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Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, 'What is Life Worth?'

As special master of the Federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg decided how much families of the terrorist attacks' victims would receive and which family members were eligible for compensation. He also was on a team that determined the fair market value of the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. Feinberg has written a book about his work on the Sept. 11 Fund, What is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11.


Other segments from the episode on June 13, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 13, 2005: Interview with Kenneth Feinberg; Interview with Christian Bale;


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Kenneth Feinberg discusses his role as special master
of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

There's no way of saying what a human life is worth in dollars and cents, but
that was the job my guest, Kenneth Feinberg, was faced with. In 2001, he was
appointed by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to head the September 11th
Victims Compensation Fund and oversee the distribution of about $7 billion to
the surviving victims of the attacks and to the families of those who were
killed. The fund, which was created by Congress, marked the first and only
time that the federal government offered individuals large sums of money,
tax-free, to compensate for a tragic loss.

Feinberg had extensive experience as a mediator, resolving disputes between
Fortune 500 companies and victims of faulty products, health hazards, fraud
and wrongdoing. Feinberg was also one of the three arbitrators selected to
determine the fair market value of the original Zapruder film of the Kennedy
assassination. Feinberg has written a new book about his experiences
compensating the victims of September 11th. It's called "What is Life Worth?"

So when you were appointed to be the master in charge of the September 11th
Victim Compensation Fund, exactly what guidelines were you given to help you
decide who should get what amount of money?

Mr. KENNETH FEINBERG (Attorney): Very little. If you read the statute, it
is very simple. It's one page. The Congress simply delegates to one person,
the special master or the administrator, responsibility for designing the
rules, administering the program and authorizing awards. And other than a
rather simple, generic formula for calculating compensation in individual
cases, Congress does not say one word about how it ought to be done, who
should get the money, who should file the claim. All of that had to be
created out of whole cloth by the special master.

GROSS: Which was you.

Mr. FEINBERG: That's right. I was appointed by the attorney general,
General Ashcroft.

GROSS: So let's talk about some of the most difficult financial and ethical
dilemmas that you faced in dividing up this money. First of all, how did you
figure out whether you wanted to just divide it up equally among all the
people who were eligible or figure out some kind of formula to figure out who
gets more and who gets less?

Mr. FEINBERG: The statute absolutely prohibited me from dividing up an
amount of money and distributing it equally. The statute said that I must
first calculate the economic loss suffered as a result of the death or injury
of the victim. That guaranteed a process that would require me to give more
to stockbrokers and bond traders and accountants than to policemen, firemen,
members of the military, busboys or waiters. I was prohibited by statute from
equal distribution of awards.

GROSS: How did you feel about that? Because it's basically placing a value
on a life as wage earner as opposed to...

Mr. FEINBERG: Well...

GROSS: ...placing a value on the life as a spouse, a child, a parent.

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, you know, juries do it every day in every city and
village in our country. Juries always award more damages to the stockbroker
or the bond trader than the waiter or the busboy. It's not un-American. It's
done every day. Nevertheless, asking one person to calculate different awards
by looking into some murky crystal ball, and then expecting the families to
accept the notion that one family gets a million dollars less than another
family proved to be very, very controversial and divisive. That we were able
to overcome this requirement, I think, is a tribute to the fund and a tribute
to the success of the fund.

GROSS: You held a lot of town meetings for the families who lost loved ones
on September 11th. Was there a lot of fighting among the families about this
very issue, about some families getting a million dollars and others getting a
lot less?

Mr. FEINBERG: Absolutely. At the beginning of the fund--after all, the fund
was created within weeks after 9/11, so emotions were particularly raw at the
outset--families would object vehemently to the notion that the value of one
life was calculated to be worth more than the value of another. And despite
every effort that I made to explain, `Look, Congress has spoken, this is the
law, I can't change the law,' it did not sit well with firemen widows or
policemen widows who proclaimed, `Mr. Feinberg, my husband died a hero; why am
I getting a million dollars less than the accountant on the 103rd floor of the
World Trade Center?' Now I tried to explain that the notion, the concept of
economic loss is well ingrained in America, that this was sort of a
substitute, this program, for the tort system, for suing. And in one sort of
conceptual sense, it made a lot of sense. But you try telling that to
families who have not yet even buried a lost loved one or had a lost loved one
vaporized at the World Trade Center. And I must say, it did not set well for
many, many, many months.

GROSS: What about figuring out a financial formula for compensating for the
pain and suffering of the victims and of their families?

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, the statute required that I add to economic loss the
notion of pain and suffering and emotional distress. I realized very early in
the program that I could not make distinctions in terms of pain and suffering
and emotional distress. And I announced in the regulations, everybody who's
eligible for a death claim will receive the same amount, $250,000 for the
death of the victim and $100,000 for each surviving spouse and dependent.
That was it. And I think everybody agreed among the families that it made
sense not to make such distinctions on grounds of heroism or on grounds of
certain victims surviving longer in the World Trade Center than others. I
simply said, `I'm not Solomon. I can't make those distinctions. They're
invidious. I won't do it.' And I set out this basic one-size-fits-all

GROSS: And everybody seemed comfortable with that?

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, they were all comfortable with the notion of similarity.
They weren't very comfortable with $250,000 and $100,000. They thought--all
of them thought that the pain and suffering and emotional distress amounts
should be four or five times that. But I was unwilling to simply open the US
Treasury up to projected wishful amounts--a million, two million, three
million. That I would not do.

GROSS: So what was the final formula for figuring out how much each survivor
should get? There was a standard number to compensate for pain and loss.
And what was the formula you came up for compensating for the economic loss
of the loved one?

Mr. FEINBERG: Yes. There was a four-part formula. Part one, I had to
calculate economic loss. I had to try, in individual cases, to predict what
a victim would have earned had she or he survived. Second, I had to add to
that number non-economic--the standard non-economic pain and suffering,
emotional distress that I just spoke about. Then I was required, much to the
chagrin of the families, by statute, to deduct from that gross award
collateral sources of income, like life insurance. And finally Congress, in
its wisdom, decided--unsure of how the calculations would come out, Congress
added a safety valve at the end that said ultimately the special master
shall exercise his discretion in individual cases to assure justice. And
that was basically the four-part statutory formula at that I implemented.

GROSS: Did people ask for special compensation in any cases? And if so, how
did you deal with that?

Mr. FEINBERG: People individually came to see me. I held over 900
individual hearings where families came in usually claiming unique financial
circumstances. And in many cases, I adjusted the awards to take into account
these circumstances. And in other cases, I did not. But--very important--I
invited any individual family or injured victim to come and see me personally
to put a human face on this program and allow them to explain to me in this
unique program why adjustments should be made. And I listened carefully and
considered those requests and acted on most of them.

GROSS: Well, what's an example of one of the stories that you were presented
with that seemed to rise to the level of being worthy of an adjustment?

Mr. FEINBERG: Oh, my goodness. The stories are as myriad as human nature.
One surviving spouse came to see me and said, `Mr. Feinberg, I do hope that
you'll find it in your heart to provide a little bit more money. I lost my
husband in the World Trade Center, and I have terminal cancer. And I have two
little ones at home. And it's not really the death of just one; assume it
will be my death as well. And my children will be orphans. And can you not
only give me a little bit more money, but can you expedite the award because I
have limited time.' That's just one example, heart-wrenching example. But
there are hundreds and hundreds of examples.

GROSS: Do you remember how you resolved the question of how much to
compensate this woman who was dying of cancer...


GROSS: ...having just lost her husband?

Mr. FEINBERG: Yes. The woman explained, `Here's what I need,' laid out a
bill of particulars as to financial concerns going forward for her children,
and we examined that and drew some conclusions and increased the award.

GROSS: What she satisfied?

Mr. FEINBERG: I don't think anybody who filed a claim and received a check
was satisfied by this process. I think that's the wrong word to use.

GROSS: I bet you're right.

Mr. FEINBERG: I think she respected the willingness of the federal government
to come to her aid, but I tell people all the time, words like `satisfy,'
`justice,' `fairness,' `gratefulness,' `happiness,' aren't adjectives that are
very helpful in examining this program.

GROSS: So what finally was the range of figures in the amount of money that
was given to families as compensation?

Mr. FEINBERG: This program spent $7 billion of the taxpayers' money. This
was a public compensation program. There was no congressional appropriation.
Congress basically delegated to one person, whatever it costs to do this
right, authorize it out of general revenues, petty cash at the US Treasury.
The range of awards--the average award for a death claim, tax-free, by
statute, was about $2 million. The death claim awards ranged from a low of
about $500,000 to a high of about $7.2 million paid to the family of a
33-year-old stockbroker who died, who was making $3 million a year.

The physical injury claims averaged about $400,000, but some of the physical
injury claims--and there weren't many physical injury claims on 9/11. You
either got out of those building and flames, or you didn't. But the really
serious physical injury claims, burn victims at the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, we paid, in a few cases, over $8 million to people who survived with
third-degree burns over 85 percent of their body--came to see me.

GROSS: So were you comfortable, finally, with the fact that the family of a
stockbroker who was killed was going to get millions of dollars so that they
could continue to live the wealthy lifestyle they were accustomed to, and the
family of somebody who worked, say, as a maintenance worker in the World Trade
Center was going to get a whole lot less?

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, that's a very provocative question. First of all--very
provocative question. First of all, I was never comfortable with dispensing
any of these awards. Having said that, it's also important to remember that I
exercised my discretion in a way so that high-end families, some of whom came
in seeking under the formula economic loss, $20 million or $30 million. I
exercised my discretion and substantially brought down the ultimate award
number, feeling that under the statute, Congress never wanted any family to
get so much that they were going to be able to simply automatically continue a
lifestyle with different homes, summer homes, cars in the garage, etc. So at
the end of the day, I felt that what I had done was to implement congressional
intent and provide a degree of compensation where an individual family might
criticize me or might object, but the award was so generous and so fair that I
would withstand any such criticism. And I think ultimately, the families
realized that.

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Feinberg. He served as special master of the
September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. More after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Kenneth Feinberg, and he's written a new memoir called
"What is Life Worth?" That's about his experiences as special master in
charge of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Well, we talked a little bit about how you arrived at the formula for deciding
how much money should be given to the families of victims of September 11th.
Then you also had to decide who gets the money. What members of the family
actually get the money, or, you know, does somebody who was engaged get the
money? Does a same-sex partner who wasn't legally married because they
couldn't be get the money? So let's talk a little bit about that. What were
the standards, if any, that you were given about how to decide who gets money?

Mr. FEINBERG: Not one word in the statute about that, not one. You can look
at this statute all day and parse it line by line. You will not find one
direction from Congress as to who should file a claim among family members and
who should get the money, very substantial amounts of money, among competing
family members. So this proved to be a major problem.

`Mr. Feinberg, I am a sister of the victim, my brother. My brother hated our
other brother. Make sure I get the money and not the hated brother.' `Mr.
Feinberg, I'm the fiance of the victim. We were going to be married on
October 11th, so you should treat me as a spouse. I was going to be married
in a month.' Then I would ask the biological parents of the victim, `What do
you think about that argument?' `Oh, this marriage was never going to take
place. My daughter told me that on September 10th she was thinking of calling
the whole thing off.' Then I'd go back to the fiance, `What do you say to
that?' `Is that right? Look, Mr. Feinberg, here's the wedding invitation
right here in the church that we were going to be married. On August 11th,
the parents held a shower for me, for the victim, and said, "We're not losing
a daughter; we're gaining a son." I mean, outrageous,' the fiance would say.

Now what I tried to do is work these problems out. I tried to work them out
and get everybody on the same page, and I was usually successful. But I must
say, it was a very thorny problem with money of this magnitude, trying to get
families on the same page.

GROSS: Did you respect same-sex partnerships in the same way that you would
respect marriage when it appeared to you to be, you know, a committed

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, I did. If somebody--if the victim left a will and, in
the will, left the estate to a same-sex partner, I honored the will. Why
wouldn't I? Of course, I honored the victim's intention.

GROSS: What if there wasn't a will? A lot of people don't have wills.

Mr. FEINBERG: Now if there...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FEINBERG: Oh, 80 percent didn't have wills. These masters of the
universe in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon didn't think they needed
wills. Eighty percent of people who didn't have wills, I was left with a
dilemma, `Now what do I do?' Well, I did the only thing I think I could do,
and that is I followed the law of intestacy in each state of the victim's
domicile, and that meant that same-sex partners and fiances were not entitled,
by law, in any of those states, to a share of the award. But I managed,
nevertheless, to sit down with would-be recipients of the award and, as I say,
through force of argument, emotional, substantive, legal, etc, worked out most
of the disputes.

GROSS: You were appointed by John Ashcroft in--you know, from an
administration that does not support gay relationships, certainly not gay
marriage. Did you get any flack from the Bush administration for compensating
gay partners of victims?

Mr. FEINBERG: Absolutely not. Not only did I get no flack--Remember, I was
lying on state law. This was not a federal decision I made in terms of who
gets money, same-sex partners, fiances. I'm looking to the state law of the
victim if there's no will. Not only did I get no flack, but I must say,
throughout the entire life of the program, Attorney General Ashcroft and the
Bush administration were enormously supportive, as was Congress, as was
Congress. If you want the best example I know of of a truly bipartisan,
non-political, apolitical public policy, this was it. I am extremely grateful
for the support that I received from the administration.

GROSS: Kenneth Feinberg headed the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.
His new memoir is called "What is Life Worth?" He'll be back in the second
half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Kenneth Feinberg discusses the impact on his own life of
heading the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. Also, we meet actor
Christian Bale. He's starring in the new film "Batman Begins."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Kenneth Feinberg. He
served as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. It
was his job to create a formula to distribute about $7 billion to the victims
of September 11th and the families of those who died. He's written a new
memoir called "What is Life Worth?"

Why you? Why do you think that John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general,
chose you to head the Victim Compensation Fund?

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons, and I have the
highest admiration and respect for the attorney general, Ashcroft, for his
support of the program and how much he supported me personally. I'm in his
debt, frankly. I think he...

GROSS: Can I interrupt and just point out here that you were--years ago, you
were an aide to Senator Kennedy, who was much too liberal for the taste of
John Ashcroft, so it wasn't your political credentials that made you the
choice. Go ahead.

Mr. FEINBERG: Oh, to the contrary. It was my political credentials that got
me the job in part.


Mr. FEINBERG: As I say in the book, I think one reason that the
administration was satisfied with me is because if the program failed, as many
thought it would, and caused more divisiveness than hope and help, it could be
laid at the feet of a political adversary or somebody with, you know, a
political pedigree different from the administration.

But I think the main reason I received this appointment is because I had,
before 9/11, a good deal of experience in dealing with the design and
implementation of mass disaster claims. And I think the administration
realized that this was a program that required somebody with some expertise in
how to deal with the deaths of thousands of people.

GROSS: What are some of the ways that your own life has been changed by this
experience of heading up the September 11th Victim Compensation program?

Mr. FEINBERG: Oh, my life will never be the same, never be the same. That
I'm sure of. I've taken my law firm, which was a very large firm, and, after
9/11, just reduced it to bare-bones minimum. I don't think I want to practice
law the same way anymore after 9/11. I want to teach more. I taught last
semester at Columbia Law School and the University of Pennsylvania.

And I'm much more fatalistic, I think. I'm not sure I'll plan more than two
weeks ahead for the rest of my life. People said goodbye on September
11th--it was a beautiful day, a sunny day--perfunctory goodbyes after
breakfast, never saw them again, not even the bodies, vaporized at the World
Trade Center. Horrible. And I think that one ought to be a little bit
skeptical about planning too far ahead, because life doesn't work that way.

GROSS: Has the meaning and relative value of money changed for you?

Mr. FEINBERG: No. No. I don't think money has really anything to do with it
in terms of my--you know, sort of my experience, or at least the residual
impact of the program on me personally.

GROSS: Because the program was all about giving out money.

Mr. FEINBERG: The program was all about giving out money, of course. And,
you know, people should understand that, you know, money can't make anybody
whole. It's a poor surrogate in that sense. But I try and remind people,
when they say, `This was so un-American, that we just gave out money and gave
out different amounts. What happened to equal protection and egalitarianism
and democracy?' that's wrong. It's just wrong.

This program reflected what the civil justice system does every day. If you
fall off a ladder, and you're a stockbroker, if you get hit by an automobile
and you're a stockbroker, you will get more from a jury--money--than if you're
a waiter who fell off the ladder or got hit by an automobile. Now that
may--it may be that everybody should get the same amount of money under this
program, and I thought that would be better, but it isn't un-American to say
that this program worked the way it did. It was very, very American, I would

GROSS: I bet you have a will.

Mr. FEINBERG: Everybody should have a will. One lesson from 9/11 is
everybody should have a will and leave a record, a formal record, of how you
want your estate allocated in the event of unforeseen tragedy.

GROSS: Even if you don't have much of an estate?

Mr. FEINBERG: It doesn't matter. One thing I learned about 9/11 Fund, people
would come in, and what was so important to many people when they came to see
me was not the millions and the millions, but `Mr. Feinberg, I want my wife's
locket,' `Mr. Feinberg, can you help me make sure that I can keep the wedding
album?' `Mr. Feinberg, I want to play you a video of my son's bar mitzvah.'
`Mr. Feinberg, I want you to look at all the medals that my son earned as a
fireman before his death.' It wasn't all about money. In fact, most of these
hearings, amazingly, I learned, were an opportunity for families to just talk,
just discuss the memory and the corroboration of that memory in the way of
albums and medals and certificates and things like that.

GROSS: Well, Kenneth Feinberg, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. FEINBERG: I'm very, very honored and pleased that you gave me this
opportunity. Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Kenneth Feinberg headed the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.
His new memoir is called "What is Life Worth?"

Coming up, the star of "Batman Begins," Christian Bale. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Christian Bale discusses his latest role as Bruce Wayne
and Batman in "Batman Begins"

The new movie "Batman Begins" offers its version of why Bruce Wayne disguised
himself in a bat costume to fight injustice and defend the vulnerable. My
guest, Christian Bale, is the star of the film, and he was a pretty unlikely
choice. For his previous film, "The Machinist," he'd lost over 60 pounds to
play a sickly tormented insomniac. Bale made his film debut at the age of 13,
starring in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun." His other films include
"American Psycho," "Shaft" and "Laurel Canyon."

Let's start with a scene from "Batman Begins." After seeing his parents
murdered, Bruce Wayne left Gotham and traveled the world to understand the
nature of the criminal mind and to learn martial arts. He returns to Gotham,
unsure of how best to fight crime. Here he talks with his faithful butler
played by Michael Kane.

(Soundbite of "Batman Begins")

Mr. MICHAEL KANE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) Are you coming back to Gotham for
long, sir?

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) As long as it takes. I'm going to show
the people of Gotham their city doesn't belong to the criminals and the

Mr. KANE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) In the Depression, your father nearly
bankrupted Wayne Enterprises combatting poverty. He believed that his example
could inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city.

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) Did it?

Mr. KANE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) In a way. Their murder shocked the wealthy
and the powerful into action.

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) People need dramatic examples to shake them out of
apathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I
can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol, I can be
incorruptible. I can be everlasting.

Mr. KANE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) What symbol?

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) Something elemental, something terrifying.

GROSS: Christian Bale, welcome to FRESH AIR. My first question about
"Batman" is: Why you? I mean, you haven't been an action hero.

Mr. BALE: No.

GROSS: You don't have blockbuster status.

Mr. BALE: No.

GROSS: How did you get the part?

Mr. BALE: Far from blockbuster status, you know. I think in the film
industry, I really haven't had what anybody considers to be a hit, let alone a
big hit, really. And I have to admit, I was asking the same question myself.
It's indicative of the new direction that they wanted to take, this "Batman."
When I met with Chris, I had a very strong opinion about how Batman should be
portrayed. He did, too. We agreed. And I frankly--I genuinely had no
interest in portraying Batman in any other way whatsoever.

GROSS: What was your idea of how Batman should be portrayed?

Mr. BALE: He had become--unbeknownst to me, because I was not a comic book
fan--he had become a spoof of what Bob Kane had originally intended when he
created "Batman" back in 1939. He was a dark and threatening superhero. He
was always the superhero that, you know, in sitting around a table, hanging
out with other superheroes, would definitely be the one that the others were
kind of looking at sideways and being a little unsure about how quite he got
into their group. You know, he also has, obviously, no superhuman powers.
The only power that he does have, which is substantial in this world, is
enormous wealth, which allows him the time and access to all of the gadgets
and the abilities to do what he does.

But essentially, what I found in the graphic novels--And there is a great
forward, and I believe it's in "Batman: Year One" by Frank Miller. And it
talks about his first experience with "Batman," and that to him, "Batman" was
never funny. "Batman" was dark. And that's really what we've attempted here.

GROSS: Right before you did "Batman," you starred in the movie "The
Machinist," which--a film I really liked, and I thought it was a great
performance that you gave in that.

Mr. BALE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: It was a real nightmarish vision. You play somebody who hasn't slept
in a year, and your...

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: ...body is totally emaciated. You're wasted in it.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And you're having these delusions, these hallucinations through the
movie, and the movie's in black and white, which is the kind of emotional
world you're living in. I mean, everything's been...

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...drained of life and color.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And you're going over the deep end in it. You lost how many pounds
for this role?

Mr. BALE: It ended up being 63 pounds I lost for it.

GROSS: And I should say that you look like somebody who just got out of a
concentration camp or...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...the survivor of a famine in Africa. I mean, you...

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: ...basically have a rib cage and skin.

Mr. BALE: Yeah, right.

GROSS: Going that from "Batman," you were really pumped up in "Batman."

Mr. BALE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: I mean, your arms, man, they are the size of a lot of people's waists.

Mr. BALE: Right. I had a...

GROSS: Did you audition as your "Machinist" self for "Batman"?

Mr. BALE: Well, that was a conversation that Chris Nolan and I had. We were
talking on the telephone whilst I was making "The Machinist." And he said to
me that I was going to have to screen test for "Batman." At the end of
July--and this would have been 2003--I weighed 121 pounds. My normal weight
averages about 185, 190. And in the first week of September, they had screen
tests for "Batman" planned. So he asked me, well, how did I look, you know.
I mean, how is he ever going to be able to convince the studio that I was the
man for the job when I was going to be rail-thin?

And so I really stuffed my face a great deal in those five, six weeks, and I
managed to put on a pretty substantial amount of weight. No strength
whatsoever, but luckily, I didn't have to exhibit any of that for the screen
test. And, you know, managed to get by with the test, was cast, but then had
a really rigorous, very arduous training period to prepare for "Batman,"
because, like we said, this is one without superhuman powers. He must look
capable of doing all that he does. And this "Batman" is grounded in much more
reality than any of the previous "Batman" movies, so we really wanted it to
be, you know, recognizably believable that he could be a truly good and
experienced fighter.

GROSS: So what's it like to be in the Batsuit? I mean, first of all, as an
actor, you kind of lose your face as a tool...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...because it's covered by a mask.

Mr. BALE: You have your eyes, though, you know. You have your eyes with
this. You have your eyes and your mouth and obviously the body language as
well, which I think is so crucial with playing any kind of any outfit like
that. But it is very--you know, it is very constricting. The cowl certainly
is extremely tight, you know, as it must be. And I did find myself having
pretty splitting headaches after two or three hours within it. But, you know,
I'd chosen to play the role, I wasn't going to be complaining about it. And I
chose, instead, to kind of use that, because I saw Batman, the creature, as
being somebody who would probably have a very focused and intense headache
that would be putting him in quite a rage and quite a mood, so I just used it.

GROSS: We've talked a little bit about how you lost a lot of weight for the
insomniac machinist, your previous movie.

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: You put on weight and pumped up for "Batman."

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: And in another earlier movie, "American Psycho," you had the kind of
muscles that a real narcissist might have, somebody who...

Mr. BALE: Exactly, yes.

GROSS: ...pumps up because of the way it looks, not because he needs to build
any strength.

Mr. BALE: Right. Well, thank you for recognizing the difference in that,
because, absolutely, with "American Psycho," it was all about the vanity, the
narcissism. It was nothing to do with health, really, whereas with "Batman,"
it was, you know, meant to look like a genuine brawler, somebody who did truly
have athletic capabilities.

GROSS: See, you've had several different--like, extremely different bodies
for your movies.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: Do you lose sight, at any point, about what your actual body is?

Mr. BALE: No, you always kind of level out back to, you know, my normal self.
That always just comes back regardless of my efforts.

GROSS: And, like, what happens to all the muscles you've put on for "Batman"?
Do you have to keep working out to keep them, or do you expect to lose them?

Mr. BALE: No, you know, because that would be limiting, you know. I mean, if
I was to maintain that look, then that would be, firstly, a huge commitment in
my own life, which I don't feel the need for and, secondly, would be limiting
in terms of other roles that I can take. I'm actually starting again
to--nothing to the degree of "The Machinist," but to lose some weight for
another role that I'm going to be doing in a movie that's going to be directed
by Werner Herzog, which we start in a few months. And so, you know, I'm
making another adjustment now. I don't ever look at parts and hope that that
will be the case. It's just been that, you know, with "American Psycho," with
"The Machinist" and with "Batman" that it's really been, to me, very pertinent
to the character that they have that certain kind of physique. It's been

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christian Bale, and he stars in
the new movie "Batman Begins."

You were born in Wales.

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: How many countries did you grow up in?

Mr. BALE: Well, there was Wales, and then I moved houses many times within
England, primarily in England. Briefly, my family kind of ran away to Portugal
for about a year, and I was there for a few months. And then from the age of
17 onwards, I started really to call America my home much more.

GROSS: Before you started acting in movies and you got your first really big
role--I think you were 12 when you got your role in Steven Spielberg's "Empire
of the Sun"--you were doing commercials before that. What kind of commercials
were you doing?

Mr. BALE: I'd done a couple, you know. I did these kind of embarrassing
commercials that--but which were fun, you know, for somebody of, you know, 10
years old. And it gave me the money to buy a pair of Doc Martens and, you
know, a Rubik's Snake or something, which is what I was into at the time. And
other than that, though, it was really just kind of amateur theater groups
that I belonged to.

GROSS: So what did you do for the audition for "Empire of the Sun"? You
know, what did you do to land such a big role with so little experience and, I
should mention, no actual training behind you?

Mr. BALE: No. They--I had played a role in a mini TV series which Amy Irving
had been in.

GROSS: And she was married to Steven Spielberg then?

Mr. BALE: She was married to Steven Spielberg at that time. However, he told
me that he'd really disliked my performance in that. But, you know, they were
doing mass auditions around England for "Empire of the Sun." I met a number
of people just coincidentally who said, `Oh, we auditioned for that as well.'
You know, it was thousands of schools that they were going around, looking for
people. And I did a series of auditions, culminating, you know, in meeting
with Spielberg and doing a screen test and then getting the part.

And, you know, I think that much of what got me the part was that I didn't
much care. I enjoyed the process. I'd always actually enjoyed the acting.
But I never really considered it, at that age, certainly not, it would have
been very unhealthy to, to be thinking of it as a long-term career. And so I
think it was precisely that kind of devil-may-care attitude that probably got
me the role.

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bale, the star of "Batman Begins." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bale. He's the star of the new movie "Batman
Begins." His other films include "Empire of the Sun," "American Psycho,"
"Laurel Canyon" and "The Machinist."

A question about "American Psycho," in which you play someone who works on
Wall Street. He's quite the narcissist, you know, very attractive, fine
suits, great, like, lotions and shampoos and restaurants and all that stuff.
But he also gets turned on by killing.

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: And there's one scene in the movie where you're naked and covered in
blood, chasing a woman, with a chain saw. Why'd you take the role? You know,
the book got such bad--the book was just kind of shredded by a lot of critics.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And then it was criticized by a lot of people for moral reasons,

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: ...your character's such a sociopath.

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: So why did you want to jump into this one?

Mr. BALE: I had not read the book before reading the script. And I was
anticipating--because I had been aware of the controversy surrounding the
book, and I'd read maybe a couple of pages of it. I was expecting something
very different from the script. And what I found is that I may well have a
peculiar sense of humor, but that I was crying with laughter in reading the
script, because, to me, the character of Patrick Bateman was always an
absolutely ridiculous one. You know, he's laughable. And to me, it was never
really a movie about a serial killer. That was this extreme that Bret Easton
Ellis had pushed it to. But really, it was a social satire about a yuppie in
the '80s. And that was the way that Mary Harron, who wrote the script, had
adapted it.

And so much of the violence which is contained in the book in an incredibly
graphic manner is merely suggested in the movie. And I think, therefore, that
you can appreciate much more the black comedic sense of humor throughout the
movie, because I think that the book, the violent scenes were so graphic that
you ended up forgetting that there was actually a great deal more to the book,
because those particular violent scenes were just too graphic to bear at

GROSS: Now there's a lot of--there's some voice-overs in "American Psycho,"
and I want to play one of the voice-overs. And this is a scene from early on,
in which you're enumerating all the wonderful, you know, like, lotions and
shampoos and things that you have. I mean, you really are the ultimate
narcissist in this movie. Here's that voice-over.

(Soundbite of "American Psycho")

Mr. BALE: (As Patrick Bateman) I always use an aftershave lotion with little
or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older.
Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm, followed by a final
moisturizing protective lotion. There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some
kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something
illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and
feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are
probably comparable, I simply am not there.

GROSS: Now I think we can hear in that, that, you know, in this voice-over
from "American Psycho," you have this perfect, like--What is it?--like
mid-America, like, TV announcer...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...kind of voice. You're from Wales.

Mr. BALE: Yeah. Right.

GROSS: How did you get that voice? And you have very few traces now, I
think, of a Welsh accent.

Mr. BALE: Well, my voice, I can kind of change at will. With every character
that I've played, it's very easy just to pick that accent or dialect back up
again. And for me specifically right now, you know, I'm talking primarily
about "Batman Begins," and I feel that he's such an American icon that I chose
not to be doing interviews in my full-blown English accent. I felt that it
would just be raising too many questions.

GROSS: Well, really, are you just--you mean, you're kind of, like, performing
the interview in away, like you're doing it in a voice?

Mr. BALE: Well, listen. I've played more American characters than I've ever
played English, and I tend to maintain whatever accent I'm doing throughout a
movie, so in honesty, it's become as natural for me to speak in that way as it
is in my, you know, home tongue. So it's just a choice, you know, but, yeah,
I made the decision that, when talking about "Batman," I didn't wish to sound
English, you know. I realize that he's such a strongly identified American
icon that I just didn't want to raise that question.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BALE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Christian Bale stars in the new movie "Batman Begins."

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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