BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Leave it to a surfer dude to penetrate Batman's bubble.
Asked if he pays much attention to the breathless, heart-pounding hype about the release of "The Dark Knight Rises" -- Can it beat "The Avengers"? Is it the best of the Batman franchise? Will it finally turn Oscar's head? -- Christian Bale says he's been blessedly distracted.
"It's quite nice. I'm completely distracted because I'm working every day on a different movie right now," he said, referring to Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups," which he started after "Out of the Furnace" wrapped in Pittsburgh.
"Just the other day, I was sitting on the beach filming and a surfer came up and sat down next to me and says, 'Oh, you got a big month coming up, don't you?' and I went, 'Well, why?' He said, 'Well, you got that movie coming out.' Oh yeah."
After all, he was in the Malick bubble, just as he had been in the "Batman Begins" or "The Dark Knight" or "The Dark Knight Rises" bubble, which brought him to Pittsburgh in summer 2011.
"Whatever movie you're doing, you think that's the be-all and end-all of the world. So, in some ways, it's nice. It's nice because at this point, it becomes this kind of monstrous juggernaut and it's nice to have a distraction because it keeps your feet on the ground," he told the Post-Gazette in an interview at the Beverly Hilton.
It might be easy to lose your footing amid the premieres and churn of interviews and muscle of the publicity machine behind Christopher Nolan's conclusion to the trilogy.
On this day, easels with mounted "Dark Knight Rises" posters flanked director's chairs set up to accommodate interviews. Outside the room, a booth allowed users to record a kicky message as Batman, Catwoman or Bane, and the same trio's authentic costumes were on display around the corner. Towering cardboard stand-ups, the sort found in roomy theater lobbies, functioned as a yellow brick road to the stars.
In some ways, Mr. Bale has little left to prove. He won an Oscar as boxer and crack addict Dickie Eklund in "The Fighter" and is starring in one of the most successful and critically adored franchises of all time.
Although that may have provided a sense of liberation, the 38-year-old actor says, "If you're not writing your own stuff or producing your own stuff, you're still dependent on directors wanting to work with you. It's all well and good to say, 'Yeah, I'm free to do whatever I want to do,' but that still involves someone else deciding that they'd like me to do it first."
Mr. Nolan wanted him when relaunching the franchise, its roots in a 1939 comic book, that previously spawned a campy TV show and a series of increasingly silly and soulless movies after a solid start with Michael Keaton.
Mr. Bale, clad this day in a long-sleeve black shirt with jeans and comfy shoes and hair longer than Anne Hathaway's "Les Miz" pixie cut, has spent 21 months of his life playing Bruce Wayne/Batman. He can easily articulate themes that emerge in the movie opening at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
"Well, there's the notion, which has always been consistent throughout, of how long do you allow a painful event in your life to rule your life?" he says. As a boy, Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents; as a man, he lost childhood friend Rachel Dawes, a woman he hoped to marry.
"Obviously, you must mourn. Obviously, you must care but at what point do you say you have to move on? And clearly he has no life other than this monster who he's created -- a monster who does good, but it's driven by his feeling of being monstrous himself, and he always knew that it was finite. It couldn't last forever, whether that be for physical or mental reasons.
"So here we've got a man who has lost purpose. The thing that he found through Batman was a sense of purpose, a sense of usefulness and a sense of being somebody who actually had something that he could contribute to society, and he's lost that at the opening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' because he was in collusion over a lie and this is not how things were meant to have been."
Bruce Wayne is a broken man and must decide if Batman can still be part of his life or whether he must leave the Caped Crusader behind "in order to be able to move on with his life, in a way that his parents probably very much would have wished for."
When it comes to movies, the third time is rarely the charm. So everyone connected with "The Dark Knight Rises" faced the "enjoyable challenge of could we make it be a suitable finish for it ... but Chris had always had in mind doing a third one, so he always had the story in his head."
It's more about the journey than the destination for Mr. Bale, who looks for characters who give him something interesting to do and Batman was, to say the least, a "real intriguing character."
"I'd be the worst director in the world. I have no idea what people would want to see or what's entertaining to everybody else versus just interesting to me. For me, everything's process. I actually don't think about the end result."
Mr. Bale, who kept a cowl from each of the three movies, says he's not superstitious but felt comfort in repeating rituals that served him well in the past. "I'm not a trained actor, you know. I don't really have any technique particularly, I just make it up as I go along, with whatever I feel is needed to get the job done."
The Welsh-born actor, raised in England and the States, emerged from a reported field of 4,000 boys to star in "The Empire of the Sun." At the time of its 1987 release, it was director Steven Spielberg's least characteristic film.
Mr. Bale played an English boy living a pampered colonial life in Shanghai who becomes separated from his parents during the 1941 evacuation of the British from the city. He must fend for himself, with a little help from an American seaman played by John Malkovich.
Since then, he has slipped into a range of roles in movies such as "Little Women," "American Psycho," Mr. Malick's "The New World," "Rescue Dawn," "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Fighter."
At the time of the interview, Mr. Bale had not seen the movie. He has been working and the only available times would have left him feeling rushed.
"Also, I thought to myself, it's the final one, there's a little bit more, for me, of the thought of hey, did I manage to hold my end of the bargain up?" If he doesn't catch it at a premiere, he might slip into one of the IMAX theaters and watch it that way.
As for confirmation that this is his last time in the cape and cowl, he said that's always been up to Mr. Nolan, who has signed off on the franchise.
"I think it's the right thing when you feel like you've told your stories and not to go too far with it. There's always that temptation of maybe you could, but then there's got to be times when you got to say enough's enough."
Although Ms. Hathaway had not worked with Mr. Nolan before, many of the cast had, either in previous Batman movies or "Inception," as in the case of Tom Hardy. This time, his muscles seemed ready to explode and much of his face was concealed behind an animalistic mask as the evil Bane.
Mr. Hardy was not in Los Angeles with most of the cast, so it was left to Mr. Bale to weigh in on his co-star and costume. Referring to his own outfit, the three-time Batman said, "I found it tricky to start with, there's a certain kind of breaking-in period. I always felt I was just claustrophobic, not on this one but on the first one. ...
"But part of the reason Tom's good, Anne's good, they're able to convey story and character in spite of these clothes and costumes, they can break through that. ... I thought he was wonderful. Man, he's a really fine actor."
And so is Mr. Bale, a master of accents -- just listen to him talk as billionaire Bruce Wayne and then as himself -- so it's no wonder he was fascinated by Pittsburgh accents during "Out of the Furnace."
In fact, when asked about his time in Pittsburgh, he responded, "My time was really in Braddock." Oh, you mean for Batman?
"Of course we were in Pittsburgh for this one, as well. This one, we were a little bit more fighting around Carnegie Mellon, on the steps there and stuff, but I got to admit when you work, you don't have a whole lot of time for headin' out and about. I heard that there were various good places for whiskey and things, but I didn't actually get to them myself.
"More recently, I was there and spent quite a bit of time with various steel mills and learning how to do that and working with the locals in Braddock and had a real good, satisfying experience.
"I tell you, the thing that I found really stunning were the accents because like any city, there's the kind of homogenized thing in the middle of the city, but you just go out a little ways and man, you got some really interesting accents, just a little ways outside, which I was studying."
He nailed yinz, wash (with that "r" creeping in) and, of course, n'at. As in, Mr. Bale talked about Batman n'at.moviesvideo
First Published July 19, 2012 4:00 AM