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"Crazy Optimism": Bale On Dengler
To play Dieter Dengler would be to follow him into some of the most extreme human experiences – from enduring torture to eating snakes to jumping into rapids – while irreverently defying the clutches of death the whole way. So when Werner Herzog first approached Christian Bale he did so with a potentially ominous warning. "Before we entered into this adventure, I told Christian this role is going to be extremely demanding, very physical, and you will plow through the jungle like no man before you,” recalls Herzog. "Of course, he showed up very committed and prepared and it was clear that we both meant business.” 

Perhaps fittingly, Bale originally read the script while he was literally at the ends of the earth, in Tierra Del Fuego at the southernmost tip of Patagonia. He thought he was reading it with a supporting role in mind, but when Herzog asked him if he would play Dieter, he was more than game. "Werner makes movies like he's wrestling them to the ground,” comments Bale. "He has such great dreams and ideals and I wanted to work with someone like that.” 

Despite all that the role would entail, it was Dieter's overwhelmingly positive nature that initially drew Bale. "I never saw the film as being intense because Dieter is anything but intense. He's the most unlikely of war heroes, with his prankster nature and his goofy grin. He's definitely not your typical image of a Special Forces, eats-nails-for-breakfast tough guy. And yet it's his crazy optimism that I think allowed him to survive and also to keep others alive,” he observes.

That notion of a fierce and wondrous "crazy optimism” lay at the very heart of Bale's portrait. "I think you could take a lot of different people in the same circumstances as Dieter and it would all come out very differently,” says Bale. "I have to think that Dieter's way of seeing the world was in part a product of his seeing the chaos of World War II through a child's eyes. He developed that kind of tunnel vision that a child has, not needing anything except to keep going without ever stopping and that I think that alone can make you a fantastic survivor. I think it is that part of Dieter that Werner always found so alluring because of their similar background.” 

Bale was saddened to learn that the real Dieter Dengler had passed away before Herzog had a chance to make RESCUE DAWN, but was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Dengler's sons, brother and ex-wife. The moving footage from Herzog's documentary was also an invaluable research tool, as was Werner himself who had come to know Dengler and his stories so intimately. "I built a sense of who he really was, but as with any film character, there was also artistic license,” notes Bale. 

Heading into the Thai jungle in a purposefully depleted state would also come to have an impact on Bale's performance. But no matter what frightening scenarios Herzog painted, Bale was completely undeterred. On the contrary, the notion of an intensely physical, unpredictable production that would take him into the most primal of conditions exhilarated him. 

"One of the first things Werner and I talked about was that there would be swimming in snake-infested waters and the eating of maggots – but that all sounded like a great opportunity to me,” confesses Bale. "Werner never had to push me to do these things because I was happy to do them – and I would do it all over again. I think much of why I like doing what I do was represented by my experience on this movie.” 

Naturally, Bale had heard the colorful rumors and stories about the various trials and tribulations of Herzog's previous productions – particularly his volatile relationship with the similarly intense German actor Klaus Kinski -- but they did not concern him, and he formed his own quite different view of Herzog's style. "Werner can be, I say can be, a gentle soul,” he obs

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