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Going from emaciated drug addict to bloated conman ... it's all in a day's work for Bale

MOST people would feel a little self-conscious if they were carrying extra weight. Not Christian Bale, who spends the first five minutes of his latest film with his paunch and 'moobs' proudly on display as his character, conman Irving Rosenfeld, tends to his comb-over in the mirror.

It's a huge transformation for the actor, who's played Batman three times. But it's not the first time he's changed his body for a role.

In 2004, he shed 63 pounds to star in The Machinist, then lost weight again to play a drug addict in David O. Russell's The Fighter in 2010.

The actor has now reunited with the director for his waist-expanding role in American Hustle.

"I'm always interested in what David's making," says a bearded and (now) trim-looking Bale, dressed in a black button-down shirt and dark grey trousers. "I always know it's going to be really fascinating and will hopefully become memorable for years to come."

GLORY

Bale, along with Melissa Leo, won an Oscar for The Fighter, while co-star Amy Adams received a nomination.

Russell then led Jennifer Lawrence to Oscar glory in Silver Linings Playbook, while her co-stars Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver got nods (the first time in more than 30 years one film had actors nominated in all categories).

Award success looks set to continue, with Bale, Lawrence, Adams and Cooper already recipients of Golden Globe nominations for American Hustle, a fictional take on the headline-making 1970s Abscam scandal.

Bale couldn't wait to immerse himself "in such a wonderfully, exuberant era" – despite the sometimes questionable fashion.

"It was like Halloween for a decade," he says. "The colours were garish. The style was phenomenal for us to look back on, but the people themselves were no different to now."

At the heart of the movie is a powerful love story between Irving and his seductive partner, Sydney Prosser (Adams), who are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (a permed Cooper) when they're caught in a con.

DiMaso sets up a sting to capture corrupt government officials, starting with Carmine Polito, a volatile political operator played by Jeremy Renner, while Irving's unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) proves to be the loose canon who could bring them all down.

As different as they might appear, the characters are trying to change their lives through reinvention, explains Bale.

"Everyone's performing in a certain way, and then at some point it's about stripping away that mask and seeing what's really beneath," the actor adds in a transatlantic accent, the by-product of living in LA for the last two decades.

"That's what happens, in some ways, to each one of the characters. It's an attempt to reinvent themselves, a need to move on and find something else in their lives.

"David's very interested in who the true person is, what their heart is, and their soul and feeling.

"The characters in this are really colourful and shiny and were an awful lot of fun to play. But we were shooting this film for 42 days, so you've got to find much more in order to get up and still be fascinated."

Bale, a married father of one who turns 40 in January, doesn't like to define what it is he loves about Irving, "or what I really love about the film," he adds. "I do that intentionally because then you (the audience) are discovering the character, discovering the piece as you go."

The actor is known for being intense, particularly on set, as one unfortunate crew member on Terminator Salvation discovered when he accused him of being a distraction and launched into a foul-mouthed tirade. But Bale makes no apologies about taking his craft seriously.

"Everybody dreams at night. They tend to go a little insane and that's acceptable," says the star who, aged 13, landed a massive role in Steven Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun, after the director spotted him in a TV mini-series called Anastasia: The Mystery Of Anna.

"Acting's like dreaming in a waking state as you get to study people, go a little insane and be obsessive about something, and it's expected. I find that addictive.

AUTHENTICITY

Much like the method actor Daniel Day-Lewis, his ability to disappear into the character is one of Bale's hallmarks.

As Richard Suckle, one of the producers of American Hustle says: "Christian bought an amazing authenticity – it was like he stepped out of the Seventies."

The movie itself veers between comedy and drama and, like all Russell films, has an operatic quality. Was this a draw for Bale? "The only thing I would say is, I'm no fan of opera whatsoever," he replies.

"An operatic nature is usually something I'd laugh at, but you do get occasional moments when some sort of tragedy in your life and deep emotions can be whirled very quickly. Usually that would seem like melodrama, but there are times when it makes absolute sense. Is that a reasonable answer?" It would take a brave person to say that it wasn't.

hnews@herald.ie


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