Christian Bale is one of the few actors in Hollywood whose child stardom has successfully translated to steady and respectable adult employment. With a wistful handsomeness to complement his impressive, sometimes underrated talent, Bale has become something of a quiet sensation, netting choice roles in a number of unconventional, critically acclaimed films.
Born January 30, 1974, in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Bale was raised in England, Portugal, and the U.S. The product of a creative family (his mother was a dancer and both of his grandfathers were part-time actors), Bale made his stage debut at the age of ten, playing opposite British comedian Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd. In 1986, he debuted on television as Alexis in the miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. His film debut came the following year with the lead role in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Although the film met with very mixed reviews, Bale received almost ubiquitous praise for his portrayal of a young boy interned in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Following a starring role in a Swedish film, Mio min Mio, Bale next appeared in Kenneth Branagh's celebrated 1988 adaptation of Henry V and in 1990, starred opposite Charlton Heston in a highly-regarded cable adaptation of Treasure Island.
In 1992, Bale appeared in his first adult role in the musical Newsies, in which he could be seen singing, dancing, and sporting a fairly convincing American accent. His next film, Swing Kids (1993), also featured him dancing, this time alongside Robert Sean Leonard in wartime Germany. Although the film failed to impress most critics, it succeeded in making a favorable impact on teenage girls and swing afficionados everywhere. The following year, Bale appeared as Laurie in Gillian Armstrong's acclaimed adaptation of Little Women and then went on to lend his voice to Disney's animated film Pocahontas, which proved to be one of 1995's biggest box-office draws. The actor next appeared in The Secret Agent (1996), which, despite a strong cast including Gérard Depardieu, Bob Hoskins, and Patricia Arquette, was widely unseen in the U.S. After a tragically small role in the same year's The Portrait of a Lady, Bale was finally given the opportunity to step into the limelight with the 1997 film Metroland, an adaptation of Julian Barnes' novel. Starring alongside Emily Watson, Bale played a young husband and father wallowing in discontented nostalgia and received overwhelmingly positive notices for his thoughtful, complex portrayal. The film was not released in the U.S. until the following year, when he also had lead roles in Todd Haynes' eagerly anticipated Velvet Goldmine and All the Little Animals, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to strong reviews. The following year, Bale starred alongside Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rupert Everett in a lavish adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In addition to the exposure he (literally) received in his role as Demetrius, Bale got a different kind of recognition for his part in the well-documented controversy surrounding the casting of Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. After winning and then losing the film's lead role to Leonardo DiCaprio, Bale then won it back, prompting a wave of media coverage and at least one publication's decision to describe him as everyone's favorite underdog. It was a title that, deserved or not, seemed to fit an actor who, beneath all of the hyperbole and hype, was one of Hollywood's most engaging and underrated treasures. As if to stay in keeping with his below-radar persona, the prolific and kinetic advertising campaign for the humans versus dragons opus Reign of Fire (2002) found Bale curiously overshadowed by a chrome-domed Matthew McConaughey despite being first billed as the film's star. And though his forst foray into sci-fi action proved only a moderate success at the box office after receiving mixed critical reception, Bale followed-up with the dystopian thriller Equilibrium before returning to the present day with the low-key sexual comedy drama Laurel Canyon (2002). Though that film too would quickly disappear from the theaters, audiences could rest assured that they would be seeing plenty more of the handsome star in Memento director Christopher Nolan's latest entry in the Batman film series. That film was both a critical and a box office success. The collaboration was so satisfying that, before going to work together on the sequel, they joined forces for The Prestige alongside Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson. He also appeared in Harsh Times, a coming of age drama co-starring Eva Longoria. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi