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INT: Christian Bale


Christian Bale has brooding, intense characters down to a science. You know that from films like THE MACHINIST, TERMINATOR SALVATION, BATMAN BEGINS and AMERICAN PSYCHO. And in PUBLIC ENEMIES, he plays intense and brooding FBI agent Melvin Purvis, a man driven to take down Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp).

We got to sit down and talk with Bale about the film, his character and shooting in HD. And, don't faint or anything, but he actually smiled at us!

Christian Bale

I think there's a really interesting, telling scene where Purvis says he's a different class of [lawmen] to go after a man like Dillinger. Over the years of law enforcement, do you think police might have gone too far...in that direction...?

I think that naturally in finding a balance, mistakes are always made and that's very much what we're seeing in the birth of the FBI here. They initially were at a great disadvantage. It's something which you don't learn in the movie but the FBI weren't even allowed to carry weapons until the Kansas City Massacre had occurred. They had no jurisdiction over so many of the crimes that Dillinger committed with breaking his friends out of jail or robbing banks. As soon as he crossed the state line, he was free.

I think that in this particular case, you had the brilliant vision of Hoover, but a little too ahead of his time. They just weren't ready for that yet. Naturally, Purvis saw a number of very close friends of his die and so had to confront his mentor, which was something really painful to him because he really did have a great friendship with Hoover. They just needed more experienced men around. I don't think that with Purvis, that particular element of his desire to bring more experienced lawmen in resulted in anything brutal. I think it was more Hoover's embarrassment at Dillinger's spectacular escapes that drove him to, as he says, take off the white gloves. It was more to do with that and the treatment of, for instance, the one guy who they catch had a bullet wound to the head and they wouldn't allow him treatment until he says where the gangsters are holed up. Those were the kinds of things that began to reduce Purvis and have him question his role and whether he really believed he had a future with this bureau, because he found it all to be morally abhorrent and to be a compromise to the very values that Hoover was espousing in that day.

I know you got to interview Purvis' son. What sort of information did you get from that interview?

So much from him because it really wasn't just one brief interview. We spent a great deal of time together. He was very reach-outable. I went down to their hometown and met with remaining family and friends. He's written a wonderful book called “The Vendetta” which is focused on Purvis' relationship with Hoover, which is really how I approached this entire role. I never viewed Purvis as having a real personal zeal for taking down Dillinger. I think that he was somebody who was very understanding in acknowledging why the public felt Dillinger to be almost a hero. He wasn't unaware of the problems of the day and the terrible deprivation of the majority of the population. He had a personal hatred for Baby Face Nelson because Nelson had killed Barton, and then Baum - who Purvis brought with him - who were very close friends of him. But otherwise his driving motivation was that he truly believed in Hoover and had a great desire to realize Hoover's brilliant vision. That's really what I played with in my mind throughout this movie was the conflict between wanting to achieve that vision but recognizing Hoover's own compromises, which Purvis wasn't entirely happy with making. In fact, very unhappy with making.

There's a tremendous intimacy in the way that Michael [Mann] shot this movie. Was there a learning curve to getting accustomed to the proximity of the camera and the camera work?

I found it a real eye opener. I'd never worked with HD before. I wish I could work with it on every movie now. Not only does it give great freedom in terms of the length of take and the numbers of takes you can have, you can shoot for 52 minutes straight rather than the usual six minutes. So much more like life. You don't have to stop and pause and think too much about what you're doing. You can really feel like you're living it much more. There were such extraordinary talented camera operators and Dante [Spinotti] being the DP and Michael [Mann], he would operate at times as well. They had such incredible speed, I could just run at them knowing that within one inch, they would certainly have the camera out of my face and I wouldn't be knocking them down. Michael would encourage me anyway, 'Hey Christian, knock them down if they're too slow.' Also the style in which it was shot was fantastic for someone like me who I don't tend to want to know if my close-up is being done or if it's a wide shot. I don't really feel like I need to know that. We often shot masters and close-ups at the same time. I enjoyed that greatly. If anybody ever listens to me, I would be strongly endorsing using HD in future movies.

Obviously you've fired...guns before...I wondered if the weapons training was more intense than you've done...?

Well, it was quite quaint I have to say, because having been trained in many modern day weapons, the stances, the handling of the weapons they had back then, it's all outdated now. They still had this notion of a man does not require two hands to fire a handgun. It's not manly. So this sort of very old almost fencing style of hand on hip and pointing sideways with your gun, which you're far less likely to hit your target than the modern day styles of this. But at that time that was felt to be how a woman might maybe fire a gun but no man's going to be seen to fire it in that fashion, despite it being way more accurate. Also the Tommy gun was a revelation at the time. It's really what allowed Dillinger and his kind to thrive for the few years that they did. Suddenly automobiles, the V8 became very affordable. The Thompson submachine gun was available and resulted in the likes of Dillinger being able to go and hold up police stations to get their guns and their bullet proof vests, to be that brazen. But I think the guns as well of that time were sort of the last of the characterful guns. The Thompson still had so much wood on it. It still kind of smells good after you fire it. You do feel almost an affection towards the weapon. The modern day weapon is far more capable and lethal, but in my mind lack that character that the weapons seemed to have back then - as did the cars as well and the suits and everything. It was such a golden era.

When you're playing a real person in a very specific period of time, how much do you look at what comes later...especially Purvis...does any of that color the character or do you just leave everything that comes at the end of the film out of your mind?

I couldn't leave everything out. Naturally, the person is not considering or has not learned the lessons that they will in the future, but the thing that I couldn't avoid firstly was that I really became fascinated with Purvis. So regardless of whether it was relevant to the movie or not, I just really wanted to learn more and more about him and grew to have a great affection for him. I had a great deal. But I do think that it was important in the portrayal here to recognize that this was an era that haunted him for the rest of his life, and so to find the key of why that was and try to show that, but recognize my place in this movie. It's the story of Dillinger. I'm just a piece of that puzzle, so not to overdo my importance in the movie.

You've done a number of period films before. How does the use of the digital camera affect the period aspect...?

You always want to make a period piece feel very vital to now. Clothing and customs may change, but the internal life of people doesn't change so much. It's ultimately what we're interested in, despite the fact of this era being such a wonderful, rich look to it. Ultimately, it's the internal life that you're interested in and that doesn't really change, so I don't feel like that conflicted at all.

Is this something you feel like Christopher Nolan [should use] on the next BATMAN?

Not a hope in hell. Listen, he's going to come to that decision purely by himself and it's not as if I don't recognize I'm in very, very good hands when I'm working with him, so we've done just fine working with film so far. I ain't gonna be overstepping my boundaries.

Can you talk a little bit about the central scene where Purvis first sees Dillinger in the holding cell, and what it was like feeding off of Johnny's energy?

Well, it was always very interesting going to work because so often we were at the actual locations where the various events happened. Again with that, we were in if not the actual holding cell that he was in, but in an actual jail. Throughout that, from the minute I walked on the set, Johnny was already locked inside of his cell and we just got to it. I enjoyed the scene with him and I like that scene very much, even though it is a fictional scene. They never did meet in that way. I liked that Dillinger apparently had this insight into Purvis and his ultimate disillusionment with the job which nobody else seemed to have, and that that did strike Purvis, even though he attempted not to show Dillinger getting to him in any way, that that did strike a chord inside of him.

What do you personally think after researching Purvis, about John Dillinger? Should we admire him as a folk hero?

I think there's extremes within the character. I think that on the one hand, it's understandable that he became a folk hero due to the zeitgeist of the time and the inevitable celebration that you see as somebody taking it back from the fat cat bankers who had screwed over most of the population. However, you can't ignore that in doing that, even though he may never have been responsible for any innocent person's death, but what do you call innocent? A policeman who's only doing his job trying to defend, I would consider him innocent too. He did associate himself with the likes of Baby Face Nelson and he was a psychopathic killer. So the guy was no saint and the guy was no Robin Hood. He has this Robin Hood myth and I think he was a phenomenal marketing man. He was certainly charismatic and charming and there is that fascination with somebody who appears to know that their life is not going to last very long, so they're doing everything right there and then. He's going to live to the absolute fullest each and every day. There's truth to both sides but I think ultimately that just we have a nature where we are fascinated by the outlaw and if they just give us a few traits which are likable, we forgive them far more than we probably should. I think he certainly benefited through that through time.

The film covers a very specific and turbulent time frame...Did you come to a conclusion about how much Dillinger and these incidents shaped the consolidation of federal power?

Absolutely, and consequently, that was what caused the ire of someone of the stature of Nitti who eventually said, 'Cut this guy off.' I mean, look, Dillinger was a rolling stone. What he did compared to the actual operations that Nitti were in control of, they were small time. Like they say in the movie, Dillinger's huge bank job they're bringing in daily. Clearly, it was the embarrassment that Hoover felt at Dillinger's escapades, the public's appetite for him, that resulted in not only the law coming down harder on all criminals but equally it wasn't until Nitti kind of allowed the Bureau to get Dillinger that they were able to. I find that really fascinating. It really was. He had that much power. And even though probably most people nowadays, Capone is a far more famous figure than Nitti, Nitti as his successor was more successful. He was a far lower profile figure than Capone, but it speaks volumes about the era that it wasn't until Nitti decided he was happy for Dillinger to be handed over that the Bureau managed to get him."

Source: JoBlo.com



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