When Robert DeNiro piled on the pounds for Martin Scorsese for “Raging Bull,” it was called “genius.” These days when celebrities fluctuate their weight, it’s called a poor substitute for acting talent — most of the time anyway. But Christian Bale (“American Psycho”) brings art-dieting to a new high (low?) with his astounding 63-pound weight loss for director Brad Anderson in the psychological thriller “The Machinist.” And though Bale has received praise for his harrowing performance and reckless disregard for mortality, it is Anderson who has perhaps given the most for his art. Anderson sat down with The Michigan Daily to discuss his new film and his directorial style.
Breaking onto the film scene in 1996 with the low-budget independent release “The Darien Gap,” which he wrote and directed, Anderson went on to serve double-duty again in “Next Stop Wonderland,” “Happy Accidents” and “Session 9.” “The Machinist” marks his first time directing a film script he didn’t write, a prospect, he said, that did not worry him. “I was seeking a script I could direct,” he said. “I really loved it. It was really creepy and really intriguing.”
There’s one thing “The Machinist” does have in common with all of Anderson’s other films: It’s not financed by a major studio. Anderson’s open and friendly demeanor turns chilly when it comes to dealing with big studio projects. “We didn’t test screen,” he said with disgust. “It kills the creative, artistic vision.” He proceeded on a short rant about the pathetic, angry film students purportedly making up the audience of such screenings before regaining his cool. If people don’t like his films, he said nonchalantly, that’s fine. But ultimately he feels responsibility only to his own vision.
Anderson would also appreciate if the comparisons to contemporary Hollywood films would stop. He shied away from noting likenesses to 1999’s “Fight Club,” saying “the intention with this film is to be more character-driven than straight-up Hollywood films.” He sees “The Machinist” more in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski, adding “they were masters.” Anderson is loath to classify his film into any of the conventional genres. While admitting it shares many aspects of traditional horror films, he insisted “that gives the wrong impression,” and groping for description, offered, “I’d call it more of a psychological mystery.”
And while this means that Anderson is about as lousy a Hollywood pitchman as they come, it makes the warmth he effuses for his talented cast radiate all the more genuinely. “I always wanted to work with Jennifer (Jason Leigh)” he said before hailing her performance as the street-wise prostitute who shares a special bond with Bale’s character. Anderson joked about supporting actor Mike Ironside and his propensity to lose limbs in films, laughing, “He probably looked at the script (in which he loses his arm) and said, ‘I’ll take it.’ ” Anderson also praised Bale for going above and beyond the call of duty in the 6-foot actor’s descent to 130 pounds. He joked that although there was no doctor on set, “there probably should have been.”
Anderson noted several times that “The Machinist” was shot in Barcelona and financed by Spanish investors, rather than American studios. While he struggled for years to find money free from the profit-minded studio system he despises, he is clearly happy with the ultimate freedom the choice provided him. And when talk turns to his upcoming projects, Anderson is full of spirited realism. Willing to accept that some ideas fall through, he is nonetheless determinedly and decidedly resolute when it comes to his artistic integrity. “I’m not going to compromise the vision I have just to get it through,” he said.