Chances are most of us have fantasized about meeting our favorite celebrity at one point or another. Unfortunately, few of us ever get the opportunity to rub elbows, or even glimpse from afar, the striking talents Hollywood has to offer. One of the few exceptions to this rule is Harrison Cheung, who not only met his idol — the notoriously private and hot-headed Christian Bale — but spearheaded Bale’s grassroots internet marketing campaign and acted as his live-in personal assistant for nearly a decade.
Sounds like a dream come true, right?
Not so fast. After reading Cheung’s biography of the Welsh actor, Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, many readers will wonder why Cheung stayed so loyal to the often unreasonable and child-like Bale for so long.
The book, written with veteran entertainment reporter Nicola Pittam, spans the last 30 or so years, briefly covering Christian’s nomadic upbringing and then chronicling his journey from child actor to his current position on Hollywood’s A-List. The actor's film is premiering Fri., July 19 (see our review in the Movies section.)
As a former insider, Cheung emphasizes his experience with Bale and his family, as well as his efforts promoting Christian and his films on the internet, which at the time was an untapped and underestimated marketing resource. However, Cheung’s time with the Bales spans only from approximately 1992 to 2002, meaning the large chunk of book covering the last 10 years — arguably Bale’s most active and successful period — lacks Cheung’s perspective as a friend and (unpaid, as it turns out) employee, which is a substantial draw of this particular biography.
Despite the stars in his eyes early on, Cheung’s overall depiction of Bale is decidedly negative as he describes the antisocial, impolite, immature and entitled attitude of the former child actor.
Describing Bale as favored and coddled by his father, David Bale, Cheung details Christian’s total lack of domestic self sufficiency and “tantrums, which had become the soundtrack to our lives.” Of course, given the relatively recent incidents on the set of Terminator Salvation and before The Dark Knight London premiere, the fact that Christian has an explosive temper comes as no surprise.
The fact, however, that even as an adult Christian couldn’t (or wouldn’t) prepare his own food, clean up after himself, or do his own laundry, is staggering.
Perhaps even more astounding is the depiction of David Bale, Christian’s father, whose role in Christian’s life (and the biography) was overwhelming. Early in the biography Cheung describes David as “a walking contradiction” obsessed with his son’s career. David attempted to control all aspects of his son’s life, from his image to the films he chose to the women he dated (preferably none at all, it seems). The pinnacle of this obsession rears its horrifying head when Cheung describes how David would search Christian’s room while he was out, “looking for any telltale signs that his son was unhappy, using drugs, or masturbating excessively (he didn’t wear the glove, by the way).” The only thing more appalling than this, arguably, is the macabre and grimy state of Christian’s room, which featured “a menagerie of what appeared to be assorted animal fetuses in jars.”
In the end, the only real (and wholly insufficient) answer we get for Cheung’s lasting relationship with the Bales despite the drama and lack of appreciation (and not to mention, compensation) is this: “I suppose David’s flair for Shakespeare and the melodramatic had rubbed off on me a little.” And let’s be honest, wouldn’t most of us feel flattered that a celebrity, especially such a particular one, liked us and wanted us around?
Although I find transitions throughout the book to be awkward and it could have used some tighter editing, Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, is an enlightening look into the life of an enigmatic star. I found the brief looks into the complex and often unreliable inner workings of the Hollywood system to be very intriguing, particularly Christian’s sometimes surprising rivalries with other actors. Overall, though no masterpiece, Cheung’s biography is an easy, interesting, and informative read for any Balehead.
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