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Operatic Batman :: Talking with Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway & Christopher Nolan

by Fred Topel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 20, 2012

This weekend marks the release of the most highly anticipated movie of the year. Yes, even more than the billion dollar-grossing "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" has topped the early buzz. The end of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, it is the follow-up to 2008's monumental hit "The Dark Knight." The lid has been kept so tight on the film's content that audiences know little more than the cast and some of the characters they play. And hey, it's also the newest film from one of Hollywood's most successful and thought-provoking filmmakers.

Remember when Christian Bale was announced as the new Batman in 2004? It was an interesting choice, though no more controversial than Michael Keaton's casting in 1989. Bale remembers his first Batman moment to this day.

"The first time that I ever put on the actual [costume] myself, I thought, 'Oh, Chris has to recast,' Bale recalled. "Because the claustrophobia was just unbelievable. I stood there and I thought, 'I can't breathe, I can't think, this is too tight, this is squeezing my head, I'm going to panic, I'm about to have a nervous breakdown and panic attack right this second.'

"I said okay, breathe deeply and ask for 20 minutes by myself. I said, 'Could everyone just leave me alone for 20 minutes?' Because generally people are around you asking [questions.] So they left me alone for 20 minutes. I just stood there and I thought I would really like to make this movie. I'd like to be able to get through this moment here. So I just stood for 20 minutes by myself and then called them back in and said, 'Okay, all right, let's just talk very calmly please and quietly and maybe I can get through this.'"

Taking a moment

Late last year, Bale filmed his final scene as Batman. Over the three films, the suit has been improved so it’s more easily removable should he need to; but by the end he needed a private moment for different reasons.

"It was as Batman, it was with Anne [Hathaway] as Catwoman on the roof in New York, in Manhattan," Bale said. After they finished the scene, Bale went to his dressing room. "I was wrapped, but the whole movie wasn’t wrapped. They had a number of days to go yet. But I just went down and I sat in a room and I realized this is it. I’m never going to be taking this cowl off again.

"So again, I said, ’Can you please leave me alone for 20 minutes’ and sat. But with that moment it was with the realization of everything we’d done and a real pride of having achieved what we had set out to. It was a very important honor for me. It’s been a very important character. It’s the only time I’ve played a character three times in a row, and the movies themselves have changed my life and changed my career. So I wanted to just appreciate that for a little while."

Hardy bulks up

In this film, Batman faces his toughest opponent. Bane was famous in the comic books as the character who broke Batman’s back. Tom Hardy bulked up to play Bane and his fights with Batman prove the most intense of the series.

"There was the excitement of how many extras were there, everybody punching each other," Bale said. "It really invigorated myself and Tom, who’s a phenomenal actor and formidable opponent, and obviously the first adversary of Batman’s that you know could probably whip his butt, which we had never seen before.

"The thing that I’d like to mention about the fight sequences with Batman is they’re never just knock down fight sequences. You learn something more about each character throughout each fight, which is the mark of a good fight. You learn about what Batman has had to go through from the beginning of the movie to the end in order to be able to defeat this man. You’re learning about Bane as well and the changes that have come over him. That’s always essential with any fight. That’s really what you’re looking for. We’ve seen so many people punching each other nonstop, who cares? But you’re looking for what are the changes, what are the weaknesses, what are the strengths of each character that are going to allow them to dominate one or the other. What’s going to change the situation here?"

Social and political themes

Early in the film, Bane takes over Gotham City’s stock exchange, throwing the market into free-fall and wiping out the vast wealth of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter-ego, now a recluse in his mansion. Just like "The Dark Knight" dealt with society’s moral obligation to resist terrorists, "The Dark Knight Rises" is imbued with social/political themes as well.

"Something I always found uncanny was Chris’s ability to make the movies very topical," Bale said."There was something that happened with Occupy Wall Street which was actually happening a couple of blocks away from where we were filming in New York. He had no way of knowing was going to happen when he wrote the script and when we started. But by the time it was happening, I was looking at him going, ’Well, how did you know?’ because it becomes very, very topical. I think in many ways, correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding is that Bob Kane created this character in 1939, which being from England that’s the beginning of WWII. And it was, it was an answer to the uselessness that individuals felt against this humongous tragedy and what could you do?

So it (the ’Batman’ comic book) was topical in its inception. That’s how Batman began, and there’s been wonderful spoofs. (In the 1960s television show) Adam West has done it beautifully and spoofed it, but it began as a very topical character, and I think that Chris has returned it to that."

Introducing Selina Kyle

"The Dark Knight Rises" introduces another famous character from the "Batman" comics. Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle. Though she’s never referred to as Catwoman in the movie, she certainly looks like a cat woman in her black spandex thief suit.

"When I got the part, Chris had called me into his office and said, ’Okay, so there’s going to be a lot of fighting,’" Hathaway recalled, as she described an anecdote involving one of her co-stars that Nolan told her. "’When he did ’Inception,’ Joe [Gordon-Levitt] got in really good shape. Joe went to the gym for months so that when we did his fight sequence (on that film), he did all of his own fighting. I really liked that.’

"I went gotcha. I read between the lines and I just went to the gym. By the time we wrapped, it was a complete transformation. I’d never done anything like that because it wasn’t just about looking a certain way. I had to learn to fight. I had to become strong enough to be able to fight for many days at a time."

Kicking butt in high heels

As mentioned, there is the sleek, slinky black outfit that highlights Hathaway’s most feline qualities. However, it did not feel to her in any way salacious.

"That was actually something I felt very lucky about because I feel like in a situation like this, I don’t know what other actresses have gone through, I feel like sometimes there’s a mandate that comes to you, an ideal of how you have to look," she said. "The way I was treated on this movie was: learn how to do what you need to do, and then however you look that’s the way the character looks. I just felt as a woman very protected in that way."

Hathaway also came battle trained in the fine art of kicking butt in high heels. "’The Devil Wears Prada’ was really good training for that though. I kind of ran up and down Manhattan, so I just ran up and down Gotham."

An operatic approach

Nolan became one of Hollywood’s most mysterious and intriguing filmmakers with his 2000 indie hit "Memento." In between "Batman" movies he made the magician mystery "The Prestige" and the dream-bending "Inception."

While each film has its own rules, Nolan appreciates the stage on which a comic book film allows him to explore creative ideas.

"One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with these characters is, as Christian says, they have the potential to be topical," Nolan said. "The reason for that is that they’re not real. It’s not real life. You’re dealing with a heightened reality. You’re not dealing with Chicago or New York. You’re dealing with Gotham and that gives you a very interesting world to be able to play with in a very heightened way, in a very operatic way.

"These are larger than life characters and I very much enjoyed tapping into the sort of operatic sensibility of that and really trying to push the audience and the audience’s emotions in extreme directions using the extremity of those characters. I think naturally from that, you’re aiming for a sort of mythic status."

Larger than life in IMAX

Depending on the cinema you go to, "The Dark Knight Rises" really is larger than life. As with "The Dark Knight," Nolan shot many sequences with IMAX cameras, and when seen on an IMAX screen, the picture expands to tower over the viewer.

"What we did on ’The Dark Knight’ I think was a very important in terms of getting across the idea of event-izing movies in the theatrical experience," Nolan said.

"It was prior to the 3D wave that’s come since, but we got a lot of mileage out of really making a big deal out of our premiere engagements in a very old fashioned way, like they used to do in the ’50s and ’60s with 70mm projection. For me IMAX is all about it’s the best possible quality image when you film with their cameras and you project that film in their theaters with those huge screens. There’s really no other way to do that with any other imaging technology. What I love about it, as opposed to 3D, is it creates a much larger than life image. When you watch a 3D film, the parallax makes it more intimate. It shrinks the imagery that you’re looking at. I actually really like these characters in these movies, I like to see Batman larger than life on that enormous screen. The clarity in the image really draws me into the movie and I enjoy that."

Ending the trilogy

Nolan has a sure thing with the final "Batman" film this summer, but it is the end of his tenure with the superhero. It was a bittersweet deal to be made with the studio to deliver one more, and make it the last.

"Well, the point at which I was saying to the studio it would be a trilogy was the point I was telling them, ’yes, I will do a third one to follow up on ’The Dark Knight’.’ So they were thrilled," Nolan said.

"Obviously I’m sure they’d love us to keep doing this forever but I think they completely understood that my attraction to coming back for a third time was in finishing our story so that we’ve told one big story with three major parts to it. That really is the reason we’re here and the reason we’ve done it, so it was kind of part and parcel of what we were doing."

"The Dark Knight Rises" opens Friday.

Watch the trailer to The Dark Knight Rises:


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