Christian Bale Tries To Push The Limits Of What Stunts Are Considered 'Safe'

Did you know that was really Christian Bale standing on top of Chicago's Sears Tower in "The Dark Knight"? The actor had no qualms about standing solo atop the 1,450-foot skyscraper in his second outing as Batman. He told CBS News he felt comfortable up there and that he didn't want to let any stuntman have the privilege of being "one hundred and ten stories up looking over the edge straight down on the street."

The famously committed star has been comfortable performing all-manner of outlandish on-screen acts since the start of his career, even things he considers more dangerous than his Sears Tower moment. Before even his Batman fame, Bale was out there impressing (and likely disturbing) people with his commitment to character. As was the case with Werner Herzog's 2006 Vietnam-era drama "Rescue Dawn" — a dramatized version of American POW Dieter Dengler's story of being shot down and attempting to survive in the jungles of Laos.

At the time, a story did the rounds of how Bale, and even his director, actually ate maggots and a snake for the movie. Evidently, it wasn't that big a deal for the actor, who spoke to Entertainment Weekly at the time about wanting to push the limits of what was considered safe on the set of the movie.

'I always push it'

When he's not gaining or losing a ridiculous amount of weight for his upcoming roles, it seems Bale is focused on pushing things as far as he can when it comes to stunts. The recent star of "Amsterdam" spoke about his unusual taste for doing things that make others uncomfortable, saying that when "other people are thinking something is ridiculous or impossible, then I start enjoy myself."

The scene in "Rescue Dawn" where Bale eats a snake is a good example. According to the actor, the local children in the jungles of Thailand, where the film was shot, ate snakes regularly, prompting Bale to similarly think nothing of it, even if his co-stars weren't as enthusiastic. But it was the scene where he's being dragged by a water buffalo that really demonstrated the actor's desire to push the envelope when it came to stunt work.

Talking about the inherent danger involved with that scene, in particular, he said:

"I didn't get onto this movie to have people do everything. Of course, there are moments where professionals are telling me that it really is hazardous and it's going to stop filming. So in those moments I'll say, 'Okay.' But with almost everything, I always push it just to see if they're being too safe."

Apparently, it takes a crew of people telling Bale to stand down before he'll actually let a stuntman take over — at least that was the case in the early 2000s.

A career-long commitment

These days, Bale, who also at one time fought Liam Neeson on a frozen lake, might be more amenable to allowing trained professionals to take his place. The 48-year-old has more than proven himself at this point, and even spoke to GQ in 2019 about how it feels to maintain physical fitness at his age, saying that "at 45 you go, 'What am I still doing this sh*t for?'" In fact, the actor cites seeing a stuntman in his sixties having to repeatedly fall off a horse and land on his head as making him think twice about his enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. As he said in the interview: "With all due respect to the man, I don't want to be doing that sort of thing when I'm in my sixties"

The actor, who gained himself a herniated disc during a fight with Tom Hardy on "The Dark Knight Rises," certainly isn't as interested in pushing the limits of stunt work these days. But his career-long commitment to doing just that seems to be an extension of his general commitment to acting. The man who became unrecognizable as himself for the role of Dick Cheney in "Vice" is clearly a driven actor.

However, it seems that some things were beyond him, even back in the "Rescue Dawn" days. In a New Yorker article, Bale recounts having to snap at Herzog for pushing him a little too far with a dangerous helicopter stunt that could have injured the actor. As he remembers it, he had to tell the director "I am not going to feckin' die for you, Werner" before Herzog relented.