A CUT ABOVE
Christian Bale on Donald Trump’s ‘Dictatorship for Dummies’
The Oscar-winning actor opens up about his new period epic ‘The Promise,’ recognizing the Armenian genocide, and the importance of a free press.
Christian Bale’s feral intensity has been breathlessly documented in print, where agents provocateur have endeavored to summon his inner Dark Knight; on film, as the growling billionaire obscured by cape and cowl; and online, with his viral we’re fucking done professionally tongue-lashing tickling the masses. In order to secure his star-making role as a homicidal Wall Street banker in American Psycho, legend has it that Bale warned his competition off it—including his Velvet Goldmine co-star Ewan McGregor. But reputation and reality are often at odds, and so, entering a Manhattan hotel suite to interview Bale, I decided to take his temperature with a silly joke.
Hello, I’m from Breitbart News, I tell him.
He laughs. “Who’s that other dude? The one who started that whole pizza parlor thing? Something-ich?” While he isn’t on social media, the English actor is apparently aware of the (thoroughly debunked) Pizzagate conspiracy theory. “Mike Cernovich.” “Yeah, that’s it. Ugh,” utters Bale, rolling his eyes in disgust.
The 43-year-old is here in New York to promote The Promise, a sprawling historical epic set in the Ottoman Empire at the outset of World War I. Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), the film depicts a love triangle between an American AP reporter (Bale), an Armenian medical student (Oscar Isaac), and a French-educated Armenian beauty (Charlotte Le Bon) during the Armenian genocide—the Ottoman government’s systemic extermination of 1.5 million Armenian people. The $100 million film, the first big Hollywood production about the Armenian genocide, was financed by Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian billionaire who passed away two months prior to filming. And 100 percent of its theatrical proceeds will go towards Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Enough Project, and The Sentry.
That it’s taken a century for the Armenian genocide to receive the proper silver-screen treatment should come as little surprise, given that Turkey—to this day—not only refuses to acknowledge the genocide, but has waged a decades-long disinformation campaign that has all but erased the tragedy from the history books.Bale—who is nothing short of charming, by the way—spoke to The Daily Beast about the film and much more.
There are some films you make that are purely for entertainment, but this is an important film that needed to get made, and took a century to get made.
Christian Bale: I usually hate those words about film—“important,” “needed”—it feels way too precious, doesn’t it? And actually, regardless of the content, you must make films engaging first and foremost, otherwise go make a documentary (and I love watching documentaries). But this film particularly has had so many attempts made to make it, and it’s been thwarted again and again.
By the Turkish government. Yes. And with the business value of Turkey, in terms of the movie studios, and the strategic value in terms of the U.S. itself, there’s been a hundred years of managing to really silence the facts about the genocide.
Obama delivered a famous speech as a senator in 2008 where he said, “The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence… as president I will recognize the Armenian genocide.” Then he refused to call it “genocide” while president.
He used the word “genocide” then, and I believe he said he would when he was president, but then he did not. But you are starting to get more world leaders calling it for what it is. You have the pope using that term.
Kim Kardashian—another world leader.
[Laughs] The thing that stunned me, first off, was my total ignorance about this subject, and then the altruism—two different instances of it. During the genocide, there was an enormous outpouring of compassion for Armenians from the American public. You had actors like Jackie Coogan doing national tours trying to get people to donate, and The New York Times did article after article about it.In spite of the fact that you had so much knowledge of these atrocities, you had the biggest international relief effort ever at that time—the money donated would be equivalent to billions nowadays—and yet still, when it came to actually deciding the future of the Armenian people, that all got pushed to the side in the interest of the massive resources of the Ottoman Empire, and everybody seemed to turn a blind eye. So the enormous question is: Could these other genocides have been prevented if there had been appropriate consequences for the Armenian genocide?And appropriate acknowledgement, too. If you look at Germany, it took full responsibility for the Holocaust—admitted it, absorbed it, learned from it—and now it’s one of the most progressive countries in the West. That has not happened in Turkey, which may in part explain the current state of Turkey.
Right, with the referendum. And you’re going from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to the birth of the nation of Turkey, and you had this great Turkish nationalism at the time. The documentation [of the genocide] was there because, prior to the U.S. entering into the war, U.S. missionaries were all there documenting the accounts of the genocide. But nobody knows about it. That’s the stunning thing to me: the way history can just be pushed away. We’ve all got our lives, we’ve all got the shit that we’re dealing with each and every day, and most of the time we either don’t have time, or are completely unaware.
When you look at the current climate, where people are questioning facts, it seems more important than ever to acknowledge the horrors of the past.
Right! We’re living in the post-truth era.
We even recently had French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen attempt to deny that the French were involved in the Vel d’Hiv roundup, where 13,000 Jews were arrested by Paris police and then sent off to concentration camps.
Wow, I didn’t know she did that. People are questioning facts, which is nuts. I liken it to the “debate” on climate change. There’s no debate! The science is settled. But people continue to do this smokescreen and pretend that there’s a debate, you know? And I think the Armenian genocide is the same in that there is no debate. The evidence is in. And hopefully what is needed is not more hostility—it’s healing, it’s help, and of course there’s the complication of reparations and the desire not to admit that your country is born out of one of the worst atrocities known to mankind.
You play an AP reporter in the film, and it really speaks to the importance of the freedom of the press amid dire circumstances.
Well, [the U.S. presidential election] was happening as we were filming. We shot this toward the end of 2015, so that was happening and then becoming more and more relevant.
There’s also what’s happening in Russia right now where anyone who speaks out against Putin is killed or disappeared. In all these tyrannical dictatorships, the first thing that seems to go is freedom of the press.
Which is worrying, isn’t it, for us right now? It’s like we’re watching somebody reading a Dictatorship for Dummies book.
Newspapers are still doing a fine job but cable news, in particular, has polluted the media and people’s perception of the media—and confused a lot of people—because it’s now all opinion, and banter, and this ideological struggle between two opposing worldviews.
It’s all opinion. But the silver lining is what? I remember prior to the election I thought it was batshit crazy that people would talk about how there’ll be “a revolution in appreciation of what we have and not taking it for granted,” and you think no way in hell. But we’re here, and you think, well OK, that’s your best bet, isn’t it? So the hope is that journalism becomes more exceptional than it has been in decades, and that we start to recognize and treasure it—to treasure so many different things.
Journalism is supposed to have a contentious relationship to those in power, and it seemed for a while, with the Iraq War in particular, major news outlets—including The New York Times—were holding water for the government and regurgitating the government line instead of holding people’s feet to the fire. Yes. There have always been people doing that, but it just seems like there’s been a confusion of entertainment and news, and the desire for ratings, etc. has created this idea of “questionable truths” and “alternative facts.” I mean, my god.
There’s this troubling belief in “feelings” over “facts.” You saw that during the election, where people would say, “I feel like America isn’t doing so well,” then they’d be presented with facts to the contrary and brush them off.
That is a dangerous thing. The statement of: It doesn’t matter, I feel it so it must be. That’s fucking dangerous.
Now, I gotta ask you about the Dick Cheney movie, because I really enjoyed The Big Short and it seems like you and Adam McKay have a special thing going. Are you going to put on 50 pounds for this? Pile on the prosthetics? Well, we’re very early days. I’m sure, since you appreciate Adam, you can see this will be a very unusual film. I don’t know if I would have considered this at all if it was with any other director, but you saw what he did with The Big Short. If there’s anyone that’s going to make it, he’s the guy to make it.
Because the synopsis describes the film as confronting the hypocrisy of Cheney dodging Vietnam with five deferments only to later be gung-ho on the invasion of Iraq.
Let me for now remain silent on that. We are early days; we are in process.
It’s rumored that Amy Adams [as Lynne Cheney] and Steve Carell [as Donald Rumsfeld] might be joining you. Is that true? Umm… I do hope so, yeah. Nothing’s definite, but I would love it if that were possible.
With The Promise—a big Hollywood production about the Armenian Genocide—finally coming out, what do you hope audiences take from this? And are there also plans to try to somehow get the film into Turkey? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I don’t know if that is going to be possible, but of course, I would love to hear that that was possible. But conversation, education, and hopefully compassion, which can become practical in terms of looking at the refugee crisis nowadays.
Without giving the ending away, there’s a scene on boats where your and Oscar’s characters are rescuing drowning children that bears a striking similarity to many of the images we’ve seen emerge from the Syrian refugee crisis. Yeah. And we were shooting it at the same time. And we’re talking about the same area. Aleppo is full of bones from the Armenian death marches in that poor area—the atrocities they’ve had to go through, and are still going through. The philanthropy behind the fact of survival, and that 100 percent of the proceeds are going to various charities. Those charities are: The Enough Project, Sentry, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. I’ve never heard of any film giving 100 percent of proceeds to charities, and these charities are involved in human rights’ abuses, with refugee crises, and with holding people accountable for genocidal activity—which we’re seeing in the South Sudan right now. Oscar [Isaac] has Guatemalan origins, so what happened in Guatemala, 1930s Ukraine, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda—might it have been that these could have been prevented? We don’t know. But certainly the only thing we can do is have compassion, educate ourselves, talk about it, and get leaders who share those values.