The Truth Behind Christian Bale's Insane Body Transformations

When the topic of method acting comes up, one name that will always be dropped into the conversation is Christian Bale. The Oscar-winning Brit broke onto the scene as a child after Steven Spielberg cast him in his 80's war epic Empire of the Sun, and the veteran director has taken great pride in watching his young star grow as an actor in the years since. "Nothing Christian Bale does has ever failed to impress me," Spielberg said (via the Daily Mail). "He is fearless and he was fearless when he was 12 years old."

What sets Bale apart from most other A-listers is his willingness to put his body through extreme changes in preparation for a role, something he has done on multiple occasions over the course of varied and extremely unpredictable career. This is an actor capable of going from frighteningly skinny to super jacked in a matter of months, but how exactly does he do it? Let's take a closer look at the truth behind Christian Bale's insane body transformations and the toll it's taking on his body.

American Psycho (2000)

Bale already had 20 film and TV credits to his name by the time he was cast as the super-jacked (and super-deranged) Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, but it was this role that would bring him his first taste of real critical acclaim. His performance as the Wall Street serial killer was described as a "tour-de-force" by The New York Times, but Bale's ripped body stood out just as much as his fine acting. Of all the movies he has had to get super pumped for, Bale called American Psycho the "most restrictive" in terms of what he could and couldn't eat.

"There were no cheat meals," he told Train magazine years later. "It was all lean protein. No sugars, good fats and low carbs." Bale also admitted that getting into shape for the film proved even harder than bulking up to play The Caped Crusader in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. "Playing Batman and my other physical roles while I was very dedicated to my diet wasn't as severe. With Batman my goal was to be lean, yet have a muscular physique, but not as lean as I was in American Psycho."

The Machinist (2004)

In what would be remembered as one of the most dramatic instances of role-related weight loss in Hollywood history, Bale shed over 60 pounds (33 percent of his body weight) in just four months in order to play emaciated insomniac Trevor Reznik in psychological thriller The Machinist. The actor admitted during an interview with BBC Wales that he hadn't worked in a while when the script landed on his desk, and once he'd read it he knew he wanted the role. The only way to make that happen was to literally starve himself, reportedly living on a diet of a single can of tuna and an apple per day.

"It just didn't enter my head that it could be done any other way, really," he told the BBC. "I just realized, 'Okay, I have to lose weight.' I just had no idea how much I would have to lose in order to get the look that I was searching for." In the end, he went against the advice of medical professionals, putting himself in danger for the sake his art. "I had been to a nutritionist and when I had got down to what she had told me was a healthy weight, I just went, 'You know what? I can go more than this. I can keep going.' So I lost another 20 pounds below what she said I should stop at."

Batman Begins (2005)

When The Machinist wrapped, Bale only had six months to transform himself from a bag of bones to a beefed up superhero. Anyone watching The Machinist at the time of release would have likely laughed you out of the room had you said that this guy would be the next Batman, but the dedicated actor proved he was more than up for the challenge. "Actually, I gained too much weight in the run up to Batman Begins," Bale revealed. "I wasn't the size that Christopher Nolan wanted, so I had to cut down 20 pounds or so just before shooting — I was a lot beefier at first."

So how on earth did Bale achieve this dramatic change in such of short space of time? "It took me a while to even be able to work out properly after The Machinist," he admitted. "At first it was slow progress exercise wise. I didn't start running until a few weeks after I got my weight back up." Once he was stable enough to hit the gym properly, it was full steam ahead. "I would do splits — every day focusing on a different muscle group. I would do three sets of 10 to eight, depending on what I was working on. Usually, the last set was a little lower rep-wise because I'd want to be struggling, you know? Then I'd always shock my body with drop-sets and super-sets."

Rescue Dawn (2006)

After making a hugely successful start to his tenure as Bruce Wayne in 2005, Bale was cast in veteran director Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn, a biopic following the extraordinary military career of Dieter Dengler. This German-born pilot fought for the United States during the Vietnam War, and when flying over neighboring Laos on a secret mission to disrupt enemy supply lines he was shot down. After six months of wasting away in inhuman conditions as a POW, he made his escape from the camp and became the longest-held U.S. prisoner to escape captivity during the conflict.

"Dieter weighed 98 pounds," Bruce Henderson, a weatherman on the aircraft carrier that the rescued soldier was transported to, told SF Gate. "He couldn't stand, and yet he had the biggest smile on his face and tears of joy." Herzog revealed during an interview with Rotten Tomatoes that he cast Bale because of his ability to seemingly shapeshift between body types. "What we did was significant and visible for an audience, so that by the end of the film he has quite visibly lost some weight," the German filmmaker said.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Due to the success of the first film, Warner Bros. decided to give Bale and director Christopher Nolan more leeway when it came to Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight, as the star man explained to GQ. "This time around, Chris and I were allowed to spread our creative wings a little more," he said. "Before we were involved, the Batman franchise had gone to pot — everyone knows that." The studio knew that too, so when Bale told them that he was following up the first movie with another role that involved weight loss, they must have been pretty nervous.

Luckily for them, Herzog decided that it would be most practical to shoot Rescue Dawn in reverse chronological order. "Christian has been such a disciplined man," the director said. "It takes you five or six months to lose weight but you gain it back in two or four weeks. We could have done it the other way around, but then we would have needed five or six months of shooting, and we only had 44 days." This gave Bale a head start in his race to get back into Batman shape, and that extra time (coupled with this insane workout schedule) meant he was back to his beefy best for The Dark Knight.

The Fighter (2010)

After The Dark Knight, Bale once again chose a role that required him to drastically alter his body type, taking on the part of real-life boxer Dicky Eklund in David O. Russell's The Fighter. Eklund (who once fought the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard) is the half brother of former WBU World Champion Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and worked as his sibling's trainer when he wasn't struggling with his addiction to crack cocaine. While a clear pattern of stacked to skinny seemed to be emerging at this point, Bale actually told MTV that he didn't go out of his way to find such a role.

"I didn't take this job because I went, 'Oh, there's a physical transformation needed.' I always go, 'Damn! There's a physical transformation needed!'" he said. "I just liked the character and then realized, 'Oh, crap, he's a welterweight, I'm a good 60 pounds heavier than a welterweight.'" Knowing that he would still need to get in the ring in some capacity for the role, Bale (who wound up bagging his first and only Oscar win for his portrayal of Eklund) was reluctant to go to Machinist-length weight loss. "If I went too far, I'd be able to play the crackhead side, but then after jail, he got clean mentally and physically, and he's always wiry, he's always lean."

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

When the first pictures of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises began to surface, Batman fans started to wonder why he wasn't looking quite as stacked as he had been in the previous two movies. Rumors that Bale's chameleon-like ability to adapt his body shape had failed him started to swirl, but his toned-down physique (which was still pretty impressive to us non-Hollywood folk) was actually by design rather than failure. The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and in that time Bruce Wayne has taken a step back from Bat-duties and stopped training like a maniac. The result is a lean, but not overly powerful looking Bale, which rings true with the in-movie universe.

It was Bale's opposite cast member Tom Hardy that drew attention for his huge gains this time around, with the Bane actor piling on the muscle for the part to the detriment of his long-term health. "Compared to Christian Bale I've been by no means extreme in my body changes, but for what little I've done, yeah, I certainly have joints that click that probably shouldn't click, you know what I mean?" he told The Daily Beast. "And carrying my children is a little bit harder than it used to be — but don't tell them!"

American Hustle (2013)

In 2013 Bale reunited with director David O. Russell for his black-comedy crime caper American Hustle, putting in a Oscar-nominated performance as pot-bellied con artist Irving Rosenfeld. The character was based on real-life crook Mel Weinberg, who made a ton of cash through a series of fraudulent insurance claims and various other investment scams before the FBI finally caught up with him and enlisted him into their service. To match Weinberg's portly appearance, Bale simply sat around eating all day, though binge eating for months on end isn't quite as simple as it sounds.

"It's easy to start with," he explained in an interview with ABC. "You're just sitting on your butt and you're eating lots of doughnuts and eating bread and everything like that. But you do it for two months and your body starts to rebel against you, it's just saying, 'No, please,' and your back is aching and there's also some problems with that. And then you've got to lose the weight at the end of it, you know? I wish it was simple."

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Lose the weight he did, and in its place Bale packed on some slabs of muscle for Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film bombed domestically and was slaughtered by critics (it has the unfortunate accolade of being Bale's worst-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes), with many accusing the production of blatant whitewashing. "I don't think fingers should be pointed, but we should all look at ourselves and say, 'Are we supporting wonderful actors in films by north African and Middle Eastern film-makers and actors,'" Bale said after director Ridley Scott came under fire for comments he made in defense of the film.

Skin color aside, Bale looked the part as Moses, training away the gut he sported in American Hustle with a cardio-heavy workout schedule. "To quickly get back to his regular weight and size, Bale followed a strict workout routine — in addition to a strict diet — in order to play the role," Health Fitness Revolution reported. "Much of Bale's routine consisted of cardio exercise, such as swimming and running, as well as power weight lifting activities like jump squats, power cleans, explosive bench press and high pulls."

Backseat (TBD)

Bale's recent casting as former Vice President Dick Cheney came as something of a surprise, but as history has shown, this is an actor capable of making just about any role his own. The methodical star will reunite with his colleagues from Oscar winning financial dramedy The Big Short, with Adam McKay directing and Steve Carell co-starring as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. A near unrecognizable Bale sat down with Variety to discuss his physical transformation into Cheney, which thus far has entailed beaching his eyebrows and chowing down on an age-old waist-widener: "I've just been eating lots of pies," he said.

According to Cinema Blend, he packed on roughly 50 pounds to play the part of George W. Bush's powerful vice president. Cheney served under Bush between 2001 and 2009 and played a huge part in shaping U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Bale, now in his forties, physically manipulating his physical wellbeing for a role — something that's become is calling card — may not be sustainable anymore. "I can't keep doing it," he told the Sunday Times (via Cinema Blend). "I really can't. My mortality is staring me in the face."