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Christian Bale is a consummate chameleon. As handsome as he is -- and with a sexy accent to boot -- he easily could have gone the way of dreamy leading man, fronting cash-grab rom-coms and gonzo action movies where he throws out toothy grins and witty one-liners. Instead, the Welsh thespian sought out films that offered enticing challenges, compelling characters, and often a demand for a major physical transformation.
With The Dark Knight Rises little more than a year old, we can all still crisply recall his handsome clean-shaven Bruce Wayne look, complete with superhero suitable muscles. But in David O. Russell's ABSCAM-inspired American Hustle, Bale willfully cast aside vanity, packed on the pounds, and shaved his head to allow for cinema's most complicated comb over. This is the look of Irving Rosenfeld, a man with a gut and balding scalp, but tons of smarts and an endless supply of charisma that serves him well, whether he's placating his demanding wife (Jennifer Lawrence), consoling his furious business partner/mistress (Amy Adams) or bargaining with the FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who has forced him into undercover work.
I recently had the chance to talk with Bale about his work in American Hustle, and just how his latest transformation shaped his character.
In our interview, Bale called Irving's comb over "this wonderful contradiction," explaining, "For someone's who is such a brilliant con artist, it's not much of a con! He's conning nobody with that." But he told me, the overall look "developed from the real guy. We took a lot of poetic license and it's only based on, but there was a real con man name of Mel Weinberg, who the FBI recruited to teach them. And he had this wonderful look to him that was the last thing I expected such a wonderful consummate con artist to look like. You know, you expect a more vain, smooth-operator kind of a bloke. And here he was with this comb over and his -- you know -- roundness and everything. I just saw that and I went, 'That's it! That is fantastic. That's what I have to aim for.'"
Bale actually did gain the weight for this role -- we should expect nothing else from the man who shed a frightening amount of weight for his previous Russell collaboration The Fighter -- so he had time to adjust to the radical change in his appearance.
"It's a slow process. It wasn't a shock," he explained, "I did it quick, but it's not that quick that I was stunned when I looked in the mirror. It's a slow process, and then we shaved the head and did the comb over. And by that time, you know it wasn't a big deal to me. It was something I had been expecting for months."
This comb over isn't just a cringe-inducing part of Bale's costume. It's actually the focal point of the film's first scene, which shows Irving carefully creating it in a strikingly poor attempt to cover his big bald spot.
Bale said, "It's showing a vulnerability, and he does have a great deal of vulnerability. You know, it's showing him essentially putting on the make-up, like an actor. Sort of getting ready for his performance, but you're seeing the real self underneath that. It was very meticulous, but that was something the hair lady Catherine had developed where she would put glue on my head and then do this false hair to make it look like it had more body to it. And we just loved it. Sometimes people would just sit in the makeup trailer watching that happen because it felt so entertaining, so David said, 'Well, let's stick that in the film!'"
American Hustle is now in theaters.