Saturday, March 03, 2012

Phoners and Actors

(Blast from the past! This is an article I wrote for the Inquirer back in October of 2006. I was able to  interview actors Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale through separate and exclusive phoners arranged by Warner Bros.)

From dark avengers to feuding tricksters
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Magic face-off!

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play warring magicians, an obsessed pair locked in a cycle of envy and revenge in “The Prestige.” As Alfred Borden and Robert Angier, respectively, the actors effortlessly slip into contrasting personalities with similarly sinister objectives. Ditching their costumed screen identities of Batman and Wolverine temporarily, Bale and Jackman join director Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “Memento”) and actors Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis and David Bowie in the dark, complex Victorian-era thriller.

Prior to appearing as dueling artisans in “The Prestige,” Bale and Jackman have breathed life into choice roles through the years, so they’re no strangers to different levels of convincing illusory techniques. Chameleon-like actor Bale debuted in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” and later appeared in films like “Velvet Goldmine,” “American Psycho,” and “The Machinist.” Of course, there’s also last year’s “Batman Begins,” where he’s the latest to don the mask of DC Comics’ caped crusader.

Versatile Aussie thespian Jackman, meanwhile, received a Tony Best Actor award for his portrayal of ‘70s singer-songwriter Peter Allen in the musical “The Boy From Oz.” He appeared in “Kate and Leopold,” and is famous for playing Marvel Comics’ most popular mutant, Wolverine, in three “X-Men” movies.

In separate exclusive phone interviews, Jackman and Bale spoke about a few smoke-and-mirrors secrets behind the new film, as well as some of their future projects, including their eventual return to playing fierce, archetypal superheroes.

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How different is playing this magician role for you?
Chris Nolan is a phenomenal director, and it was an engaging, smart story. The character is different for me; it was very challenging for me because, as you’ve seen, he became quite dark.

Having done a series of action movies, how refreshing was it to do “The Prestige”?
It’s really a surprise for me, to be honest, having a career in action films. I thought I’d do more roles like the one I played in this movie. I find myself pretty much attracted to things that are more challenging. It’s a great opportunity.

Please describe Christopher Nolan’s directing style, and the shooting atmosphere.
Chris Nolan is one of the directors I respect the most. There’s a lot of freedom working with him. Working with him is easy because of the relaxed, low-key set conditions. It’s not complicated; there was no ego, no screaming involved.

Your character and Christian Bale’s had an ongoing bitter rivalry. How was it off-screen?
I love Christian Bale. I’ve always been a big fan. He’s very brave, very truthful. He’s really fantastic. We’ve got a rivalry in the movie, but we’re actually good friends. My kids play with his kid.

Do you have plans to appear in movies for children, stuff that you can easily show to your kids?
They’re very young and can’t watch my movies yet but I got to do two movies, “Flushed Away” and “Happy Feet,” that they might enjoy. It’s wonderful, the freedom to switch for four hours (as a voice actor). It’s very different; there’s no makeup!

How tough is doing theater, compared to acting in films?
With theater, the hardest thing to actually do is make them believe while you’re vocalizing, but it’s easy if you get past that hurdle. I enjoy doing both. It’s greedy, but I’d like to open as many doors as I can.

How is the “Wolverine” spinoff doing, and how do you feel about being associated most with the character?
We now have the script. We’re looking for a director. I’m very privileged to play Wolverine. I love it. It’s quite different from real life, because I don’t look like him at all. People don’t always recognize me.

How involved are you with your characters’ stunts?
A lot. They’re very physically challenging. I love them.

How do you unwind?
I love watching movies. I watch DVDs. I watch DVDS of TV shows; sometimes I can’t really watch TV because I have kids. It’s been two months since I watched TV. I have a very, very eclectic range of music in my iPod: heavy metal, R & B, some jazz… I also like listening to soundtracks of movies.

Name some of your old and current acting heroes.
Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson… oh, and Harrison Ford!

Who do you think would win in a fight between Wolverine and Batman?
That’s not a serious question (laughs)! Wolverine, dude!

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How comfortable was it to work with Christopher Nolan again?
I would’ve wanted to work with whoever wrote the superb script regardless if it was Chris or not. We have a special working relationship. Chris is a shape-shifter as a director; he did that very well from “Batman Begins” to “The Prestige.” I’m very confident with the way he works. He’s one of the finest.

Speaking of shape-shifters, where do you draw inspiration from to play your obsessive magician character?
It’s easy when you have such a good script and story. It kind of flows; it just happens. It certainly just goes right.

How was Hugh Jackman as a co-star, and an actor?
It was perfect casting. Hugh immediately wanted to play Robert Angier. That really appealed to him. I read the Alfred Borden part and that’s what I wanted to do. You have two opposing philosophies with these two rival magicians. And Hugh’s a good actor, dancer, he’s very comfortable on stage. He was kind of the new boy on the team; most of us worked together before. He’s an easygoing boy. It’s very, very difficult not to get along with Hugh.

What can people expect from the upcoming “Batman” sequel?
We’ve gone over the introduction of our new characterization. People embraced it. People liked it. Chris is such a good filmmaker! I enjoy creating an intimacy about the project. Chris also enjoys that secrecy. You know the feeling about knowing something that others don’t know yet? In due time, he’ll bring me in and start talking about where we’ll be taking the Dark Knight next.

When you’re not acting, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m a father now and I truly like nothing better than that. But I’ve one hobby. I like the dirt bike a great deal. I like the elements and the heat and going where the path takes me. I have phases when I kind of need music, when I’m listening 24/7. But I realize I haven’t picked up my iPod in a while. Same thing with reading, there are times when I soak it in. There’s nothing I have consistently as one interest.

Who are your acting influences?
It’s just people, documentaries… the ones I really love. I look up to people in life. I’m no film buff.

As someone who started out young, did it become easier for you to grow as an actor and to respond to the demands of the business?
I kind of dived into it and dived right out. I lived in an old town in England that didn’t have an entertainment scene. Some children enjoyed that naturally. I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more like I couldn’t shake it rather than I pursued it. But it’s a different kind of addiction.

Who do you think would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine?
Give it 15 years. My career and Hugh’s career will be dead; we’ll have beer bellies and we’ll decide to make a direct-to-video Batman and Wolverine movie. When we have that complete decline in our careers, we’ll decide who wins!

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