunched figure of Christian Bale’s Batman, who then dismounts his motorcycle in a hurried fashion, only to take on several of the Joker’s scattered mask-wearing henchmen at once.
It’s no secret that Christopher Nolan wanted his Dark Knight trilogy to be the perfect blend of comic-book action with thriller-like realism. As a result of his vision, the trilogy perfectly executes hyperbolic situations in an environment dominated by realistic character arcs and developments.
In the case of Christian Bale’s Batman, he seems to be the perfect mold for Nolan’s vision — not too lean, not too bulky — Bale’s portrayal of Batman comes to many as a breath of fresh air. But see, that’s the thing about Christian Bale. He’s not just the perfect mold for Nolan’s vision, but rather, the perfect mold for whatever role he wants to be. Between his heavyset roles like Vice’s Dick Cheney or American Hustle’s Irving Rosenfeld, Bale looks like a wholly different actor altogether.
However, two factors separate Christian Bale from other actors who are able to gain and lose weight for roles:
- He’s able to go to both extremes.
- He can change his entire body within a short period of time for multiple movies.
Let’s take a look at Bale in The Machinist, where he plays the overly paranoid and extremely paper-thin Trevor Reznik.
Short of his ribs piercing through his skin, Bale convincingly plays an extremely malnourished character in The Machinist, which is his most lightweight adult role to date at a feathery 122 pounds. Bale described his diet for the role as “black coffee, an apple and one can of tuna a day”.
However, a year later, Bale made his DC debut with Batman Begins, in which he plays the billionaire-turned-vigilante Bruce Wayne. Although the movie came out a year after The Machinist, Bale only had about six weeks to transform from a skeleton to a literal superhero. Although Bale’s stomach had shrunk massively in size following his self-starving methods, Bale refused to gradually ease himself into bigger meals, stuffing himself full of different foods to gain a large sum of weight for the role of Batman.
Although the character of Bruce Wayne had to go through some rigorous training in Batman Begins (including falling through ice into freezing water), I would wager to say this might be the first time where real-life body treatment has superseded its own fiction.
After Batman Begins, Bale had a small break, in which none of his roles were incredibly demanding of great transformations. In this period, he acted in some of his best movies, including 3:10 to Yuma and the universally-acclaimed The Dark Knight.
In 2010, Bale broke his streak of healthy weight maintenance as he took on the role of Dicky Ecklund, the boxer-turned-addict. Both lean and tall in build, Bale looks much like a flagpole next to the stout Mark Wahlberg, who plays Dicky’s half-brother, Micky Ward.
No more than a year after portraying the crack-addicted Dicky Ecklund, Bale had to transform his figure once again for the final installment in his superhero trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
No actor is more fitting of the title of a shapeshifter than Bale, as he has quite literally exercised his acting methodology in multiple roles of all shapes and sizes. While some of his roles were definitely unhealthy (as well as the methods taken to achieve such results), there’s no denying that very few actors’ transformations can even be compared to Bale’s.