Christian Bale Aced Race-Driving School for ‘Ford v. Ferrari’

Christian Bale is famous not only for his acting ability, but for the intensity with which he throws himself into a role. He made himself rail-thin for The Machinist, in which he played an industrialist who hasn’t slept for a year. On the opposite end of the scale, he bulked up to disappear into the role of Dick Cheney in last year’s  Vice

For his latest role as a temperamental racer in Ford v. Ferrari, he did nothing less than ace race-driving school for the movie, which opened November 15. 

Bale passed racing school with flying colors

Christian Bale on the red carpet
Christian Bale | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Based on a true story, the movie pits two long-standing auto rivals against each other as they face off in the 24-hour Le Mans race of 1966. Ferrari had won the daunting contest for six consecutive years, much to the chagrin of Ford, which wasn’t widely viewed as a maker of flashy cars suitable for racing. 

Bale and Matt Damon’s characters work together to build the Ford GT 40, which has been called “America’s Greatest Racer Ever,” but the road to that car was long and bumpy. 

According to Motorbiscuit, “Telling Ford’s small performance division to topple Ferrari in early 1963 was like calling a varsity pitcher up to the big leagues.”

Bale’s racer Ken Miles was ready to throw a few fastballs. And Bale was more than ready to make that happen.

According to Car and Driver, stunt coordinator Robert Nagle took Bale to Bondurant High Performance Driving School “to understand what a race car driver is, mentally and physically.”

Bale attacked the course with such intensity that he didn’t flinch when challenged. 

“When I pressure people like that I can usually see when they stop driving their car and start watching me in their mirrors. But he never bobbled and never went off. I have to say that he’s hands down the best actor I’ve ever trained,” Nagle said. 

Bale is a human chameleon

Bale transforms himself so thoroughly for his roles that it’s easy to forget he got his start when he was only 13 in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun. Bale played a boy who is separated from his parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai in 1937, and he gets sent to an internment camp. 

Bale showed his versatility early. He sang in Empire of the Sun and showed that skill again in Disney’s Newsies in 1992. He segued into more adult roles later in the decade and alarmed many viewers when he lost more than 60 pounds for The Machinist. Then he had to gain back that weight and then some to star in Batman Begins in 2005. 

Bale has been nominated for Academy Awards four times. He won on his first nomination, which was Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter, where he dropped weight again before having to get back into Batman shape for The Dark Knight Rises. His other nominations were for American Hustle, The Big Short and Vice

What are Bale’s Oscar chances this time?

Could Bale be up for a fifth nomination for Ford v. Ferrari? It’s actually a little less than certain, because there has been some debate over whether Bale or Damon are both leads, or whether one is lead and the other is supporting. Both actors are competing as leads. 

The Oscar predictions site Goldderby has Bale on the outside looking in, ranking him ninth in a very competitive field. Because Bale has a stronger track record as an actor, he significantly outpaces his co-star Damon, who ranks 31.

The front-runner is Adam Driver for Marriage Story

True to form, Bale dropped the 70 pounds he gained for Vice to star in the racing movie. Damon, was no stranger to bulking up himself, having played Jason Bourne. Still, according to Sports Illustrated, Damon asked Bale what the trick was.

“He looked at me—he’s dead serious—and he said, ‘I didn’t eat.’ And I realized, that actually was all he did,” Damon said.