Anderson Shares the Skinny on "Machinist"
TORONTO--Director Brad Anderson knows what people want to find out after they see The Machinist. The question everyone can't help asking: Christian Bale lost how much weight to play this part?
"When Christian got onboard, we never discussed explicitly how much weight he would lose," Anderson says in a room at the Hotel InterContinental, the day after his film's Canadian premiere at September's Toronto International Film Festival. "It was just understood he would lose some weight, and he ended up losing, like, 60 pounds or something. And from my perspective as the director, it was great. He's written in the screenplay as a walking skeleton. That's how he's described. And it's like you've gotta either get the CGI effects out, or the actor's really got to go on a starvation diet or something."
The former American Psycho and the next Batman opted for the starvation diet, living off tuna and water and dropping 29 kilograms from his regular weight of 82. "There was very little concern that he was going to drop dead on the set or anything," Anderson recalls. "His wife was with him, and she was kind of monitoring the situation to a degree. And I think Christian knows his limitations. He's not going to push himself...to the point where he's going to collapse or something. But it's not a movie where he's doing a lot of calisthenics and jumping off a building and racing cars. I mean, there's a little of that, but there weren't a lot of scenes where he had to be really that physical."
Normally when actors risk their health to completely transform themselves for a part, it's for the type of once-in-a-lifetime role that has Oscar bait written all over it. But this isn't an earnest social drama or a historical epic, and Bale's not playing a Holocaust victim, a junkie, or even a prostitute with a heart of gold. The film (which opens in Vancouver on Friday [November 19]) is a thriller, and he portrays a machinist with chronic insomnia. Jennifer Jason Leigh, however, does costar as a prostitute with a heart of gold.
Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland) doesn't argue with the classification of the movie as a thriller, but he hopes it transcends its genre. "There's some thrills in it--we occasionally bend over for the thriller formula--but at the same time I think it's more than that. I think of the movie as kind of like a character study. It has some genre elements, but it's not a movie that could be easily thrown in the bin next to the last Renny Harlin film....It's a hard movie to kind of sum up in a line. And those are kind of my favourite types of stories. The ones that aren't easily categorizable."
It's so tough to categorize that Anderson couldn't find financing in North America. "Producers were put off by the dark story and the ambiguity that might exist in the story--so we had to go to Europe, which was fine. I had no problem with that, because I had more creative control over it than I probably would have had if I'd made it in New York or L.A. or even here in Toronto."
Anderson had never directed a movie he hadn't written, but when he read this script by Scott Kosar (who also wrote the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) it just "popped" for him. "First of all, it's so well-written, and secondly, the themes and the ideas that were conveyed in the story are ones that are kind of timeless. It read to me almost like a parable. And I wanted to capture in the movie the same kind of timelessness of a parable or a morality tale: you can't run from your own guilty conscience. It'll come and get you in the end."
Anderson says he found it liberating to direct a movie he hadn't written, but he balks at the term director, preferring filmmaker because he feels Hollywood directors tend to be hired guns, while his projects are his own. "For me--even with The Machinist--they've all been total labours of love, and I wear a lot of hats. I'm involved with all aspects of the process," he explains. "So a filmmaker is, in my mind, a more appropriate description."
One thing Anderson particularly loved about the script was its twisted plot. "It's one of those movies that has a big epiphany at the end. It's like with The Sixth Sense. If you know he's dead, you're kinda fucked," he says. "I hope it's one of those movies like Memento or whatever that urges you to come and see it again and try to fill in the missing pieces."