“I never knew what I was going to be doing each day” – Christian Bale on working with Terrence Malick in ‘Knights of Cups’
Though it’s become increasingly more common for films to be shot with large amounts of improv, that’s mostly typical of comedy films with trained improv comedic actors. It is rare for a dramatic film to shoot with little-or-no script. Of course, the enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick is a master of the uncommon, and his latest film, Knight of Cups, is in some ways more akin to an acting exercise than a film. In the press conference for the film at the Berlin Film Festival, star Christian Bale spoke about the unusual circumstances in which the film was shot.
As typical of Malick, the production of the film was shrouded in secrecy. Bale reveals, “He didn’t tell us what [the film] was about. He really just gave me the character description. We worked on the character a great deal, worked on his backstory.”
The secrecy extended to the script, which was even hidden from Bale. He explains, “I never had any lines to learn, but I’d see other people, and they’d have pages. I’d always look over their shoulders to see what it was that I was going to be told. I never knew what I was going to be doing each day.”
In fact, the entire production seemed to be designed by Malick to throw challenges at its core cast. “He liked to call it ‘torpedoing’ us, with different actors and nonactors, to get a very real response.”