Christian Bale discusses role in ‘American Hustle’

Ed Symkus More Content Now
Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams, left) and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) attempt to scam an under cover agent in Columbia Picutres' AMERICAN HUSTLE.

Christian Bale ate his way into a pot belly, shaved his head so he could wear a bad wig and put on gaudy outfits and a Bronx accent to play what some people would call the antihero in David O. Russell’s new dramatic comedy “American Hustle.” Bale (and the writers and director) gives a fictional spin on real-life conman Mel Weinberg (here called Irving Rosenfeld), who became involved in the late-’70s, early-’80s Abscam bribery scandal when an overzealous FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) caught Rosenfeld and his mistress (Amy Adams) running an illegal loan operation, then handed them an ultimatum that involved nailing crooked Congressmen.

Bale, with an over-the-top, yet nuanced performance now on his resumé, spoke about the film recently in New York.

What keeps you interested in playing a character over the length of shooting a film?

The characters in this one are all colorful and shiny and fun to play, but we were shooting this film for 42 days, so you’ve gotta find much more than that to be getting yourself up at the hours that we get up in the morning, and still be fascinated. It’s gotta go beyond the colorful shininess. There’s that thing about, you put on a mask and you reveal your true self. It’s about at some point stripping away that mask and seeing what’s really beneath it.

You’re not just talking about Irving, but about all of the characters.

Yeah, that happens in some ways to each and every one of the characters in the movie in their attempts to reinvent themselves, and their need to move on and find something else in their lives. So that ultimately becomes what is fascinating. I never like to actually define what exactly it is that I love about a character or a film. But I do that intentionally because then you get the sense that you’re still discovering the character, you’re still discovering the piece as you keep going.

What’s really fascinating is the way you all look in the film, from the flashy clothing to, in your case, the awful comb-over hairdo.

Looking back at the fashions of the time, I think it’s over-the-top to us now. It was such a wonderfully exuberant era. It was like Halloween for a decade. The colors were garish and the style was just phenomenal. But the people themselves were no different. We’re no different now.

I assume one of your favorite scenes to do was the dance and lip sync to Tom Jones’ “Delilah” with Jeremy Renner.

Yeah, but did you ever listen to the lyrics of that song? That’s a sick song! It sounds so uplifting, but you hear the lyrics and you go, “Tom Jones was sick!”