Christian Bale on Playing Thor’s Villain, and Whether or Not He’s a Method Actor
Christian Bale is the kind of actor who never stops surprising the audience with his larger-than-life performances. From American Psycho to Batman, he gives life to dark, brooding characters as he peels away at their vulnerability on-screen with his sharp edge. An actor of his caliber always goes the extra mile to play memorable roles — Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, Dick Cheney in Vice, and a conman in American Hustle are first to spring to mind. Now the British actor makes his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut by taking on another character with layers and depth – Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder.
In the film, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend-turned-Mighty-Thor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to take on galactic killer Gorr the God Butcher (Bale). Once you see Bale in the makeup and costume, you can’t take your eyes off him. He is creepy, committed and captivating in every way, but does so with such empathy that you kind of want to root for the villain and leaves you wanting more of the Marvel character.
I sat down for a virtual video interview with Christian Bale, who was dressed in his usual black ensemble, excited for the world to watch him surprise audiences in yet another new avatar. He greets me with his deadpan sense of humour, which certainly takes me by surprise. He says he’s quite out of it when it comes to the lore of characters as I tell him that he has become my new favourite villain of all time, dethroning Lord Voldemort. He asks, quite seriously, if that’s from Harry Potter, before graciously accepting the compliment.
Below, Bale discusses playing Gorr the God Butcher, his MCU debut, his method or lack thereof and how much he enjoys the creative pursuits of being an actor.
You’ve given an incredible performance with Gorr the God Butcher, who also comes across as a sympathetic villain. So to bring such empathy and nuances to the bad guy, do you try to find the humanity with a character like him?
Thank you. Yes, but Taika could have edited it in a way that there would be zero empathy, or sympathy or anything for him. I give directors choices. Scripts are always much, much larger than any film that an audience eventually sees. So you provide choice and the director decides what he wishes. And so yes, certainly, there is an origin story to why this character of Gorr, who begins as a very religious man and a family man, embarks on this intergalactic massacre. Bizarrely, yes, there’s a world where you somewhat understand why he began to do that.
What I love about your work as an actor is your dedication to your roles and your desire to commit to your performance. You are known to be a method actor, so how does one even go about being method for an MCU villain?
I know I get called that, but I’ve never studied it. I literally did one weekend at a YWCA off Tottenham Court Road in London. So I’ve never studied method acting whatsoever. I just turn up each day and try to figure out how to get through the day and not have people notice how bloody awful I am. I’m amazed that I still get hired every time that I do. But people do tend to say I’m a method actor. All right, I’ll take their word for it. But I don’t really know strictly what that is, as I’ve never studied it. But you know, with Gorr I had a lot of time because of the makeup process to sit and dwell on him. We were doing a minimum of three and a half hours makeup every single day. He’s a hell of a character. You always have to accept that you enjoy the process of making a film and then if any of that ends up in the actual end result, that’s gravy. But we’ve got a really bloody great director with Taika as somebody who’s able to really blend comedy and tragedy and have great irony, but great sincerity as well. I think this movie is going to really surprise some people in how bloody funny it is. But also it’s also very moving as well.
It definitely is and especially with your portrayal of Gorr. He’s a villain and previously you’ve done other dark roles like American Psycho as well — these roles are so fulfilling to watch as a movie goer. How does it satisfy you in your creative and artistic pursuit as an actor?
Oh, I love it. It’s as satisfying as anything else I’ve ever done. There’s no hierarchy in my mind of good and lesser roles. There are efforts that went wrong. There were certainly films I look back on and go, ‘Wah, that didn’t work.’ But, you know, an audience member might feel different and in my mind, as soon as a film is made, whatever the viewer thinks of it, that’s right. But I had a wonderful time on this. It was not only very, very unique and new blue screens, digital stuff that I’ve never dealt with before in my life. But also just personally, a really wonderful experience, coming out of lockdown, and it was a very family friendly set. So I had my family around all the time as did all the other actors and Taika is wonderful as a host in that regard of making it a nice one for everyone.
So you have the costume, you have the makeup, and you have all this experience. But in terms of this being your first MCU role, what did you need to do for yourself to fully let this character consume you?
This is why I go, ‘Really, I’m a method actor?’ I have zero method whatsoever. Literally, I just wing it every single day. I go, ‘What have I got to do?’ I’m so grateful to be hired. So what do I have to do to make sure that I give everything that I can? A villain is always a really fascinating character to everyone. So I already had that on my side, it’s an easier role than playing Thor, with Chris playing the good guy, that’s a tougher role, because you’re potentially just dealing with someone who’s good all the way through. So he kills it. He’s absolutely magnificent. I had the easier job of being the bad guy who humans always want to watch.
It’s always fun watching the bad guy though! Will we ever get to see the Kate Bush dance plot you and Taika had planned?
It was Kate Bush and a whole variety of other moves and music that Taika and I had imagined and, we were hoping that we would get a morning where we might be able to film such a thing. But unfortunately, it was never to be.
When you’ve taken a role of this magnitude, there are pressures and expectations that come with it, especially with such a massive fan base. What did you learn about yourself as a person or as an actor that you weren’t aware of before you started this journey?
It wasn’t something I wasn’t aware of. It was something I was fully aware of because of Batman and the similar… well, as you call them expectations and pressures, but I actually managed to stay completely oblivious to all of that and keep myself in the dark. That’s a much happier place to be because then you don’t feel any pressure.
Lastly, I love the fact that you’re always wearing black – it’s a classic choice. Is that a personal choice in terms of your style?
In all honesty, I wear whatever anyone gives me. Clothing to me is just the way of not being naked. So I’m not really picky at all. No, I’ve got zero fashion sense. I just sort of wear whatever. I mean, there’s a little bit of a nod to my family, in that my dad always wore black. He was a bit like Johnny Cash and he always wore black and so I like wearing that when I do interviews. It keeps it simple, you know? I don’t have to decide in the mornings.
Thor: Love and Thunder is in theatres July 8