Anyone who endured the famed era that celebrated classic rock, disco and a never-ending parade of indefensible fashion trends, or marveled at the big hair, glittery spandex and unflattering perms from a safe distance, will find the 1970s-set American Hustle a nostalgic dose of deliciously bad taste and alluring corruption.
Starring Hollywood A-listers Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, directed by David O. Russell, this fictionalised account of the Abscam sting operation of the late ’70s and early ’80s has generated massive Oscar buzz for 2014.
Although the film is presented as an ensemble, it is most definitely Christian Bale’s movie. Having just flown into Los Angeles a few hours earlier from the Spanish set of Ridley Scott’s Exodus, Bale, known for his short fuse, seems a little less combative than usual.
“I’m just half crazed because I landed at 4am and I’m jetlagged so I don’t even know what I’m saying,” he laughs.
His jetlagged state has softened him, as has his transformative performance based on convicted conman Mel Weinberg, a role for which he gained 23 kilos and sported an unattractive comb-over and facial hair.
“He’s a hell of a character. I like roles where you tread the fine line of whether it’s going to succeed or be a complete failure, and I have certainly done my fair share of abysmal embarrassments.”
Bale’s admiration of David O. Russell was a big selling point. The esteemed director navigated Bale towards his Oscar-winning Best Actor in a Supporting Role performance in 2011’s The Fighter. In fact, he has directed all of the stars to acclaimed performances. He directed Lawrence’s Oscar-winning performance as Best Actress in Silver Linings Playbook, while her co-star, Cooper, earned a nomination for Best Actor, and Adams to an Oscar nomination in the female Supporting Actor category in the same film.
“I love working with David although we butt heads at times, but we really enjoy it,” says Bale. “There’s an honesty in it and there’s no sulking allowed, we just bounce straight back from it and it makes for a real vibrancy on set.”
“I am endlessly amazed that people keep hiring me,” he says. “I think everyone’s going to get extremely bored of me soon because I’ve been working for a couple of years straight. Maybe I should step away a little, otherwise they’re going to stop hiring me.”
Born in Wales, Bale is the youngest of four children. His mother was a clown and a dancer in a circus, and his father, a trained pilot, worked sporadically. The family split up when he was a teenager.
He has said his troubled childhood years as an actor, which began at age 13 when he was cast in the starring role in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, were fraught with unhappiness. He grew up quickly, reluctantly becoming the breadwinner of his family.
Now, at 39, he’s the breadwinner in the more conventional sense, and seems much happier for it. He’s lived in Los Angeles since 1992, married for 13 years to Sandra ‘Sibi’ Blazic, 43, with whom he is raising their 8-year-old daughter, Emmeline.
“I like the lifestyle as an actor, I like a certain amount of chaos, I grew up with it,” he shrugs. “I always never knew where we were going to be living, what was going to happen next, everything was always a surprise to me so that becomes part of your nature and that’s kind of addictive. There’s a reason why I didn’t want to become a businessman. I don’t like life to be ordered. I don’t like routine. But for my sisters, they hated that existence and I’m very aware of that when it comes to my daughter.”
Approaching 40, what kind of wisdom has he acquired? He thinks for a moment.
“Actually, I am still the same dumb ass as I always was. I wish I had acquired some sort of wisdom that I always imagined I would have had by the age of 40, but it seems to have eluded me so far,” he says, with a wry smile. “Maybe it’ll happen by the age of 75; maybe I’ve got that to look forward to.”
Michele Manelis is an Australian freelance writer based in Los Angeles.