Bale – always the second banana?

I read this article on Yahoo yesterday on why Johnny Depp is the only one on the poster of Public Enemies, but not Bale. The funny thing is, I’ve been wondering about that ever since I saw the first trailer. Sure, Depp is undoubtedly a very bankable star, but Bale just came out of the monstrous hit that was The Dark Knight, so at the very least, shouldn’t the two of them be on the poster??

Speaking of the Batman sequel, it reminds me how everyone was talking about Heath Ledger (even before his death) and raved about his performance as the Joker. It became even more so after Ledger’s death, to the point where I thought the movie might as well be called the Joker. I’m not saying it’s not without merit, Ledger did turn in an incredible performance which deserved all the kudos, but so did Bale. I think his portrayal as the vulnerable, tormented hero was equally powerful, and the success of the film rode a lot on his skillful performance as well.

But the fact of the matter is, the powers that be obviously thinks Bale’s image doesn’t sell. It’s something I can’t put my finger on because I think he deserves to be as bankable as those of his caliber. Y’see, I like Bale not only for his excellent acting but because he generally stays out of the limelight and is a devoted father and family man. He’s also a dedicated actor who doesn’t mind suffering for his art. Not a lot of actors is willing to drop 1/3 of his body weight for a role in a tiny-budget flix, which is exactly what he did for The Machinist (look at his sickeningly skinny frame here). He’s known to play dark, tortured souls and shuns rom-coms or chick flix (more power to him!). Alas, Bale isn’t exactly a ‘likable’ guy, he comes across pretty aloof or even intimidating in interviews, perhaps even too serious for his own good. Then there’s his foul rant at the DP on the Terminator Salvation set which got leaked to the public. He’s since apologized for his inexcusable behavior, but does he come out unscathed? My gut tells me his reputation might not be as resilient as say, Robert Downey Jr.’s (who’s got into more trouble than one could count, yet could still open a flix on account on his name alone).

On most indie/smaller flix however, Bale frequently got top billing: American Psycho, Equillibrium, The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, Harsh Times. And in various supporting roles, he’s often what you’d call a ‘scene stealer,’ even with limited screen time. I.e. in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I sympathized with his Mandras character much more than Nic Cage’s and wished he’d been the lead.

Bale as John Rolfe
Bale as John Rolfe

Same with The New World (the story about Pocahontas), I bought the DVD solely for Bale’s 20-minute performance as John Rolfe, which was more heartfelt and moving than Colin Farrell tried to be in the whole 2-hours-plus.

In any case, here’s a list of major studio flix where he’s relegated to ‘second banana’ status:

The Prestige: Second to Hugh Jackman
3:10 to Yuma: Second to Russell Crowe
Dark Knight: Second to Heath Ledger
Public Enemies: Second to Johnny Depp

Edit: Since this post was published, Bale has signed on to do The Fighter as boxing trainer Dick Ecklund, where he might again play second fiddle to Mark Wahlberg as “Irish” Mickey Ward.

Who knows if this remains a continuing trend, but as long as he only cares about turning a good performance regardless of who’s getting top billing, I’ll continue to watch him.

So, do you agree of my assessment of Mr. Bale? Please chime in below.

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18 thoughts on “Bale – always the second banana?

  1. Mike

    Hey, you forgot about Terminator Salvation. All the posters I’ve seen just had this mean looking robot on them. No Bale. Talk about second fiddle! LOL …

  2. rtm

    Right, apparently he’s second fiddle to a darn robot as well! I heard that Sam Worthington who played the cyborg Marcus was the talk of the town in TS, much like Ledger in The Dark Knight. Poor Bale.

  3. PrairieGirl

    Speaking of Bale pix, why none in this blog entry? 🙂 I had to google him to see who he was, oh, it was SO much extra work for a fans who follows these flixchatter insights (just teasing, sort of!)

    1. As you wish, PrairieGirl 🙂 I included his pic as the dashing John Rolfe in The New World. It’s a long movie but totally worth seeing for the lush cinematography and of course, Bale! 🙂

  4. Thanks for posting this article. I’m definitely frustrated with struggling to search out relevant and brilliant commentary on this subject. Everybody now goes to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint that either: everyone else in the planet is wrong, or two that everyone but them does not really understand the situation. Many thanks for your succinct, applicable insight.

  5. Like you said, I have no problem with Bale coming in as second fiddle and if he doesn’t mind himself then who cares right? 🙂 Totally agree about him being much more effective in 20 minutes in The New World than Colin Farrell the entire movie.

    I think Bale is an actor who needs to go “over the edge” in terms of acting for him to be most memorable. When he tries to reign it in and play within a certain character too much, he can get overshadowed by more flashy actors/characters.

    1. Exactly, Castor. It makes me like him more that he isn’t so concerned about his name being top billing, but seek out roles that touch him.

      I REALLY like him in Equilibrium which is pretty much all about him and the amazing emotional transformation of his character. I wish he’d do more roles like that where he truly carries the entire movie, we all know he is more than capable to do so.

  6. Julian

    Hmmm…i never really noticed this. Although, i think in batman begins he wasn’tr playing second fiddle(i don’t remember CIllian getting the same attention for his role as scarecrow as heath did for Joker)

    Maybe he just isn’t good at PR?

    1. No, he wasn’t playing second fiddle in BB, and that’s probably why I like that more than TDK. I’m not saying he’s ALWAYS the second banana, but for someone of his ‘stature’ he should get top billing more often. But yeah, maybe he just doesn’t care and he doesn’t strike me as having ‘people’ who handle his PR for him personally, he cares more about his craft than his image as an actor, and I respect him for that.

  7. ath

    Speaking of Bale behaving badly, he just shouted a few swear words for a prolonged length of time, but i have heard Johny Depp destroyed a hotel room in fit of rage but his image remains undented and still holds top billings.

    I think it is the persona the two of them have built. One a very affable friendly man on the outside while the other (Bale) a more introverted man playing dark characters. I think this is what affects the public image.

    1. Hi ath, welcome to FC. Valid points you made here, I forgot about Depp’s hotel room fit but for some reason Bale seemed to be ostracized more for his rant, maybe because it was directed at a specific individual? In any case, I like both actors and will continue to enjoy their work.

  8. Hi Ruth, I just discovered this site a few days ago.

    There’s also “Laurel Canyon”, another Indie, where Bale visits his hippie mother (Frances McDormand), with his wife (Kate Beckinsale).

    I haven’t seen Bale in a bad film yet. I just recorded “Metroland” (1997) off TV where he plays an average family man and daily commuter who reflects on his life.

    One that stood out for me was “Rescue Dawn”. Bale and Werner Herzog make great collaborators because both will do almost anything it takes. That’s really a movie I should review, it doesn’t seem to get much attention.

    1. Hello Marcus, welcome to FC! Yes I’ve seen Laurel Canyon and Metroland, but haven’t seen Rescue Dawn yet. I’d love to read your review of it, let me know when you do. I always like Bale in everything, he’s got such a presence.

  9. Christian Bale discussion aside (I cannot abide the man) thanks for stopping by my blog so often and liking so many of my posts! I thought that I was following you already, it appears that I was not; that situation has now been remedied. Cheers!

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