Posted on Friday, December 4th, 2015 by Jack Giroux
Christian Bale has played plenty of “real-life” characters throughout his career. From Melvin Purvis to Dickie Eklund to Irving Rosenfeld, he’s portrayed all walks of life. In Adam McKay‘s The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis‘ nonfiction novel, Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a brilliant hedge fund manager who spotted the impending doom in the housing market.
The Big Short is very much an ensemble piece, but Bale’s role is quite different from his co-stars. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling are almost always in the same room with another actor, sharing clever exchanges, while Bale is often alone in his office. Loneliness is a theme in The Big Short, and Burry best represents that theme.
Christian Bale was kind enough to discuss Dr. Michael Burry with us, as well as the other real-life characters he’s played and his love-hate relationship with acting. Read our Christian Bale Big Short interview after the jump.
I think the characters are so well-drawn you don’t really need to understand the nuts and bolts of the financial crisis. You always get a sense of what all of the information means to them.
Yeah. That was what was nice about it. Even if you don’t really have an idea about quite what happened, but maybe you are a bit indignant about it but not sure why, you know, it spells it out very nicely, but very entertainingly and with great wit. Based on these four characters, who are not heroes, but just people who saw the bullshit that was happening, whether it was flawed or whether it was just incompetence. Nobody is really wearing a black hat or a white hat. It was a bit both. How come it was able to be spotted but nobody did? Nobody really raised the red flag in a way that it was able to stop the entire thing. And my character, Mike Burry, how come… very specifically he not only saw what was going to happen, but exactly when it was going to happen. And if it hadn’t have been for the stupidity or ugly fraud, really, it would have happened exactly when he said. It took a bit longer, but it still eventually did happen.
People nowadays are going, “Well, it could all happen again, couldn’t it? What’s really been done in order to stop this from happening?” But it’s done in such a nice way where you don’t have to have any real idea. It’s all hedge funds and all the sort of lingo, frankly, that that world uses to confuse the shit out of you. You don’t really have to be party to that and understand it in order to understand the film. That’s what Adam’s done so well, and Michael, too.
Your scenes are almost like a one-man show. Is that how Michael Burry generally works?
It’s how he likes to work. It’s how he works best. That’s him. I think he enjoys separating himself from Wall Street, from any influences that would not be positive. He knows what he’s doing. He just wants to be left alone to get on with that. He’s not your slick typical Wall Street financier. He doesn’t go near Wall Street. Has a brilliant mind. And really no vanity about him. So, very entertaining, charming character who I really enjoyed getting to know.
What are maybe some small details you picked up from him that really informed your performance?
You get to talk about things, ask people questions that would usually seem particularly obscure or suspect, even, without the parameter of research. We sat down for 8 or 9 hours and didn’t stand up and talked that entire time. It’s not often that you get to do that in life because it just feels too odd. It feels like you are in sort of an interrogation. But you let it go both ways. I tell him about myself. He tells me about himself. I’m protective about him in terms of, if he’s going to tell me things in private, I’ll honor that.
But one of the things that really struck me about Mike was that alongside his very brilliant brain and very idiosyncratic and fascinating character is that there’s a genuine emotion about the consequences of what these numbers mean. No kind of celebratory patting each other on the back for having sort of won over a sucker kind thing, which you see represented. Mike is not like that at all. In fact, it is highly unusual for him to go for a short. He likes longs because just sort of ethically he believes in, “Hey, it should be about progress and you should support.” But this was just such an undeniable eyesore that he saw coming and couldn’t understand why nobody else saw it and why they weren’t really alerted and panicked in a way that he was by it all.
Since a lot of people don’t know Michael Burry’s persona, do you feel more responsibility to accurately portraying him or do you feel more freedom because a lot of people won’t be comparing your performance to him?
I think for me, even if people do know the character well, you’ve got to move beyond that to try to get to what, after all, can only be your own opinion shared with the director of who the person truly was. You never know if you are correct. Of course you don’t know that. You are taking license, of course, with anything that’s only two hours long.
I’ve found there’s an enormous freedom to playing a real-life… It sounds funny, “real life.” It’s like a little kid. “In real life…!” But that’s what we still say, isn’t it?
So, a real-life person, there’s a great freedom to that because you’ve got evidence. People are just so fascinating and mannerisms and contradictions, and there’s not always logic to decisions, necessarily. I know for a fact if I had gone to many directors on the films where I was portraying a real character, if it had been a fictional character and I said, “All right. This is his mannerism. He talks this way. This would be his response to this.” If we were trying a bit of improv it would be, “OK. This is how he’d react.” I know for a fact they would say to me, “Christian, stop trying to steal the scenes. You are doing too much. Nobody really has all those things struck together.” But the truth is yes they do.