Four days after a profanity-ridden audiotape of Christian Bale ranting at the director of photography on the set of “Terminator Salvation” hit the Internet -- launching a veritable tsunami of fan reaction, Web creativity (including a dance remix) and comedic skits on late-night talk shows -- the actor has finally done what many professional public-relations types have advocated all along: He owned up to his mistake and apologized for his bad behavior.
On Friday morning, Bale surprised both his own publicist and Warner Bros., the studio behind both “Terminator Salvation” and the “Batman” franchise (which stars Bale as the Caped Crusader), and called into FM radio station KROQ with a mea culpa.
“I was out of order beyond belief,” a contrite Bale told KROQ disc jockeys Kevin Ryder and Gene “Bean” Baxter. “I acted like a punk. There is nobody who heard the tape who is hit harder than me. I make no excuses for it. It is inexcusable.”
Bale decided to call the Los Angeles radio station because he had been listening to the DJs replay snippets of the tape -- in which Bale loses his temper at director of photography Shane Hurlbut for walking in his sightline while he was in the middle of shooting a scene -- and mock him about it all week. As Bale told them, “You made me laugh in the midst of all this craziness.”
During the interview, Bale explained that he had been trying to summon an air of madness for his character John Connor, who is trying to save the human race from the evil Skynet computers. “I was trying to show a little of that in the blood craziness. It went very wrong. . . ,” Bale said. “I made it ugly. That was awful of me. I took it way too far. I mixed up fact and fiction. I’m half John Connor there. I’m half Christian there.”
While Bale expressed remorse, his director went on the record to give the incident some context. “We all know how intense and focused Christian is,” explained “Terminator Salvation” director McG in an interview with The Times. McG can also be heard on the tape trying to defuse the situation. “What happened, it was a catalyst for some steam being blown off. We felt safe and controlled. In very short order, people were hugging and we had moved on. Shane finished the picture.
“I’m not trying to spin it. I can happily report that Christian doesn’t feel good about this. He’s given thought to the adjustments he wants to give to his life. Christian is a good man. He’s not a fundamentally mean guy. To [Hurlbut], he has made amends and apologized clearly and plainly. In that respect, that has been handled.”
On the tape, Bale threatens to have Hurlbut fired, but the actor apparently later backed off on this demand. Bale summarized the threat as “hot air” during the KROQ interview and took pains to praise Hurlbut’s work. He also added pointedly, “I heard a lot of people say I think I’m better than anybody else. Nothing could be further than the truth.”
Neither Hurlbut nor his agent returned calls, and Bale declined to speak to The Times directly about the incident on set, which occurred in July, around the same time Bale was arrested for verbally abusing his mother and sister, though the charges were later dropped.
Almost all publicly discovered bad behavior on behalf of megastars is usually followed by an apology of sorts, whether it’s Hugh Grant copping to his escapade with prostitute Divine Brown on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” or Russell Crowe apologizing on “Late Night With David Letterman” for throwing a phone at a hotel clerk, an event that wound up with the “Gladiator” star ultimately pleading guilty to assault and paying the clerk an undisclosed sum of money.
Some in Hollywood have wondered -- though not publicly -- why, as the director, McG didn’t step in and stop Bale from berating Hurlbut. The director, whose credits include the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise, explained: “I had it in control completely. I was between Shane and Christian, making it safe. Trying to out-yell them would only prove inflammatory.” McG is also heard on the tape suggesting a break so everybody can cool down, a suggestion the irate Bale ignores. “If I try to out-puff and -huff them, I traditionally find that to be counterproductive.”
McG said he was outraged that the tape became public. “It’s illegal, and the anti-piracy people at the studio are going to pursue it to the full extent of the law. You have got to have actors feel safe on the set, so they can transcend the things they do in their normal lives.”
However, verbal abuse in the workplace is hardly a private affair. But Hollywood also has a tradition of what happens on the set is theoretically private, with the idea that actors require privacy and protection in order to be able to do their best, most intimate work.
Still, Bale cautioned on the radio that the ritual of set privacy “is not there for covering up bad behavior. That is there so creatively you can experiment with things that may be abysmal or may be embarrassing beyond belief. There is the trust that nobody will ever see it. It will be destroyed if it ever didn’t work.
“Please, I want to make it clear. I am embarrassed by it. I regret it. I ask everybody to sit down and ask themselves if they have ever had a bad day and lost their temper and really regretted it immensely.”