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Christian Bale transformed his looks and mannerisms to portray Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. And although he was playing an American, he was told the fact that he was English would only benefit his character work.

How Christian Bale’s English background helped him with ‘American Psycho’

Christian Bale posing in a suit on the 'American Psycho' set.
Christian Bale | Eric Robert/Getty Images

Bale asserted he’d gotten the script while shooting another film, and was immediately drawn to the content.

“I was making Velvet Goldmine when I got the script, and just thought it was so well written with this amazing dialogue, and it was surprisingly funny. In the reviews of the book that I’d read, it was never mentioned that it was a satire,” Bale once told Dark Horizons.

It took a while before Bale could officially sign on for American Psycho, even though he was director Mary Harron’s first choice. At one point, there were other actors who were sought after for the coveted role, including Leonardo DiCaprio. After DiCaprio backed out, this paved the way for Bale to portray Patrick Bateman and for Harron to realize her full version.

But Bale confided that his English heritage may have also given him an edge over these other actors in a unique way.

“Mary thought that being English would be a real advantage for playing Bateman because she felt that I would understand the class system, which Americans just don’t. This guy, to me, seems to be the blueblood of America, really,” Bale said.

Bale also didn’t need to pull from his personal trauma to inform his American Psycho character. This further set him apart from other actors who were auditioning for the role.

“Mary met with a few American actors who were all about trying to find that really dark, nasty side to him, and bring it up from their childhood or whatever. The fact is, with Bateman, motivation is completely unnecessary,” he said.

Christian Bale found it challenging getting into character for ‘American Psycho’

Bale’s American Psycho character was unlike most roles the Oscar-winner played at the time. The fact that his Patrick Bateman wasn’t a very likable figure made him a tough nut to crack.

“Normally you try and find the real side to a character, the emotions, and there is none of that here; in Bateman it is entirely surface, even at times when he’s just on the phone. It’s almost like he’s TRYING to be emotional. I guess it’s like the fascination of people slowing down to look at a car crash,” Bale said.

The satirical nature of the film also presented a problem, especially since he couldn’t really relate to the Yuppie culture Patrick Bateman was a part of.

“I kept on thinking as I was doing it, that in order to play satire, you’ve got to half love what you ‘re satirizing.” he said. “I couldn’t understand the whole thing of them being like such macho guys, but at the same time really being bitchy, coupled with this incredible vanity.”

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Reinventing his image to look like Patrick Bateman made Bale better understand his character, which would later help nail his performance.

“So much of the portrayal actually came from that voice as well as his external being. After sitting in makeup and hair, putting the suit on, he sort of suddenly was created, which is exactly what HE does—he creates himself each morning,” Bale said.

Bale would visit Wall Street for further research and was surprised to see how accurate the film’s depiction of Yuppie culture was. Bale also underwent an intense training regimen to achieve Patrick Bateman’s muscular physique and joked about his experiences trying to get the character’s tan.

“I started going swimming on Sundays, and here was me, with this white English body, emerging with a stripy arse; not such a good look,” he said.