Christian Bale, Machinist, Vice

Annapurna Pictures, Paramount Classics, Getty Images

Christian Bale doesn't always transform for a role.

But when he does, he's unrecognizable.

The 45-year-old Welsh actor has lost and gained hundreds of pounds over the years, not including whatever he's done for roles that have called for a touch less meat on his frame—such as his latest, English sports car racer Ken Miles in Ford vs. Ferrari—or a tad more muscle.

So though it was Satan who Bale cheekily thanked when he won his second Golden Globe earlier this year for his uncanny portrayal of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice, he may have wanted to give a shout-out to devil's food.

"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 Nebraskan, who was 59 when he became VP—and who by some accounts pulled the most consequential strings in the Bush 43 White House.

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—or lose—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."

Christian Bale, Machinist

Paramount Classics

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—which hit theaters 15 years ago—to a soft 225 to play Cheney, with every form of musculature in between.

"Oh, I do a lot of coke whenever I lose weight," he cracked to Latino Review while promoting The Fighter, in which he played a former crack addict. "I'm not sure if it's so funny for this movie, to say that." 

While gearing up to play Cheney, he joked to Variety, "I've just been eating a lot of pies."

Here's how he really does it:

Velvet Goldmine, Christian Bale

Miramax Films

American Psycho, Christian Bale

Lionsgate Films

Christian Bale, Machinist

Paramount Classics

Batman Begins, Christian Bale, 2005

Warner Bros. Pictures

Rescue Dawn, Christian Bale


The Prestige, Christian Bale, Twins

Buena Vista Pictures

Christian Bale, I'm Not There

The Weinstein Company

Terminator Salvation, Christian Bale

Warner Bros.

Christian Bale, The Fighter

Paramount Pictures

American Hustle, Christian Bale

Sony Pictures

Exodus, Christian Bale

20th Century Fox

The Big Short, Christian Bale

Paramount Pictures

Christian Bale, Vice

Greig Fraser / Annapurna Pictures

Ford v. Ferrari, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe

Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

"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.

Ford v. Ferrari, Christian Bale, Matt Damon

Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

"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 was closer in size to Christian Bale than some of those other characters. Whether or not playing Dick Cheney was the coup de grâce to his extreme-transformation ways, we like him just the way he is.

(Originally published Jan. 2, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)

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