“Sounds like it’s pro drug,” were the words Christian Bale said as he was handed the phone and told he’d be talking to Uproxx. In those few seconds before we spoke, did Bale wonder why he was talking to an outlet, which he thought was about drugs, about The Big Short — a movie detailing the 2008 financial collapse? Come to think of it, maybe we’d all be better off taking more drugs to broach the subject of the financial collapse, considering that a lot of the criminal atrocities that happened then are still happening now. So, maybe it’s not so outlandish Bale thought he was talking to a website that supported the use of drugs. (We cleared this all up.)
In The Big Short (directed by Adam McKay, best known for directing the Anchorman movies, who takes his first plunge into a more serious topic), Bale plays Michael Burry – a savant who first realizes the housing industry was going to collapse, sending the worldwide economy into ruins. Burry also has a tendency to lock himself in his office and listen to death metal. He’s not portrayed as the most sociable of people – and, as Bale mentions, he never once saw his fellow cast-mates Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell or Brad Pitt on set. Regardless, The Big Short plays more like a heist movie than it does about the destruction of the American economy.
Bale has been known in the past to give interviews using his American accent, but that was not the case on this day, instead using his distinct, natural Welsh accent. I must admit, I didn’t expect Bale – who has a reputation for being a pretty intense guy – to be quite so … jovial. At least, I didn’t expect him to use the phrase, “farting unicorns that fart glitter,” at any point. And I didn’t expect we’d be talking about how Bale’s kids so far have no desire to watch any of Bale’s movies, even the Batman films. Bale also spoke about his recent comments that he’s not paying attention to the new Batman movie – going as far to say that, other than his own movies, he’s only seen one other superhero movie, which he reveals ahead.
Christian Bale: Hello, what is this Uproxx?
I don’t think we have an official position on drugs one way or another.
Oh, you could hear me? You heard me. [Laughs] I thought the hand was cupped firmly over the phone. But, yeah, “Uproxx,” I was like, “Oh, okay, pro drugs.”
You have a boisterous voice.
The Big Short can be frustrating to watch, in a “this happened” kind of way.
Because what do you do? What do you do now? Alright, there is the information. How can you believe everything didn’t change after 2008? And you just go, “How could it possibly not?” But, you know, holy shit. Things kept going the same way they have been going and this could happen again. So, the best we can hope for is “maybe.” Not to try and sound self-important — I totally get when you’re making a film you can kind of get convinced you’re doing something you consider far more important than it actually is – but, hopefully, this creates a conversation that says, “why the fuck is it even possible this could happen again?”
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that when the text comes up after the movie that this is all happening again, it’s horrifying.
Yes. Yes. And what’s fantastic is it moves beyond all the bollox of the language that’s designed to confuse people, so they feel that they need this industry.
About 20 minutes into the movie, I was enjoying the pace, but was thinking, I don’t know what a lot of these terms mean…
Neither do I.
Then Margot Robbie shows up, playing herself, and explains everything in layman’s terms. The movie is self-aware; it knows what an audience member is thinking and addresses it.
[Laughs] It is! It’s very good that way, isn’t it? Obviously, as you can imagine, I shot my scenes all by myself in an office. I didn’t meet anybody else. So, it’s very entertaining for me to watch what they were all doing. And, yeah, you’re quite right. Obviously, for me to play the part, yeah – not now, it’s gone out the other ear by now – but I kept it bouncing around my skull while I was playing the role. Absolutely, at that point, you could have asked me anything about credit default swap and all the vernacular, and I could have told you all about it. But, it’s useless to me. And as soon as I didn’t need it, it’s gone. But, the point is, what you get is, “what does it mean?”
What did you know about the collapse before taking this role? I thought I had a pretty decent knowledge, but once the movie explains something like Synthetic CDOs, that’s so far beyond what I knew.
I was exactly in the same place. I had read about it – I was reading all about Hank Paulson and [Ben] Bernanke and all the deals that were going on – exactly right. But once I got to the Synthetic CDOs, no, I was lost. [Laughs] I had no idea what they were talking about at that point. The line that Ryan’s character says, “You have a couple lines so you don’t seem dumb,” that was me.
But The Big Short almost plays as a heist movie.
First off, it’s fucking funny. And it’s bloody entertaining. Then, at the same time as you get these breaking the fourth wall moments, you suddenly get other moments – there’s this fantastic scene where the number $16 billion is said. Now, I’ve never had a film in my life where a number has given me goose bumps and made me choke up.
I’m sitting in a theater filled with critics and that line was met with gasps.
Absolutely. And how about that; that the film has managed to actually make you understand, because the number is meaningless. But, what you get – the reason you gasped, the reason I got goose bumps, the reason I actually choked up hearing that – is because the film has let you know what that is going to mean. It ain’t just numbers, it’s lives that are changing. And, also, that wonderful moment with Brad’s character, when he says, “Just don’t fucking dance.”
That’s an interesting moment. As a viewer, I was starting to root for these characters to “win,” forgetting what that means. Brad Pitt’s character is scolding me, too, for feeling that way.
And also, the fact that you can’t help it: If you’re like me, you are sort of starting to view these guys like heroes, right? And then you realize there’s nothing heroic about what they’re doing. These guys are earning a fortune off of the downfall of the housing market, the American economy and, therefore, the world economy.
Your character is a genius.
He’s absolutely a genius. But the thing that’s so great about it is the culture of Wall Street has become so ethically corrupt that people just telling the truth seem to be heroes. The truth is, there’s nothing heroic there whatsoever. I don’t know any of the other characters, but with Mike, he’d be the first to say, “Oh my God, no.” That whole period nearly killed him.
Here’s why people consider you a great actor: You made locking yourself in an office and listening to death metal interesting.
[Laughs] Well, it’s because Mike is bloody interesting. He didn’t listen to death metal to amp himself up; that’s what he listens to calm himself.
What are you thinking when you get a script about the financial collapse that’s going to be directed by Adam McKay? I’m an admirer of his comedies, but this is different for him.
You know, I loved it. I loved it because this director has a track record. It’s as good of a bet as you could make. And there’s the wonderful thing of, you know what, someone wants to try something totally different. Why? Why trust they are going to be able to manage it? With Adam, it’s because he was obsessed with this, in a very positive manner. Just absolutely obsessed and disgusted with it. And clearly, the key is in using his fantastic humor and timing to make this accessible. Instead of it being an indecipherable piece, which doesn’t manage to smash through…
It doesn’t work.
Then you’re just confusing everyone just as much as Wall Street does.
Between The Big Short and American Hustle, you are one movie away from the “Christian Bale explains confusing American scandals” trilogy.
[Laughs] So, I can do one more, can I? And then we’re good? No more horrendous scandals.
And they can all be packaged together as a set.
Wonderful. And after that, it’s just rainbows and farting unicorns that fart glitter, and it’s just nonstop dancing through America and the world. I’ll attempt that for you.
You were asked if you were paying attention to the new Batman movie, and you said that you weren’t. That quote made the rounds, but it makes sense. It reminds me of Lorne Michaels saying he never watched SNL when he was gone from 1980 until 1985.
Oh, man, we did it and we were completely fulfilled by it. We achieved everything we wanted to achieve with it. Chris only ever wanted to make three. We did that. I’m done. That’s it. In fact, let me tell you a secret: I’ve never seen a single other superhero film except for Christopher Reeve’s Superman when I was a kid.
That’s a good one, though.
It’s a great one! It’s fantastic.
How do you avoid yours? They are on TV all the time.
[Laughs] Oh, no, I saw mine! I’m going to go see mine. I don’t watch them anymore. But my kids aren’t even interested. They don’t even want to see it.
They’ve never seen them, and they don’t really care. And I love that. I love that.
Do they watch your other movies?
Nope. They’ve never seen any of them.
They will have to someday, a lot of them are too good not to see.
Of course! They can when they want! But, when they want. You know, not all of them are appropriate.
But I kind of love that it’s, “This is a bit boring, Dad. You know, I’ve got better things to do.” [Laughs] Great! Fantastic. I love that attitude.
Your character, Michael Burry, in real life, he’s now investing in water. That’s terrifying.
Very ominous. And we – well, you don’t – but I live in a desert. What am I thinking? What am I thinking?
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.