Christian Bale doesn't always transform for a role.
But when he does, he's unrecognizable.
The 46-year-old Welsh actor has lost and gained hundreds of pounds over the years, not even including whatever he's done for roles that have called for a touch less meat on his frame or a tad more muscle.
Or a lot more muscle, as was the case when he played homicidal yuppie Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, which hit theaters 25 years ago.
"I'm English. I had never gone to a gym in my life," Bale recalled in a recent oral history about the social satire-meets-slasher film for MovieMaker. "You lose that quicker than you gain it."
The tonally hard-to-pin-down film, based on Bret Easton Ellis' polarizing novel, was a modest success, making $34 million worldwide on a reported $7 million budget, but it's become a cult classic—thanks in no small part to Bale's balls-nail-gunned-to-the-wall performance, from the aspirational moneyed accent that Bale spoke in the entire time on set to the 12-pack abs Bale/Bateman achieved thanks to his obsessive workouts.
"I also remember that after every day he would go work out for hours and hours and hours to get into that incredible shape," Matt Ross, who played Luis Carruthers, recalled to MovieMaker. "I remember [director Mary Harron] and I talking about just what an incredible work ethic he had."
Bale said that, when he was making American Pyscho, he envisioned Patrick Bateman aspiring to be like two '80s-era icons in particular: slick movie star Tom Cruise and New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump.
"I mean, look, if someone had landed at that time and he was looking around for cultural alpha males, business-world alpha males, et cetera, than Tom Cruise certainly would have been one of those that he would have looked at and aspired to be and attempted to emulate," Bale explained. "...And certainly that megawatt smile with the perfect teeth.
"Likewise, Donald Trump would have been somebody he would have looked at and said, 'Ah, right. I need to have a little bit of that as well.'...If Bateman were around today he'd probably be inspired to run for president."
On the flip side, the only shape Bale thought of when playing former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney was round.
"I've got to stop doing it. I suspect it's going to take longer to get this off," Bale told The Guardian in 2017, referring to the belly he acquired for his jovially sinister portrayal of the portly, balding, white-haired politician from Nebraska, who was 59 when he became VP—and who by some accounts pulled the most consequential strings in the Bush 43 White House—in Adam McKay's Vice.
And though it was Satan who Bale cheekily thanked when he won a Golden Globe, his second, in 2019 for his uncanny portrayal of Cheney, he may have wanted to give a shout-out to devil's food.
"I've just been eating a lot of pies," he joked to Variety when it became obvious he was letting himself go for a part.
He's had many a hairpiece and prosthetic added to his visage over the years, but Bale doesn't do fat suits, preferring to pack on actual pounds to aid in the acting process.
"It's helpful not to look like yourself," said the veteran actor, whose breakout role came at 10 in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. "If I look in the mirror and go, 'Ah, that doesn't look like me'—that's helpful."
Bale has given his average, everyday weight as around 185 pounds, and he's been all over the scale during the course of his long career, from a disturbingly emaciated 122 pounds for The Machinist in 2004 to a soft 225 to play Cheney, with every form of musculature in between.
Here's how he really does it:
"I recognize a lot of people would just say, 'What was the point? It's just a movie.' Which I can't really disagree with," Bale mused to the Los Angeles Times in 2004, talking about his drastic undertaking for The Machinist.
"A couple of times," he added, "I'd be lying asleep and wake up and [my wife would] be quickly withdrawing her hand from in front of my mouth. She'd be checking that my breath was still coming out."
Nutritionists and doctors alike have said that this pattern of gaining and losing large amounts can be detrimental to one's health, and the prolifically adventurous actor now seems to be taking that into consideration.
"I worry about this becoming a regular conversation, because it isn't healthy for people to do that," Bale acknowledged to Yahoo! Entertainment in November. "And it becomes some kind of marker for commitment to your craft or whatever. I never viewed it as that. I just sort of went, 'Oh, I think I have to do this.'"
"I worry when it becomes a marker of, 'How committed are you to a role?' 'How much did you lose?' And eventually there will be some tragedy because of this. It should be an anomaly. You go for the essence of the character."
But it didn't hurt that Ken Miles in Ford vs. Ferrari was closer in size to Christian Bale (albeit reedier than the actor normally is) than some of those other characters.
"Everyone had told me it was career suicide, which really made me want to do it," Bale told MovieMaker about sinking his teeth into American Psycho. "And I guess I was a little bit disappointed that it didn't end up being career suicide. I kind of hoped that maybe that was it, and I'd have to find something else to go do… I'm perverse. They told me I shouldn't, so of course—that's human, isn't it?—you want to even more."
His dedication has never waned, whether he's bulking up, slimming down or just plain old disappearing into a role, as the best actors tend to do.
Next up, he may be getting into Batman-caliber shape again to go toe to toe with Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love and Thunder, though Bale's role is as cloaked in secrecy as the rest of the film's particulars. At least we know he's the guy to pull it off, whatever it is, and on whatever planet, in whichever universe, Marvel or otherwise.
(Originally published Jan. 2, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT; updated Dec. 3, 2019, at 9 a.m. PT)