The director of American Psycho fought to keep Christian Bale in the lead role, according to Bale. Based on the 1991 novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho centers on Patrick Bateman, an investment banker who leads a double life as a serial killer. However, the ending of the film implies that the events of the story took place in unreliable narrator Bateman’s twisted mind, all part of his inflated ego and self-mythologizing. The novel was written as a criticism of male values the author had observed, and the film adaptation’s director Mary Harron leaned into the societal critiques to create a darkly comic satire.
Released in 2000, American Psycho starred Bale in the lead role alongside an impressive roster, including Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Samatha Mathis, and Chloë Sevigny. Due to the film’s shocking value and violence, it quickly became controversial and debuted to mixed reviews, though it managed to spawn a straight-to-video sequel starring Mila Kunis. American Psycho has gone on to become a hugely iconic film in pop culture, developing a cult following as well as being credited for launching Bale to stardom. However, he wasn’t the first choice for the role, with previous reports revealing that Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the leading contenders for the part of Bateman. Harron, however, was set on casting Bale.
In a conversation with GQ, Bale opened up about his fight to attain the role of Bateman in American Psycho, revealing that he accepted the “absolute minimum” payment in order to win the part. Despite the actor’s many credits as a child and young adult actor prior to his American Psycho casting, he states that only Harron wanted him in the film. Bale’s acceptance of the minimal pay ended up sealing the deal, and he went on to play one of the most iconic film characters of the early 2000s. See what Bale had to say about the experience below:
“Well, in honesty, the first thing was that I’d taken so long trying to do it, and they had paid me the absolute minimum they were legally allowed to pay me…I remember one time sitting in the makeup trailer and the makeup artists were laughing at me because I was getting paid less than any of them. [The low pay] was the nature of me in it. Nobody wanted me to do it except the director. So they said they would only make it if they could pay me that amount. I was prepping for it when other people were playing the part. I was still prepping for it. And, you know, it moved on. I lost my mind. But I won it back.”
Would American Psycho Have Worked Without Bale?
Learning of Bale’s low pay and uphill battle to become Bateman is a surprise considering the film’s ultimate longevity and continued relevance. However, at the time of Bale’s casting two decades past, he was still relatively unknown, especially when compared to ’90s heartthrob DiCaprio. Bale’s casting ended up being key to the film’s long-term success, since Harron’s adaptation hinged on his ability to bring the larger-than-life character to life, balancing the darkly comic elements of the film with its status as a thriller. Known for his talents as a chameleon, Bale had the unique ability to bring Harron’s vision of the character to life, allowing the film to remain a satire rather than the heady psychological drama an actor like DiCaprio may have brought to the table. Additionally, with another actor in the lead, especially someone more well-known at the time, American Psycho would have run the risk of feeding into Bateman’s self-aggrandizing, when the entire point of the film is to satirize that very quality.
Fighting for the role of Bateman paid off for Bale as well, despite a short career slump that followed the controversial film. As his first major leading role, American Psycho sold Bale as an actor adept at tackling dark and nuanced roles, eventually launching him into parts in 2004’s The Machinist, and 2006’s The Prestige, in addition to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. His part in American Psycho is still the stuff of pop culture legend and lives on in memes, references, and other mediums, proving that Harron was right to fight for Bale as the star.