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Film: INTERVIEW Christian Bale - A MAN OF SKIN AND BONE; HOW CHRISTIAN BALE BECAME A SKELETON FOR HIS NEW ROLE.

Byline: LIESE SPENCER

To his admiring legions of female fans, hunky Christian Bale is one of the sexiest men in Hollywood. But they will be stunned by his shocking appearance in his latest film, the creepy psychological thriller The Machinist. That's if they recognise him at all.

In order to play a haunted factory worker, Bale shed one-third of his body weight - around 63lbs. In the film, his vertebrae jut out sickeningly and, in profile, his rounded shoulders and concave stomach turn his body into a walking question mark. So wasn't he worried that he was harming himself by adopting such severe tactics?

"Not at all," smiles the Welsh 31-year-old. "I knew I looked skinny and it was a weird feeling, because you're disconnecting from this thing down below you. But I knew I could stop whenever I wanted."

Christian spends most of The Machinist naked from the waist up and the director, Brad Anderson, admits he insisted Bale kept his shirt off. But sitting in a London hotel a year later tucking into a big plate of curry, the actor recalls his starvation diet in which he made an apple and a cup of skinny latte last all day.

"There's an initial irritability because of the restraint you're putting on yourself," he says. "That's very difficult because you're still used to seeing friends for dinner and going out, and everything being about food and drink.

"In the end, I had to stop going out. I realised that it wasn't going to work. I'd do a week of eating hardly anything and losing 5lbs and then I'd put on 7lbs bingeing one night because I'd have a couple of drinks. So I decided no more social life, no more friends, no more dinners, no more drinks."

As he withdrew from the world, the process became easier.

"I guess it's the stomach shrinking," Christian continues. "Once I stopped running to lose weight - my legs got too feeble - I just sat for hours without moving. I began to enjoy the mental state I was in, because as my weight got lower the moods just disappeared."

Bale refused to let a doctor monitor his crash diet, choosing instead to dose himself up with vitamins. "I always felt in control," he shrugs. "Anyway, what doctor's gonna tell me to keep going? I knew if I went to see one I would be scared into not going as far as I wanted."

His wife, ex-model and film producer Sibi Blazic, was more concerned. "She had doubts about whether I was really telling her the truth, or pushing it a bit far and risking permanent damage," Bale admits. Some nights she'd put a hand on his ribcage to check he was still breathing.

It must all seem a long way from the glamorous Captain Corelli shoot when he commuted to the Greek island of Kefalonia in his own private jet. "I've no idea where that story came from," laughs Bale. "Actually, Nic Cage had a jet. And I joked to somebody that I had one as well, but it wasn't true. There's no way in hell I could afford a private jet. I mean, c'mon!"

Christian might not yet have joined the Hollywood jet set, but having landed the role as the new Batman - his debut, Batman Begins, is currently in post-production - it can only be a matter of time.

Like many child actors, Bale began his screen career playing cute moppets in TV ads. Then, when he was 13, Steven Spielberg chose him from 4,000 other boys to star in 1987's Empire Of The Sun. His next big break didn't come until Winona Ryder hand-picked him to play her suitor in Little Women in 1994. As well as re-introducing Bale to Hollywood as a grown-up, the shoot introduced him to Blazic, then Ryder's personal assistant. The couple married in Las Vegas in January 2000.

Out in California, Christian says he misses English humour and newspapers, but not the standard of service. "I often get into arguments when I first get back to England," he grumbles, "because I've gotten used to America and I think, 'Why do these people have chips on their shoulders? Why are they giving me this attitude?'"

With the new Batman movie in the can, however, Bale can afford to relax a bit, although he currently looks more like a heavy metal roadie than the Caped Crusader. "I know. It's a bit Def Leppard isn't it?" he laughs, brushing back his long hair. "I'm working on a Terrence Malick film called The New World about British explorers in America."

And, having polished off his curry, the ever-restless Bale pushes his knife and fork together and prepares to head off for some more exploring of his own.

l The Machinist is released today.

THE CHRISTIAN BALE DIET

"Firstly, you just drink a lot of water because it makes you feel full. Then you do substitution: when you feel hungry, go and read instead. Or draw. Things that kill time."

BREAKFAST: One non-fat latte (sipped throughout the day).

MID-MORNING SNACK: Stick of chewing gum.

LUNCH: Salad leaves and vitamin pills.

TEA: A cigarette.

DINNER: One apple.

LATE NIGHT SNACK: Double whisky.

NB. Don't try this at home!

CAPTION(S):

EMACIATED: Bale after he shed 63lbs; HEALTHY: How Christian normally looks; DEBUT: Empire Of The Sun with Malkovich; AXEMAN: American Psycho; AGENT: The Equilibrium; COUPLE: Christian and Sibi; STICK THIN: Bale in The Machinist
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 18, 2005
Words:910
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