In the battle between beauty and the geek, chalk one up for the geek. They proved themselves to be the most dedicated at Tuesday’s Times Talk with Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan. The audience for the long ago sold-out discussion on The Dark Knight was comprised roughly equally of ComiCon-worthy nerds and well-dressed professional women and gays. However, with the exception of one comic-loving and intensely nervous girl, it was all male Batman diehards who lined up when the audience was invited to ask questions.
Bale and Nolan entered the small auditorium to wild applause from both sets. Former New York Times chief television critic Caryn James—looking every bit the 1950s housewife in a bold black-and-white polka dot cocktail dress and sky-high heels—moderated the event. At first, Bale was barely comprehensible; his speech comprised of just as many “ums” and pauses as words and sentences. He clearly did not want to be sitting in front of an enthralled New York audience after having just been at the premiere the night before. Twice entirely covering his face with his hand while answering, Bale’s posture simply shouted “I’m here because it’s in my contract.” Once warmed up, though, the actor doled out smiles in the way that God assigns rainbows.
Nolan, decidedly better-spoken, addressed James’ questions thoughtfully and relatively comprehensively. But the truly penetrating questions, along with heartfelt thanks for bringing Batman back “the way it should be,” came from the Teva-clad, pale and be-glassed audience.
“What advice would you give a young, aspiring director?” one delightful dork asked. Nolan pointed out that before filming began for Insomnia, he would chat with Al Pacino at length about Pacino’s character. Once on the set though, Pacino actually turned to him with surprise and said, “Oh, you actually meant all of that?” As a result, Nolan advised the young film jockey to not get “too far up your ass” while talking in pre-production and then, when filming, to try and stick to what was said. Looking dapper and elegantly accented, Nolan was clearly an exceptionally talented director at the top of his game.
Somewhere in the midst of queries about Batman mythos and viral marketing campaigns, Bale leaned forward to reveal a hint of "Manderson" Cooper-worthy bulging biceps underneath long-sleeves. James lobbed a question his way about whether he worries about being taken seriously as an actor when choosing his roles. After a thoughtful pause, Bale exhaled slowly and noted that his job is really not one of the more serious ones in the world. Hot yet humble! the audience must have thought with collective laugher. Bale went on to gracefully admit that the only films he didn’t enjoy and wouldn’t act in were romantic comedies, a term he found to be oxymoronic. Furthermore, he chose his roles because he felt they had merit, so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. A rebel, too!
Nolan and Bale also fielded several questions about the Heath Ledger tragedy. Bale’s answer to a softball question was defensively on-script—the idea that Ledger enjoyed filming The Dark Knight was made very apparent. Nolan recalled that Ledger had called him to say that he’d been studying ventriloquists and dummies in order to devise a voice for the Joker. Nolan admitted to humoring Ledger at the time, but once in production, the director was impressed when the voice devised by the actor was so singular no one on set could mimic it.
The discussion ranged from the Bruce Wayne-Harvey Dent relationship to the replacement of Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhall (both actor and director almost burst out in laugher). For the Bale-centric crowd, though, the message was clear. Throughout the discussion, the actor’s wedding ring gleamed with supernatural force. As one participant noted, “It was so shiny it felt like it was burning a hole in my eyes . . . and my soul.”